All polenta is made from cornmeal, but not all cornmeal is made for making polenta. If you’re a fan of the creamy, golden dish, it’s important that you understand which kind of cornmeal is going to give you the best results, as results will vary dramatically.
So what’s the best cornmeal for polenta? Cornmeal is very versatile and used in a wide variety of recipes, from breakfast to dinner, sweet or savory. As such, there are a few different types of cornmeal to choose from, each with a slightly different ideal purpose. If you’re a more advanced polenta chef, working from your own personal preferences, the best cornmeal for polenta is going to be coarse ground, de-germinated cornmeal to prevent graininess.
In this article, we’re going to discuss all the factors that go into creating a perfect side dish and share with you the best cornmeal for polenta and how to make it consistently, every time.
The Difference Between Cornmeal and Polenta
Cornmeal is simply ground corn, in any size or style of grind. Polenta is a dish made using a specific kind of cornmeal.
If a package of cornmeal is labeled as “polenta,” this means that it’s suitable for cooking the dish. On the other hand, cornmeal can be used for cooking everything from porridge to muffins, and many more delicious dishes as well.
Polenta vs Grits
Polenta is an Italian staple, as it’s a simple dish that can be used to complement nearly any side or main course.
In the US, corn grits are a much more common dish, especially in Southern cooking. However, they are very similar in consistency and you’ll often find that, depending on the manufacturer, grits will be labeled for use as polenta.
Traditionally, polenta is made using ground yellow corn whereas Southern-style American grits are more commonly made with white corn or sometimes even blue corn.
The biggest difference between grits and polenta is the texture, with grits often being a much creamier, finer grain. If you find a coarse grain white corn, you can still make a great polenta, though it won’t be completely authentic, if you’re serving a discerning Italian audience.
Types of Cornmeal
Read on below to learn everything you need to know about choosing the right cornmeal for polenta.
Very similar to oatmeal, you can find quick or instant cornmeal or traditional cornmeal, which refers to the amount of time required to cook it.
Corn is a hard, hearty grain, so it can take a considerable amount of time to cook in a traditional style, such as polenta.
If you are short on time more often than not, manufacturers have made it a bit easier on you by processing the corn diligently, making a quick or instant version that takes half the time, or less. The consistency of the final output will be different, but the flavor will remain the same.
As with many whole grains, corn has a germ and a hull. Whole grain forms of cornmeal grind everything together, which creates tougher cornmeal. It will typically take a bit longer to cook and maintain a stronger chew, though it also comes with more nutrition, especially fiber.
On the other end of the spectrum, you can find degerminated cornmeal, which has the hull and the germ removed.
This will create a smoother final recipe and generally cook a little be quicker. Degerminated cornmeal is ideal for a nice, creamy polenta, though not all packages state one way or the other.
Grind is the most common distinguishing factor between types of cornmeal.
You have 3 main choices:
- Fine: a very small grain of corn, generally used in batters and coating. Fine cornmeal is not generally used for making polenta unless you need a really quick meal that bears something of a resemblance to the traditional dish.
- Regular: Regular cornmeal is most common in white cornmeal or grits, and it’s also used frequently in the making of hot cereals, like porridge, and baking.
- Coarse: the preferred grind of cornmeal for cooking polenta is coarse. It will have larger pieces of corn, adding mass and volume to your recipes.
In each grind, you will find either commercially ground, which will not usually be identified and is simply the basic form of the grain, or stoneground.
Stone grinding corn creates a great degree of irregularity in the size of the grain, bringing in more texture and less consistency.
It adds personality to your dish but can dramatically change the texture each time you cook your polenta, depending on whether you ended up with more powdery bits or more large chunks.
The Best Cornmeal For Polenta
First and foremost, if you’re following a specific recipe, choose the type of cornmeal that the recipe calls for because the cooking times and ratios may differ slightly.
|1.||Bob's Red Mill Organic Corn Grits / Polenta||Organic yellow corn|
|2.||PAPA'S White Corn Grits||White corn for lighter and softer results|
|3.||Shelton Farms Stone Ground Grits||Non-GMO yellow corn|
1. Bob’s Red Mill Organic Corn Grits / Polenta
When it comes to any kind of grain, Bob’s Red Mill is always at the top of our list.
Offering a great selection of regular and organic grains, this company answers public demand on both quality and quantity, making sure you have everything you need to properly stock your cupboards.
- High quality, organic yellow corn
- Ground specifically for use in polenta, the package also offers ideas for use as porridge, corn grits with different modes of cooking explained as well
2. PAPA’S White Corn Grits
The fact that you can get a great price on a bulk supply is very enticing, though white corn grits won’t give you authentic polenta.
It will still be delicious, and the grind is ideal, so we included it in our top 5 for those who want to great a mashup between polenta and grits.
- This package is certified as Kosher, which is a handy designation for our Jewish readers and home cooks
- The package states that they’re “quick” but the grind is coarse enough to still take approximately 30 minutes to cook a creamy polenta with just the right amount of patience
- White corn generally produces lighter, softer results, so if you want a smooth polenta, this is a great place to start
3. Shelton Farms Stone Ground Grits
We love a good story when it comes to finding manufacturers with quality products, and Shelton Farms proudly announces that their cornmeal has graced the tables of local politicians and chefs.
Being proud of their product is a great sign of quality assurance.
- Non-GMO and locally grown in the US is a huge selling feature, considering how polluted the majority of commercially grown corn is
- Coarsely ground, yellow corn, perfect for polenta
When it comes to a product like cornmeal, there really are no drawbacks when you’re dealing with commercial manufacturers.
That being said, there are always going to be some people who complain, so we thought it worth mentioning that the most common complaint on any cornmeal product labeled “polenta” is that it isn’t traditional American-style grits.
The two recipes are similar, but different, as discussed, and though you can make both from the same type of cornmeal, results will vary slightly.
Easy Polenta Recipe
Polenta is slightly time-consuming but incredibly easy to make once you know your cornmeal. Try it out for yourself; all you need is a little patience and a very few ingredients.
- 1 cup of coarse cornmeal
- 5 cups of water
- Bring your water to a boil
- Slowly and gradually add cornmeal to water, whisking to prevent clumps
- Cook for 20 – 40 minutes, whisking constantly
- Polenta is always cooked by taste, so you’ll have to test the polenta as you cook it until it reaches the perfect consistency for your preference
Serve in a warmed dish to protect your polenta from getting cold too quickly.
Once your polenta is cooked, you can add additional flavorings to make a unique and delicious dish. You can choose any or many of the following to add your own special touch to your homemade polenta:
- Garlic and herbs
- Dairy or dairy alternative for creaminess
- Pine nuts
- Tomato and basil
- Chopped prosciutto and parmesan
- Nuts and berries and/or fresh fruit
- Get creative!
Is there a difference between corn flour and cornmeal?
Cornmeal is a much larger grain of the corn kernel. If you continue to grind cornmeal until it’s a fine powder, you’ll have corn flour.
What can I use as a substitute for polenta?
Polenta is often used as a side dish or as a supplement to vegetables and meat. If you don’t care for polenta or simply don’t have any for your meal, the closest substitute would be grits, but you could also use a creamy mashed potato or cauliflower, or perhaps a delicate risotto.
Can I grind polenta to make cornmeal?
Strictly speaking, polenta is a creamy, almost porridge-like dish made with cornmeal. Once cooked, no you can’t grind it to make cornmeal.
However, if you have a package of cornmeal that is labeled as polenta, what it actually means is that the grind of cornmeal is ideal for making polenta with.
If you want a finer grain, you can add dry polenta cornmeal to a food processor or blender to chop it into smaller pieces, making softer, lighter cornmeal.
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