In an effort to save you from this pain, I’ve read all the sources on ground corn that I could get my hands on (over 20 in all) to better understand the differences between cornmeal, oatmeal, and cornmeal. polenta and help you shop and cook. with confidence.
What is cornmeal? Technically speaking, “cornmeal” is the generic term for any type of “meal” made from ground dried corn, fine to coarse in size and from any variety or color of corn. Colloquially, anything labeled cornmeal found in grocery stores is likely finely ground white or yellow corn. This is what you’ll use to make cornbread, to sprinkle a pizza skin to keep the dough from sticking, or to coat fried seafood or green tomatoes.
Grits versus polenta. Depending on who you ask, oatmeal and polenta are just the dishes made from cooking dried ground corn porridge or also the ingredients themselves. Regarding the dishes, “Theoretically, oatmeal and polenta are the same thing: ground corn cooked into porridge. But, technically, polenta and oatmeal differ in several ways, including the type of corn used to produce the ground product, as well as how they were traditionally ground, ”writes Erin Bryers Murray in his aptly titled book“ Grits. “.
Polenta dates back to Roman times in northern Italy and was made from a range of grains and legumes before corn was introduced to the region. Since then the dish has usually been made from eight-row flint corn (‘otto file’ in Italian) which has been ground via a reduction grinding process which helps the corn retain its flavor better than the standard grind in. one process and produces a size than stone grinding.
Oatmeal – loved throughout the southern United States and among those associated with it – has traditionally been made from dent corn. Tooth and flint are two types of field corn, a far cry from the sweet corn you eat on the cob. The two varieties have different levels of starch firmness, which are much higher than sweet corn. “Because the flint grains are firmer than the tooth, cooked polenta hardens into a more robust porridge with more defined teeth than grits,” writes Byers Murray.
According to artisanal grain producer Anson Mills, “Flint also has different base flavor profiles compared to dent-like cuisine. Flint has more mineral and floral notes, bumps more “corn” flavor up front, followed by supporting floral and mineral notes. Although polenta has traditionally been made from flint corn, there are no regulations requiring packaging labeled “polenta” to be made from it today.
I usually think of oatmeal to be white corn because that’s what I ate growing up, but yellow oatmeal is also common. Historically, color preference is said to be based on whether you live in an urban (white corn) or rural (yellow corn) area, and some heirloom growers offer them in shades of blue and red as well. As for the difference between yellow corn and white corn: yellow corn is said to have a more robust corn flavor, while white corn is slightly more delicate with more mineral and floral notes. However, the taste distinction is largely negligible.
And what about hominy grits? Hominy itself is corn that has been nixtamalized, meaning it has been treated with an alkaline solution to remove the outer coating from the kernel. This process sweetens the corn and is also said to help with flavor and nutrition. Although hominy can be ground to produce oatmeal, this process is said to be turned off according to Anson Mills, although other sources say it still is. Either way, according to Anson Mills, the use of the word hominy “is a classic Southern take on puzzling terms: the popular Southern term for a freshly made coarse oatmeal dish is ‘hominy.’ So while you’ll still see the term on oatmeal wrappers today, that doesn’t necessarily mean the corn has undergone nixtamalization. (However, fine grinding the real hominy produces masa harina, which is used for tortillas and tamales.)
Purchase and storage. The recommended size of the cornmeal you buy depends on how you plan to use it. Regular “cornmeal” in fine or medium grinds is best for cooking and dredging, while medium or coarse grinds (including those labeled polenta or oatmeal) are best for porridge. (Some say oatmeal is generally coarser than polenta, others claim it’s the other way around – in my book, any medium or coarse ground corn will do.)
“The most important distinction for cornmeal is whether it is whole grain or degermed,” writes Molly Stevens in Fine Cooking. “Like wheat and other grains, corn kernels are made up of three parts: the germ or core rich in oil and vitamins; the fibrous shell; and the starchy endosperm. Whole grain cornmeal contains parts of all three and thus provides a richer, richer taste and twice the nutritional value of each other. Whole-kernel cornmeal varieties tend to be stone-ground by artisanal producers, while much of the commercially produced dried ground corn has been partially or fully degermed. Grinding stone compared to modern grinding techniques also preserves the “real flavor of corn” more.
Although degermination can produce a less flavorful and nutritious product, it improves convenience. “Because the germ is high in oil, whole-kernel cornmeal quickly becomes rancid,” Stevens writes, so it has a shorter shelf life. As such, it’s best to store it in an airtight container in a dark, cold place (preferably the fridge or freezer) for maximum flavor and longevity. (The same is true even for degermed corn, with just about any other ground grain, including all-purpose flour.)
How to choose what to use. At the end of the day, all forms of ground corn from dried whole kernels are interchangeable, meaning you can make a porridge with the “cornmeal” you probably have in your cupboard right now or cook it. cornbread “porridge” (in theory). It’s mostly a matter of preference and desired texture. (Note: Cornstarch should be treated as a completely different item as it is made only from the starchy part of the corn as opposed to the whole grain.)