What’s The Deal With Cornmeal?!

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The ultimate guide to understanding & using cornmeal


Cornmeal has numerous uses in the kitchen, making your food taste even more delicious. It’s especially used in baked and fried items.

However, despite its common use in the kitchen, many people are unaware of what cornmeal really is. You may think you’ve used cornmeal, but are you sure it wasn’t corn flour or polenta?

Due to the wide variety of cornmeal types and similar ingredients, it’s easy to get confused and end up using the wrong ingredients.

However, doing so can easily result in your food being ruined. So, to make sure you don’t end up scratching your head when purchasing cornmeal, here are some important things to know about it.

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What is cornmeal?

cornmeal close up

In simple words, cornmeal results from drying and grinding field corn, which is a specific type of corn different from the sweet corn you normally eat.

The old-fashioned method was to grind the corn with stone, which resulted in more nutritious cornmeal as it retains some of its hull and germ.

However, the current way is to use steel-rollers from grinding, which removes the hull and germ, but this makes the cornmeal less perishable.

The time period and size of grinding determines the texture and properties of the cornmeal. Textures range from fine to medium to coarse, all of which are dependent on the size of the bits of corn.

Alongside providing you with a unique taste, the texture also determines how long it will take for the cornmeal to be cooked. The finer the texture, the faster it will cook, as it absorbs more water.

The main reason behind the confusion revolving around cornmeal is that it has many types. Each texture and processing type creates a new variety of cornmeal. Finely ground cornmeal is known as corn flour, while medium ground cornmeal is the real cornmeal you use in cakes and breads.

Additionally, it’s best for you to keep in mind that cornflour and cornstarch are not the same, as the latter is used mostly for thickening food items.

What is cornmeal in the UK called?

Many countries have different names for the same ingredients, like the UK does for some types of cornmeal. However, cornmeal might create a problem for foreigners.

It’s important to know what is cornmeal called in the UK before you go to the supermarket to get some.

So, to help you get the right type of cornmeal, regardless of where you are, here are a few names used in the UK for what is cornmeal.

Often, you’ll find British recipes requiring the use of ‘cornflour,’ however, in reality, they are actually asking for cornstarch.

Corn flour is a commonly used name in the UK to refer to cornstarch. Moreover, maize meal is often used in the UK to refer to cornmeal.

How to use cornmeal

Cornbread isn’t the only food item cornmeal is used in. It’s used for various purposes in the kitchen while also being used in baked and other food items.

The texture and sweetness provided by the cornmeal are what really makes it stand out in recipes.

Perhaps the best way to use cornmeal is by making breads. For example, you can try making a corn spoon bread or a sweet cornmeal crust to get a taste of its amazing crumbly texture.

Moreover, you can also use cornmeal in cakes and cookies or use it to coat savoury items like chicken cutlets and mozzarella sticks. However, cornmeal isn’t only used as an ingredient.

If you need to thicken dishes such as soups, cornmeal is the perfect tool to do so. Cornmeal is also used to dust surfaces while making doughs for breads or pizzas to prevent them from sticking. Storing and retaining the freshness of cornmeal is also a significant part of using it properly.

It’s essential to keep your cornmeal sealed inside a refrigerator or freezer, especially if you use stone-ground or whole-grain types that tend to go stale quickly.

It’s true that cornmeal will be fine even at room temperature for up to a year; however, it’s best to keep it in the cold.

tortillas made from cornmeal

Why use cornmeal

As mentioned earlier, cornmeal has countless uses in the kitchen and is required in many great recipes. So, a good reason to use cornmeal is that you can’t really make deliciously baked and fried food without using it.

But more importantly, cornmeal has numerous health benefits, just like other grains, which you should take advantage of.

Cornmeal is known to be highly rich in healthy carbohydrates that contain many other nutrients. By just eating a small portion of cornmeal, you can gain a significant amount of energy for your body.

Moreover, cornmeal also has a significant amount of fibres that help to make you feel satisfied after eating for a long time.

This can especially be useful for people with obesity, as they can reduce eating by feeling full for a long time by eating cornmeal. Additionally, fibres in cornmeal also reduce constipation, improving your digestive system.

More importantly, cornmeal is a great source of iron, providing 4.2 milligrams of iron in just a cup. Alongside improving the flow of oxygen throughout your body, iron also helps to enhance metabolism and brain function. Moreover, you can also eat cornmeal as a source of phosphorous, which helps in DNA, cell membrane and boner mineral tissue formation.

chips made from corn flour

Polenta vs Cornmeal

Technically, polenta is a term used to refer to an Italian dish similar to porridge. However, that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Polenta is also an ingredient similar to cornmeal. People often tend to get confused when choosing between cornmeal or polenta, as they are quite similar.

However, it’s important to note that using both ingredients has different results; hence, it’s essential to choose the right one. Similar to cornmeal, polenta is made out of ground corn grains. However, the difference is in the texture of polenta, which is coarser due to being ground up less. In contrast, cornmeal is mushier and softer.

Moreover, while making polenta, yellow maize is used, which results in bright yellow colour. Sometimes polenta is also known as yellow cornmeal uk. Polenta is mainly used to make the Italian dish mentioned earlier.


What can be used in place of cornmeal?

Cornmeal is used in a variety of recipes; however, it isn’t always available. In such a situation, it’s best to know about alternatives to rely upon. Despite being coarser, corn grits are the perfect substitute for cornmeal due to their identical taste. But you will still notice a slight difference in texture.

Moreover, you can also use polenta as an alternative; however, it is also coarser than cornmeal. You can also use cornflour if your recipe requires you to use finely ground cornmeal.

Besides these alternatives, there are also some non-corn substitutes, such as rice flour, wheat flour, and semolina.

Is cornmeal and corn flour the same?

Cornmeal and cornflour often create confusion due to being quite similar. However, they are two different types of ground corn.

Cornmeal is coarser in comparison to corn flour due to being ground for a less amount of time. Corn flour is also known as a finely ground type of cornmeal.

Does Tesco sell cornmeal?

You’ll find any type of cornmeal you need at Tesco. After all, cornmeal is a commonly listed item in recipes, making it an essential ingredient.

However, make sure to get the right cornmeal, as finely ground cornmeal or fine polenta tesco is often labelled as cornstarch.

Are polenta and cornmeal the same thing?

Polenta and cornmeal may both originate from corn grains. However, they have many differences and are not the same thing.

Polenta is made from brightly coloured maize and has a coarser texture as compared to cornmeal.

Does cornmeal go rancid?

Just like other ingredients, cornmeal has a specific shelf life before which you need to consume the cornmeal. Typically, cornmeal can stay fine for up to a year. However, you can extend the shelf life by keeping it cold in a sealed container or bag.

What to do with old cornmeal?

Cornmeal doesn’t only make your food more delicious and rich in nutrients but can also be quite useful for your garden. If you have any old cornmeal left, don’t throw it away, as it can be used as compost for your plants.

Moreover, if you’re preparing your garden for plantation, it’s best to use cornmeal as a base. As a result, your plants will gain many extra nutrients from the cornmeal, boosting their growth.

Additionally, cornmeal can also be provided to plants with a leaf spot fungus infection, which will boost their recovery. Moreover, weed plant and insect control are much easier with the help of cornmeal.


Cornmeal is a widely used ingredient, appearing in numerous different recipes. However, before you start cooking your favourite meals, it’s best to learn adequately about the ingredients you use for perfect results.

Otherwise, you might end up being confused about which product to get, especially while using items such as cornmeal, which have many types. The differences and information mentioned above will be enough to get you out of your confusion.

Andy Canter


Ever since I started cooking I’ve been fascinated by how different people’s techniques are and how they best utilise the ingredients around them. Even the person living next door will have their own unique way of frying an egg or cooking a salmon fillet.

This fascination led me on a journey across the globe to discover the countless practices and traditions the world of cooking has to offer. I thought you’d enjoy and find value in sharing that journey with me so I created Cooked Best!