Chatelaine Kitchen

Pantry 101: Discover the difference between cornmeal and polenta

Cornmeal is a long-lived staple from around the globe, but is it the same as polenta?

cormeal and polenta

Cornmeal and polenta.

What is cornmeal?

Cornmeal is made from dried corn kernels that are ground into a coarse, medium and fine (but even the finest-grind available still has a rough texture). The most common variety on the market is steel-ground cornmeal, which contains little or no husk and germ, which also gives it an extended shelf life of up to one year. Stone-ground cornmeal, on the other hand, contains some hull and germ, increasing its flavour and nutrients (without being enriched), but lessening its shelf life to months. Both should be stored in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark place to keep them at their freshest.

Why we love it: It adds texture and flavour to recipes. And, regardless of which type you choose, cornmeal bakes up beautifully in cakes or waffles, while providing a crispy crust for meat or onion rings.

Try it in:
Buttermilk cornbread waffles
Cornmeal-crusted tomato and pesto steak stack
Cornmeal strawberry shortcake

What is polenta?

While you may see packages of cornmeal labeled as polenta, it is actually an Italian dish with deep roots throughout Europe. Traditionally made with a medium to coarse grind, it’s simmered in liquid for up to an hour, until the grains have softened and the mixture has thickened to resemble porridge. In recent times, pre-processed quick-cooking polenta has become increasingly popular, as it cuts down the cooking time dramatically. However, many believe this sacrifices the quality of flavour and consistency.

Why we love it: It’s versatile. Polenta can be enjoyed dreamily alongside warm braises or stews, or chilled into a firm block to be sliced, fried, baked or grilled.

Try it in:
Crispy polenta fries
Sausage and rapini with polenta
Slow cooker polenta

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