Is Cornmeal the Same as Polenta?

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Everyone thinks cornmeal and polenta are essentially the same things. Most people often confuse them with one another. But is cornmeal the same as polenta?

Well, polenta is a North Italian dish, whereas cornmeal is often an ingredient used in making polenta.

And that’s just peeling the first layer of the onion.

When cooked low and slow, the results may indeed have a porridge-like look. But you always notice something distinct in their consistency and flavor.

Well, this article will help you unravel the critical differences between these meals – in detail. So endeavor to read till the end.  

What is Polenta?

Is Cornmeal the Same as Polenta

Polenta is not an ingredient — it’s a dish. It is a Northern and central Italian dish of boiled coarsely-ground yellow or white cornmeal.

The main ingredients are: Yellow or white cornmeal, liquid (water, soup stock)

So when you hear the term “polenta,” know it refers to the traditional Italian preparation of different coarsely-ground grains or starches cooked into a porridge.

For example, polenta taragna – a porridge of cornmeal and buckwheat meal in Northern Italy.

Also, chickpea flour, Chestnut flour, or coarse ground rice are among the many other grains that are traditionally used in Italy.

However, cornmeal polenta is so far the most commonly prepared. (More on this soon)

Today, particularly in the US, when you hear the term “polenta,” it refers to the cornmeal version.

Read Also: Is Cornmeal The Same As Corn Flour?

What is Cornmeal?

Cornmeal is a coarsely milled product obtained from dried corn kernels.

It’s a confusing cornmeal world out there. If a recipe requires cornmeal, you might find yourself in the grain aisle looking at a bag of polenta grits, coarse cornmeal, blue cornmeal, fine cornmeal, cornflour, and many more.

But all you need to know is that they are available in various colors, which could be blue, purple, yellow, or white, depending on the corn color itself.

Also, they are ground into one of three textures: fine (but not as fine as wheat flour), medium, and coarse.

Cornmeal is gluten-free and is the basic ingredient of many foods and bakery products such as Polenta, Cornbread, Muffins, Stews, Cereals, Chips, Masa, as well as Breadings.

Furthermore, we use cornmeal for cornbread, muffins, and other baked goods; to add thickness to stews and chilis; and for crunchy coatings on meat, fish, and poultry.

The size of the grind shows how fast the cornmeal will absorb water (smaller grind = faster absorption), which is why coarsely ground grits take so long to cook into creamy goodness. 

Is Cornmeal The Same As Polenta? [What’s The Difference]

Since Polenta is also made from corn, you might be wondering if it is just cornmeal labeled differently and sold at a higher price. Or whether they are unlike and can be used interchangeably.

Well, let me set the facts straight because I remember my first experience swapping cornmeal for Polenta.

So a couple of years ago, I found myself standing in the bulk section of a nearby grocery store, staring blankly at a bin of cornmeal while I had come in search of Polenta for dinner.

Little did I know everybody had the same plan that night —all the polenta were sold out.

On the bright side, they have plenty of coarse-ground cornmeal, and from what we were told by the grocer, they are alike.

So Patricia and I went home and made, um, polenta. I cooked it as I would for Polenta, and it worked, sort of – and I could vividly recall the cheesy smiles plastered on our faces.

While the result looks porridge-like, the consistency and flavor were quite different.

Polenta and cornmeal are almost the same product, except for the consistency of the grain.

Polenta is much more coarsely ground, making the end product less mushy, and it has a little more bite to it than cornmeal.

Cornmeal is very finely ground, so it can end up mushy or soupy if you prepare it like polenta.

And YES, they can be used interchangeably. 

But make sure to use the medium or coarse-ground cornmeal for polenta.

Or preferably, try to seek out labeled “polenta” cornmeal, as this is most likely to yield a bowl of porridge with a rich yellow-orange hue and a specific, addictive sweetness.

Moreover, since there is no specific cornmeal required to make polenta, these two options are your only best bet.

Besides you, there are thousands of professional chefs out there using either medium or coarse grind and packages of cornmeal labeled as polenta. So you’re not alone.

So have it at the back of mind that: any packages tagged “polenta” mean that the grind of the corn is convenient for polenta dishes.

And please DO NOTuse finely-ground cornmeal or corn flour as they have too fine of consistency and will result in a pasty texture finish.

Read Also: Substitutes For Quinoa Flour

Conclusion | Cornmeal Vs Polenta

Phew! So I hope the “Is cornmeal the same as polenta?” misconception has been cleared?

Well, you still got your head in the cloud; maybe it’s because Cornmeal has long been used for baked goods and giving fried foods crunch and texture. And Polenta may feel like a less-familiar newcomer.

Whatever the case may be, always remember this:

Polenta is a North Italian dish, whereas cornmeal is often an ingredient used in making Polenta.

This will always set the difference clear that Polenta is the term used to describe both the popular Italian dish of cornmeal mush, as well as the cornmeal used to make the dish.

Read Also: 8 Best Corn Flour Substitutes