Everyone has those moments where they get to prepare their meal and find that they are out of a certain essential ingredient.
Cornmeal is used in lots of different recipes, and it’s most well-known for being used to make delicious cornbread. How did cornmeal (and specifically, cornbread) become such a huge part of American history? There are several different types of cornbread, including hushpuppies, Johnnycakes, and Mexican cornbread. But cornbread is most often associated with the Deep South, where cornbread has been a staple for centuries.
Cornmeal, a versatile ingredient found in many recipes, can sometimes be difficult to find or may not suit the dietary restrictions of certain individuals. In such cases, it becomes crucial to find appropriate cornmeal substitutes that can help maintain the texture and flavor of the dishes they were intended for. With a variety of alternatives available, both experienced and novice cooks can explore new options that cater to their specific needs and preferences.
Understanding the role of cornmeal in cooking can help in determining which substitutes would work best for particular recipes. From its use as a thickening agent to adding a distinct taste and texture, cornmeal serves various purposes in the culinary world. Knowing these roles allows home chefs to make informed decisions, and adjust their recipes accordingly to deliver delicious and satisfying meals.
Many people today make cornbread from mixes such as Jiffy Mix, but this isn’t true Southern cornbread because it has a sweet flavor. And do you mix cornmeal with flour or not? It all depends on your recipe.
There are lots of different substitutes for different food ingredients, and corn meal is no exception to this.
There are many different ingredients that you can use as a substitute for cornmeal, and you might even have some laying around in your kitchen for you to utilize.
We are going to run you through all of the different cornmeal substitutes in this article, so you don’t have to worry about missing out on your favorite meal if you have run out of it.
If you haven’t needed to use a substitute for this before, then you probably won’t even know about most of these easy substitutes for cornmeal, but you will definitely be well-informed by the end of this article.
There are lots of different recipes that use cornmeal as one of the main ingredients, and this way, you won’t have to miss out.
What is Cornmeal?
Cornmeal is actually made from ground yellow corn, and it ranges in texture from fine to coarse grounds.
The majority of yellow cornmeal is made from what is called dent corn, which is high in starch content and has a corny texture.
Cornmeal is most commonly used for making cornbread, and it is able to form a tasty crispy crust on a variety of foods, like fish and chicken.
Cornmeal is processed through either a stone-ground that produces a coarser texture, or steel rollers that produce a finer ground. This is how we are able to get cornmeal of different consistencies.
Is Cornmeal Different From Cornstarch?
Before we get into this article and explain all the different types of ingredients that you can substitute for cornmeal, it is important to know that cornmeal and corn starch are two completely different things.
To avoid any confusion, we will quickly explain the difference below.
Cornstarch is actually a white type of powder that is made up of the endosperm of the corn kernel. It is more commonly used as a thickening agent in all different types of sauces and puddings, and it is much finer than cornmeal.
Cornstarch is a gluten-free product that is made only from corn, and it can be used as a substitute for flour in order to thicken the product.
Alternatively, yellow cornmeal is a finely ground type of corn that typically uses the entire kernel. It is able to add flavor, texture, and body to a dish that is lacking in these things.
Cornmeal is used in larger quantities and has a completely different consistency and texture than cornstarch.
Things To Note When Substituting Cornmeal
Before you start substituting cornmeal for a variety of different other ingredients, you should know that the cornmeal actually has different purposes in different recipes.
Essentially, this ingredient has two different functions, and these are to add flavor or to add texture. If you are using a recipe that is using cornmeal for flavor, then you should substitute it with other corn products.
However, if you are using a recipe that requires cornmeal in order to change the texture, then you should look for a similar product that shares a similar consistency.
If you are substituting simply because you are allergic to corn, then you should obviously be looking for products that do not contain any corn at all.
Now that any confusion has been cleared up, we can get into explaining all of the different substitutes that you can use for cornmeal.
There are lots of substitutes that can perfectly replicate the uses of cornmeal, making it seem as though there is absolutely no difference at all.
One of the best and most ideal substitutes for cornmeal is corn grit, and they are both corn products.
Grits are perfect for both cooking and baking purposes, and they are actually slightly coarser than standard cornmeal, which means that you will need to use a smaller amount than you would with cornmeal.
This is especially important for any recipes that are liquid-based. If you are specifically looking for the texture, then you can grind the grits and this should replicate the texture of cornmeal.
This is known to be one of the best cornmeal substitutes, so this should be the first thing that you look for in your pantry before you move on to another alternative.
They are essentially smaller bits of corn that are finely ground, and many actually confuse the two products due to their similar appearance. However, they are slightly bigger than cornmeal, which will slightly alter the texture, but not noticeably so.
With this substitute, you will be getting both the flavor and texture that you are looking for, and your dish will be more or less the same as it would have been if you used cornmeal.
Something else that you should note is that if you are using corn grits to make a batter, then you will need to use a lower amount than you would with cornmeal. This is so you can balance it out.
Another popular substitute for cornmeal is polenta, which is another ideal match.
It is coarse ground corn that is actually available in a wide variety of different grades that range from coarse to fine.
This will allow you to choose a consistency that works well with your chosen recipe, depending on what it requires from you.
If you would have used coarse cornmeal for the dish, then you should instead use a coarse polenta as a substitute.
Something else that you should remember is that you can evenly substitute corn flour for polenta flour if you ever need to.
When it is being used as an alternative to cornmeal, the ratio will not typically change, though if it is coarse, you should use a slightly reduced amount.
Other Potential Substitutes
While these two are the main ingredients that are used for substituting, there are also some other things that you can try.
If it is just the texture that you are trying to substitute, you can try and use things like semolina, ground oats, and even breadcrumbs. These should provide you with the consistency that you are looking for.
However, if it is the taste and flavor of cornmeal that you are trying to replicate, then you might find the process a little more difficult. Though, other corn products should be able to do the job.
You can also try semolina flour, baking powder (limited recipes), and cake flour in your baked goods.
Frequently Asked Questions
Cornmeal is essentially dried out and ground corn kernels. It is most commonly used in American cornbread recipes but can be harder to find in the UK and Europe. Below are some good substitutes for cornmeal if you cannot find any in your local supermarket or health food store. We have also included a recipe to make your own cornmeal if you are stuck for options.
Can you use flour in place of cornmeal?
No, you should not use flour in place of cornmeal if you have alternative options available. Cornmeal is commonly used for textural and flavor purposes, which regular flour cannot imitate. The best alternatives are corn grits, semolina, ground oats, and breadcrumbs.
Rice flour, wheat flour, and tapioca starch will work in a pinch as a cornmeal substitute. This will serve a similar purpose to cornmeal but you will not get the same texture or flavor in the final product.
Can I use cornstarch instead of cornmeal?
You should not use cornstarch in place of cornmeal. While they are both made from the same raw ingredient, the manufacturing process is vastly different. Cornstarch is a much finer powder than cornmeal and will act very differently when combined into a recipe.
The final product will likely be lighter and less dense than if it was made with cornmeal.
How do you make homemade cornmeal?
Making cornmeal at home is a super simple process. Homemade cornmeal is much sweeter and has more depth of flavor than the kind you can purchase at the store. It will also be much fresher as it will not have been sat in bags on a store shelf for months.
To make cornmeal, you will ideally have access to some freshly harvested corn left on the cob. If you cannot get hold of this, frozen corn will work just as well. We do not advise using canned corn to make cornmeal.
If your corn is on the cob, we advise soaking it in water for 20 minutes to ensure any hidden bugs are flushed out. Leave the husks on but chop off the stem. Cook your corn until it is slightly al dente and then cut all of the kernels off of the center.
Spread the corn across a lined dehydrator tray. Set your dehydrator to 135 degrees Fahrenheit and place the kernels in for 8 to 12 hours to dehydrate fully. Shake the trays a couple of times during this process.
When the corn is completely dry, add it to the jug of a blender and grind to your desired coarseness. Spread this mixture onto a lined baking tray and place in an oven preheated to the lowest temperature for 5 minutes. This will ensure that the cornmeal is completely dry.
Allow it to cool completely and transfer to an airtight container for storage.
What is the English equivalent of cornmeal?
In the UK, cornmeal is more commonly referred to as polenta. Polenta is actually a porridge-like dish from Northern Italy, but in the UK packets of cornmeal ground to the optimal coarseness for making the dish are simply known as polenta.
Generally, the polenta found in the United Kingdom is made from a more finely ground cornmeal than the stuff you would find in the US. That being said, they will both serve the same purpose in your recipe.
If you can travel to a health food store, you may see more options in terms of polenta than you would in a general supermarket. This is where you are most likely to find a variance in the grind coarseness so that you can choose the optimal grind for your recipe.
Our BEST Cornmeal Substitutes
- Corn Grits
- Other Potential Substitutes
- Try our kitchen tested cornmeal substitutes.
Use in or with your favorite recipe.