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What is Cornmeal?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Cornmeal is a powdery food product, similar to common wheat flour, that is made by grinding the dried kernels of maize, or corn, through one of several different processes and into one of several different levels of fineness. In the United States, it is sometimes also called cornflour, however in the United Kingdom cornflour is used synonymously with cornstarch, so care should be taken by anyone when encountering “cornflour” in a recipe. While it can be used directly in a number of different recipes, it also has uses beyond simply being an ingredient and may be used in several other applications as well.

There are several ways in which cornmeal can be ground, but most common are steel ground or stone ground. Steel ground typically has neither the husk nor the germ of the maize, and this makes storage possible almost indefinitely. If kept in an airtight container and frozen, steel ground cornmeal can remain fresh for years. Stone ground, however, still has much of the husk and germ of the original maize kernel and the oils released in grinding can go rancid fairly easily. If frozen in an airtight container, stone ground varieties may remain safe to eat for up to two years, but if stored in a cool pantry or refrigerator, they should be used within a few months.

Cornmeal can also be ground to fine, medium, or coarse degrees of fineness, and these different consistencies are often used for different recipes. Common American foods such as cornbread, corncakes, and grits all use cornmeal. Polenta, often found in Italian kitchens and restaurants, is made through basically the same process as the grits found in the American South. It is also often used in making batters for foods such as corndogs and cornbrats and is commonly used as a form of animal feed.

A number of different bakeries and restaurants also use cornmeal in helping baked products release from what they are baked upon, and it can often be found coating the bottom of pizzas and English muffins. Cornmeal has been found to have strong anti-fungal properties and may be used in gardens to help reduce or keep fungal infections from affecting plants. Since it is edible, it can be used on food crops as well and may possess nutrients that are released into the growing plants. This can be achieved either through mixing the meal directly into soil, or soaking it in water overnight, straining the mixture and spraying the water onto plants. For agricultural purposes, horticultural grade cornmeal used as animal feed is cheaper and just as safe to use on plants.

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