In today’s jam-packed article we will look at the best substitute for cornmeal. The list I’ve created today will work for virtually every recipe you can think of, and there are usually a couple of easy-to-find options available too!
And don’t forget to let me know if you have any questions or recipe requests!
What Is Cornmeal?
Before looking at the best substitute for cornmeal, it’s crucial to know that cornmeal isn’t cornstarch. Many people have the misconception that the two terms are interchangeable, but they are not.
So then, what exactly is cornmeal?
Cornmeal is made from the same ingredient as cornstarch. The main difference between the two is which parts are used and how they are processed. This directly affects their texture, flavor, and function.
Cornstarch is made from the endosperm inside a corn kernel. The starch is extracted and processed into a fine, powdery white ingredient.
Cornmeal, on the other hand, is usually made from whole corn kernels. The same goes for corn flour (also different from corn meal). It has different textures ranging from coarse, medium, and fine grit.
Understanding what cornmeal is (and how it functions in food) will allow you to choose the best and most effective cornmeal substitutes.
Characteristics Of Cornmeal
As I’ve mentioned, cornmeal is made from ground whole corn kernels. They can be processed to have varying textures which affect how they function.
Fine cornmeal is usually used for pastries, doughs, and other baked goods. Coarse cornmeal can be used to create delicious, hearty fillings instead. Whichever one the recipe calls for will affect the substitute that you need to choose.
The taste of cornmeal is pretty neutral, but it definitely has a corn-like flavor (seeing as it is made from whole grains).
And finally, there are also different kinds of cornmeal. First, you get different products made from different varieties of corn, for example, blue, white, or yellow corn. If this is an important feature to you, you will need to choose a substitute for cornmeal that is the same color or add food coloring.
Then, you also get steel-ground or stone-ground cornmeal. These affect the nutrients of the cornmeal.
The steel-ground process removes the husk and germ from the corn kernel. This makes it less nutritious.
The stone ground process retains some of the husk and germ, which ultimately adds a little more flavor and nutrients.
The Best Substitute For Cornmeal
All of the substitutes on my list today work for virtually every recipe! They are easy to find and affordable. And there are usually a variety of options for you to choose from.
Let’s take a look!
1. Corn Grits
This is hands-down your best alternative, even though it is probably the most difficult to find on today’s list. But trust me, it’s still pretty easy to get these!
Corn grits differ from cornmeal in that it isn’t as processed (refined). This means that they are usually much coarser than what you get when buying cornmeal (even coarse cornmeal).
So, to get a finer texture, either buy corn grits that are refined or crush them at home in a food processor or inside a pestle and mortar.
You can also find white corn grits or yellow corn grits. The yellow variety is usually easier to find. And they are usually a little more nutritional than the white options.
One tip I have to mention for using corn grits as a substitute for cornmeal is that you will have a longer cooking time. The larger grits take longer to absorb the liquid. But, if you refine them a little (make them finer in texture), they will cook in the same way regular cornmeal does.
Polenta is another ingredient that is pretty much exactly like cornmeal. The two have the same flavor, but their textures differ slightly.
Cornmeal is slightly less gritty than this Italian staple ingredient. Again, you can process the polenta in a food processor to give it a slightly finer texture.
Polenta is easier to find than corn grits, depending on where you are. And generally, they have a finer texture than the grits. So, why aren’t they number one on my list? Simply because there is pretty much just one option available that they make from yellow corn.
Semolina isn’t a corn-based product. It is made from durum wheat and can also be bought with varying textures. So essentially, it is exactly like cornmeal but made from a different ingredient.
The biggest downside to this substitute for cornmeal is that it doesn’t have a corn-like flavor and doesn’t come in different colors.
But, an upside is that it is much more nutritious than cornmeal.
4. Corn Flour
Next up, we have corn flour as a substitute for cornmeal. It is not cornstarch!
You can think of corn flour as powdered cornmeal. It will give you the same flavor as cornmeal, but the texture will naturally be very different.
So, this alternative only really works in baked goods where you can get away with a no-textured product. It also works great as a thickener in soups, sauces, broths, and stews.
5. Masa Harina
Masa harina is a type of corn-based flour made from dried corn kernels soaked in a lime solution. It is a product that can easily be bought in stores or online but is also made at home.
You can see how I used some in my El Salvadorian Pupusas Recipe. Another way you can use it is to make pizza dough.
While this may not be the best alternative (because of how different its flavor and texture are), it is certainly one that will work in a pinch.
Can I Substitute Cornstarch For Cornmeal?
As I’ve mentioned, cornstarch and cornmeal are not the same ingredients. Cornstarch is a starch and will thicken your products.
If it is used to function as flour (like cornmeal is), then it will make the baked goods very dense, rubbery, and gummy.
Therefore, it is always best to use one of the corn meal replacements I’ve listed above.