Looking for a cornmeal substitute to save your recipe? You've come to just the right place! There are plenty of alternatives that can successfully mimic the flavor and texture of cornmeal. So to save you a trip to the grocery store, we've rounded up the best cornmeal substitutes below (many of which you already have lying around your pantry).
But first, let's take a closer look at cornmeal itself. Understanding what this staple ingredient is and how it's used makes it far easier to find a suitable replacement for your particular recipe.
What Is Cornmeal?
Cornmeal is made from one ingredient: ground yellow or white corn. It varies in texture from finely ground cornmeal to larger, coarser grinds that add an extra crunchy texture. Depending on the product, it's either stone-ground for a gritty texture and artisanal feel or processed through steel rollers that create a more shelf-stable product.
Cornmeal is a relatively healthy corn product, depending largely on the product and its use. Whole-grain cornmeal boasts a variety of health benefits, including:
- Great source of fiber
- High in essential nutrients like iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium
- High in B vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin
As a rule of thumb, artisanal stone-ground cornmeal labeled 'whole grain' will have a higher nutritional content than refined cornmeal that's been stripped of its nutritious bran and germ.
How Is Cornmeal Used?
Cornmeal is incredibly versatile in the kitchen. It adds a delicious flavor, unique texture, and vibrant yellow color to any dish. Here are a few of its most common uses:
- The main ingredient in cornbread, corn muffins, and corn fritters
- Making homemade tamales, corn chips, and tortillas
- Adding texture and a sweet corn flavor to bread, cookies, and other baked goods
- Crusting fried foods like fish or chicken
- Dusting baking surfaces to prevent bread or pizza dough from sticking
- Thickening soups, stews, and chili
When substituting cornmeal, you'll first need to determine what type of cornmeal the recipe calls for. To create the same texture, aim for a replacement with the same coarseness.
The Best Cornmeal Substitutes
The key to any good cornmeal substitute is to recreate a similar texture and corn flavor. That's why the best cornmeal substitutes are other corn products that can produce a similar end result with minor textural changes.
Any true Southern kitchen will undoubtedly have a box or two of corn grits lying around. The pantry staple is a type of coarsely ground cornmeal, which has a slightly different starch content from sweet corn, and they'll offer relatively the same flavor and texture as actual cornmeal.
Most regular corn grits have a coarser texture than cornmeal, so expect a bit of added crunch. Corn grits are super-absorbent, making them an excellent thickener for soups, stews, and other liquid-based recipes. Start with a slightly smaller amount of corn grits than the recipe calls for cornmeal, and add as more as needed to avoid overdoing it.
Alternatively, you can grind the corn grits in a coffee grinder or food processor to create a more cornmeal-like texture. Or try using hominy grits instead.
Homemade Cornmeal With Corn Kernels
While making your own corn meal may sound a bit daunting, there's no need to be intimidated. Making homemade cornmeal is surprisingly easy!
All you'll need is a bag of unpopped popcorn kernels and a coffee grinder, blender, or food processor. Add the corn kernels and grind until it forms a coarse powder. Once it's reached your desired texture, sieve the powder to remove any larger pieces. It may take two or three grinds to achieve your desired consistency, depending on the coarseness you're aiming for.
When you're finished, store your homemade cornmeal in an airtight container to keep it fresh. Your freshly-ground cornmeal offers the best flavor and highest nutritional content during the first few days. But with proper storage, it'll have a shelf-life of around one to two years. See below for step by step on how to make your own cornmeal.
Because polenta is made from coarse ground yellow corn, it's excellent at replacing coarse cornmeal. Plus, coarse-ground corn is more nutrient-dense, making it a healthier alternative to other over-processed corn products.
When using polenta as a cornmeal replacement, stick with a 1 to 1 ratio. It's a bit sweeter than cornmeal, so you may want to decrease the amount of sugar recommended in the original recipe. The final end result will probably look more yellow too.
Corn flour— sometimes called polenta flour— is one of the best substitutes for finely ground cornmeal. The pillowy yellow powder is made from super, super finely ground corn, so it'll add the same sweetness and flavor as standard cornmeal. This fine grind will change the texture a bit, producing a lighter, less dense end result.
Substitute cornmeal with corn flour in baking and thickening. Stick to a 1 to 1 ratio when substituting corn flour for cornmeal. Reduce the cooking time by a few minutes to accommodate for the lighter texture.
Though corn flour and cornstarch are quite similar, they aren't quite the same thing. While corn flour is made using the entire corn kernel, corn starch only uses the starchy part of the kernel. The end result is a fine, white powder that acts as an excellent thickener.
Ground Tortilla Chips
As crazy as it sounds, ground tortilla chips can be used to replace cornmeal in some recipes. Simply crush a few handfuls of chips into a food processor and grind until you reach your desired texture. Most tortilla chips have added salt, so be sure to reduce or omit salt from the recipe.
Masa harina is a type of corn flour that directly translates into "dough flour" and is best known for making tortillas and tamales. This type of flour is made from dried corn kernels that are cooked and soaked in a solution to make hominy. It is then rinsed, dried, and ground into fine powder. If you are going with this substitute, note that it will add some sour flavor to your dish.
Corn flour is finely ground cornmeal, and it can be a suitable substitute in recipes that require a finer texture. However, corn flour tends to be smoother and lighter than cornmeal, so the texture and density of the final dish may differ slightly.
Corn flakes, being derived from corn, serve as an excellent substitute for cornmeal. This flavor can add a hint of corn taste to recipes, making them suitable for dishes like cornbread or cornmeal-based desserts. Corn flakes have a crunchy and crispy texture, similar to the coarse texture of cornmeal. They can provide a similar texture in dishes like coatings for frying or breading when crushed or ground.
The Best Non-Corn Substitutes for Cornmeal
Looking for a cornmeal substitute that doesn't contain any corn? While you won't always be able to successfully use these substitutes for cornmeal when it's the main ingredient— such as in a batch of delicious homemade tortillas or cornbread— these replacements should work in a pinch for most recipes.
So if you're allergic to corn or just don't love the flavor, check out these convenient non-corn substitutes for cornmeal.
Breadcrumbs are one of the best corn-free cornmeal substitutes. Texturally, they make a great alternative, but they won't add the same corn flavor. Plus, they're incredibly versatile. In some cases, such as for breading or coating purposes, bread crumbs can be a viable substitute for cornmeal. They provide a similar crunch and texture but may not impart the same corn flavor.
Semolina is a grainy flour made from durum wheat. While it can't recreate the corn flavor, it'll add a delicious nutty, earthy flavor all of its own. We recommend slightly increasing the amount called for in the recipe.
When in doubt, there's always wheat flour, which'll create roughly the same texture but add a different flavor. Gluten-free kitchens can substitute wheat flour alternatives like rice flour or polenta flour instead.
In specific recipes, rice flour can serve as a viable alternative to cornmeal. It has a fine and powdery consistency similar to cornmeal, and this texture helps provide a similar mouthfeel and appearance in dishes. Rice flour's mild and neutral flavor makes it adaptable to a variety of recipes without overshadowing the other ingredients. It won't add a distinctive taste, making it a versatile choice as a substitute for cornmeal.
Semolina flour can be a suitable substitute for cornmeal in certain recipes due to its texture and versatility. Semolina flour possesses a coarse and gritty texture akin to that of cornmeal. This texture can provide a similar mouthfeel and graininess in dishes, making it a good substitute for cornmeal in recipes such as breading, crusts, or toppings.
If you're looking to add a crunchy texture to a baking recipe, ground flaxseed can do just the trick. Plus, the nutrient-dense seeds will add a dose of fiber, protein, and fatty acids.
Ground oats can also help recreate the texture of cornmeal. And heads up, they'll add a different flavor than cornmeal but are lower in carbs than bread crumbs! Coarsely grind the ground oats in a blender or food processor until they reach your desired consistency.
How to make homemade cornmeal
Making homemade cornmeal involves a simple process of grinding dried, fresh or frozen corn kernels into a fine powder. Here's a step-by-step guide to making homemade cornmeal:
1. Selecting the Corn: Choose fresh, frozen, or dried corn kernels specifically meant for grinding into cornmeal. These can be found at specialty stores, online retailers, or select grocery stores. Look for corn varieties like dent corn or flint corn, which are commonly used for making cornmeal.
2. Cleaning and Preparing: Sort through the corn kernels and remove any debris, rocks, or discolored kernels. Rinse them under water to ensure they're clean, and allow them to dry completely before proceeding to the next step.
3. Grinding Process: There are a few methods you can use to grind the corn kernels:
Blender or Food Processor: If using a blender or food processor, work in small batches to prevent overloading the machine. Add a portion of the dried corn kernels and blend/process until you achieve a fine, powdery consistency. Repeat this process until you've ground all the corn kernels.
Grain Mill: If you have access to a grain mill, it can be a convenient option for grinding corn into cornmeal. Refer to the manufacturer's instructions to appropriately adjust the settings and grind the dried corn kernels into a fine powder.
Manual Grinding: Alternatively, you can use a mortar and pestle or a hand-cranked grain mill for a more traditional approach. While this method demands more time and effort, it allows for the production of coarser cornmeal if that is the desired outcome.
4. Sieving (Optional): Depending on your preference, you can sift the freshly ground cornmeal through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any larger particles or for a finer texture. You can choose to skip this step or incorporate it based on your preference for the desired consistency of your cornmeal.
5. Storing the Cornmeal: Once you have homemade cornmeal, transfer it to an airtight container and store it in a cool, dry place. It's best to use the cornmeal within a few months to retain its freshness and flavor.