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 itself and how it's used. 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 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 made from dent corn, which has a slightly different starch content from sweet corn. They'll offer relatively the same flavor and texture as actual cornmeal.
Most regular grits have a coarser texture than cornmeal, so expect a bit of added crunch. They're super-absorbent, making them an excellent thickener for soups, stews, and other liquid-based recipes. Start with a slightly smaller amount of grits than the recipe calls for cornmeal, and add as more as needed to avoid overdoing it.
Alternatively, you can grind the 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
This option is the best substitute for cornmeal. 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. Depending on the coarseness you're aiming for, it may take two or three grinds to achieve your desired consistency.
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.
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 end result that's a bit less dense.
Corn flour is great for replacing cornmeal 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 or direct 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.
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.
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. It'll create roughly the same texture but will add a totally different flavor. Gluten-free kitchens can substitute wheat flour alternatives like rice flour or polenta flour instead.
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 being lower in carb than bread crumbs! Coarsely grind the ground oats in a blender or food processor until they reach your desired consistency.