Corn is a plant that was first domesticated over 10,000 years ago, so it is no wonder that there are tons of ways to use corn.
But, aside from eating corn on the cob or popped, not many people actually know how to use this crop.
In this article, I will be going over four of the most common types of processed corn, and help you determine what exactly is the difference.
Cornmeal is the most common type of processed corn you will find.
To put it plainly, cornmeal is corn that has been dried and ground.
The term “meal” is used to describe coarsely ground grains, in contrast to the finer ground flours.
Cornmeal is ground and labelled as “fine”, “medium”, or “coarse”. Because of the larger size of the granuals, it can be used in a wide variety of uses. From making bread-like foods, like muffins or cornbread, or it can be used as a coating for fried foods.
Medium ground meal is the most commonly used. If a recipe does not specify which type to use, it is typically safe to use “medium”.
Cornflour is very similar to cornmeal, but ground to a much finer consistency. Because of this, it can be used to make much finer foods, like corn chips and wraps. However, due to the decreased size of the granuals, it is unsuitable for using directly. So, you often cannot use cornflour as a coating or a base of a porridge.
Masa harina is basically cornflour, but it has been treated with a process called nixtamalization, where the whole corn kernels are soaked in an alkaline solution. Because of this, it often acts different than corn flour, so is used in different dishes. For example, tortillas are made with masa harina, not with corn flour.
This one is less like the others, as cornstarch is not necessarily just a ground version of dried corn.
Instead, it is the starch itself taken from the corn. As such, it cannot be used to make anything like a flour or dough, but it can be used to thicken any number of dishes, from soup to gravy to cakes.
One important thing to note, in the EU, especially in places like Britain, cornstarch is often called “corn flour.” What North Americans call “corn flour” is called “cornmeal” in Britain.
We are including polenta here because it can cause great confusion. Is it just fancy cornmeal?
Polenta is actually the name of a dish, not an ingredient.
Polenta is a porridge made using coarsely ground cornmeal. If a package says polenta, that usually just means that the grind of the corn is the right grind for making polenta.
To make polenta, you can simply use coarse or medium cornmeal. The finer grinds are not good for making polenta as it will just come out too pasty.
If you want to make polenta, it usually takes about 40 minutes. For this reason, some companies have come out with quicker solutions:
- “Instant” or “Quick Cooking” polenta. This is simply partially cooked cornmeal.
- “Prepared Polenta” is fully cooked cornmeal and usually come in a tube shape. This is used for slicing and then deep fried, sauteed, baked, or grilled.