Ground Corn Products 101

January 30, 2012

Looking to mix up your eating experience? Want to try making traditional foods from corn? Well here is your quick 101 for shopping for ground corn products, including grits, cornmeal and masa harina

What are Polenta, Cornmeal, Masa Harina, and Grits? All of these are corn products ground into a meal, or “flour.” Masa Harina is made from white corn and is used in Meican cooking to make tortillas, tamales and other dishes. The corn is treated in a lime water solution, which actually makes the nutrient niacin more easily absorbed in our digestive system. Grits are also treated in a similar way. Polenta and Cornmeal are ground from yellow corn into a meal.

How to Buy: All corn products are sold in boxes and bags; grits are sold in cans or can be found in the freezer aisles. Pre-cooked polenta is sold in logs (similar to cookie dough – but may not be refrigerated).

How to Use:
Cornmeal can be found coarse or fine grain, white or yellow corn, enriched and degerminated, or “stoneground” with germ intact (highest in fiber). Has sandy texture and can be used to make cornbread, johnnycakes or mush.

Grits are coarsely ground pieces of dried white corn, moistened into a mealy paste with hull and germ; "true" hominy grits: dried corn kernels soaked in baking soda, lime, or wood ash (lye water) until kernel's shell pops off, and kernel doubles- they are then rinsed, dried, and ground into coarse, medium, or a fine consistency.

Masa Harina is very finely ground white corn flour made from corn dried, cooked, ground up and dried again. Processed with slaked lime, it has a soft texture and reconstitutes easily with water. Use for tortillas or tamales.

Polenta is coarsely ground yellow corn meal, made with 4 parts boiling liquid (chicken broth or paste, or water), to 1part meal, cooked until thickened and almost solid. Bake or fry; add cheese, sauce, or grill for sweet or savory dishes.

Grits, cornmeal or polenta can be creamy side dish or breakfast mush with milk and butter.

How to store: Keep unopened in a cool dry place for up to 6 months or in freezer up to 2 years. Once open all “flour type products” can become rancid; place opened package into a tight seal container or plastic bag that seals, refrigerate up to 1 month or freeze up to 2 years. Refrigerate polenta logs after opening; use within 1 week.

Health Benefits: Low in fat and very high in omega-6 fatty acids, fiber, and iron.

NOTE: Some Italian polenta may be made with semolina or buckwheat flours, always read labels, especially if food allergies or sensitivities are an issue.

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