A type of food product made from dried corn kernels is commonly known as maize meal or cornmeal. This meal is ground into three texture varieties, which are fine, medium and coarse. Corn or maize that is finely ground is referred to as corn flour, while medium ground maize is the most commercially available. Yellow or white coarse varieties of maize are called polenta, and this texture is often used for various snacks, meals and desserts.
Maize meal is used for a large variety of cooking purposes. Some use it as a wheat flour replacement, while others use it to create a thick breading. The way the meal is used will largely depend on the texture and the food to be cooked. Corn flour, which is often mistaken for cornstarch, is ground from the whole kernel. White corn flour is used in many gluten-free foods, including pastry items such as cookies and cakes; the flour can also be used as a food filler, binder and thickener.
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Medium-textured maize meal is generally too coarse to be used in certain foods such as pancakes and cakes. This variety of cornmeal is often used in cornbread. Coarse meal is similar to the medium variety except it has a rougher texture.
Maize meal with a coarse texture is also known as polenta in Italian cuisine. It is also used in Indian foods such as breads, rotis and vadis. This texture is also used to make what is referred to as "grits," a popular, traditional dish from the southern part of the United States. Coarsely ground maize can be used to make a breading for fish, shrimp and meats. Due to its gritty, harder feel, some prefer to use a less coarse texture for this purpose, however.
All textures and varieties of ground maize are used throughout the world, but each geographical region has its cultural preferences. In the United States yellow maize is stone ground without the husk and germ kernel. Yellow maize meal has more flavor and nutrition due to retaining some of the hull and germ. The ground yellow maize is usually stored in an airtight cool and dry container.
Ground maize also comes in light blue or violet varieties, which is the result of milling blue corn. The corn is sometimes mixed with cedar ash then ground finely or coarsely. For Southwestern Native Americans, blue corn holds a significant spiritual importance. In the Navajo culture, blue corn is a traditional healing food.