What Is Maize Meal?

Amanda Livingstone

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.

Polenta made from maize meal.
Polenta made from maize meal.

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.

Maize meal is made from ground kernels.
Maize meal is made from ground kernels.

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, which is more commonly known as cornmeal, is used to make cornbread.
Maize meal, which is more commonly known as cornmeal, is used to make cornbread.

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.

Maize meal is used to make grits, a traditional Southern dish.
Maize meal is used to make grits, a traditional Southern dish.

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.

Maize meal may be used to make gluten-free pasta that can serve as a suitable alternative to traditional noodles.
Maize meal may be used to make gluten-free pasta that can serve as a suitable alternative to traditional noodles.

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.

White corn flour is used in many gluten-free foods.
White corn flour is used in many gluten-free foods.

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Discussion Comments

bluedolphin

@anamur-- I don't know about insects, but polenta meal does protect against fungi in the garden. I use it in the spring, I just sprinkle it around my plants.

I heard it's bad for young plants though, so you might want to ask someone more knowledgeable about that. It has worked in my garden and I think it's a great all natural and cheap alternative to garden anti-fungal treatments.

serenesurface

Aside from using it to make one of my favorite foods, corn dogs, I heard from a friend that corn meal can be used in the garden to protect plants from insects and fungus. Is this true? How do I use it?

ddljohn

I know the Southern states love their grits, but aside from this region of the country, Americans don't consume much maize meal. This is probably a good thing because maize meal is not very nutritious. In some countries, especially in South American and Africa, maize meal is the most prevalent starch. But because it's not very high in nutrients, people who rely on maize meal or maize flour for most of their meals can develop malnutrition.

I saw this with my own eyes in South Africa. The poverty-stricken areas eat a lot of maize meal and the kids look malnourished.

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