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Cornmeal Substitute


Surely, you’ve made cornbread before from scratch or at least eaten a homemade version. You may find it surprising that cornmeal has many more uses in recipes than cornbread. These dishes range from desserts to a thickener for chili or even a coating for crispy fried chicken.

Below, you’ll find a cornmeal substitute list so you can experiment with a variety of recipes without having to purchase a whole bag of cornmeal!

glass jar with wooden spoon filled with yellow grain, yellow package labeled "cornmeal" next to it

What Is Cornmeal?

Cornmeal is precise as its name describes – dried corn ground into a fine or more textured powder. This cooking ingredient is not sweet corn (what you grill up at BBQs), but instead a type of field corn.

It offers a sweet, nutty, corn flavor to recipes. This food item has an origin in Mexico, North America, Africa, and Europe. Its origin in Mexico and shift to America explains why many southern recipes include cornmeal in them. Though, each location around the world that uses cornmeal for cooking have their own recipes. Now, most of the dishes that incorporate this flour are considered comfort food.

Cornmeal Varieties

There are multiple varieties of cornmeal available, ranging from the type of corn used to the grind of the corn. Corn flour is similar to cornmeal, except that it is very finely ground. Other cornmeal that is commonly used in recipes includes fine, medium, and coarse cornmeal.

Polenta hails from yellow corn, while grits are created from white corn. Both of these varieties offer more prominent pieces of corn, which also indicates they will take longer to cook.

Cornmeal Substitutes and Alternatives

Corn Flour

As noted above, corn flour is cornmeal that has been ground finer, creating a flour texture. It provides the same sweet flavor as cornmeal and a similar color to dishes.

You can use this flour for many recipes that call for cornmeal, such as coating for fried foods, in cakes and bread, and as a thickener. While there may not be a difference in terms of taste, the consistency of your recipes will be different, and there will not be a crunchy texture.

Corn flour is pretty easy to find at the store, especially if you live in the southern part of the US. Of course, you can always order it online though you should be able to find it nearby. You can use corn flour for nearly any recipe that calls for cornmeal unless it requires corn meal’s consistency (like English muffins).

Pros
You’ll find a similar taste when using corn flour. Plus, it is versatile and works in most recipes as an alternative to cornmeal.

Cons
The texture that cornmeal is famous for adding to recipes will not be present when using this swap. Also, foods will have a less dense consistency.

Cooking Tip:
Use in a 1:1 ratio when replacing cornmeal with corn flour.

Polenta

As noted above, polenta is related to cornmeal, making it an excellent cornmeal alternative. As it is made from a different variety of corn, it does taste slightly different. Namely, it will be sweeter when you use it in dishes than cornmeal. Otherwise, you can find polenta in various consistency ranging from finely ground to a coarse grind.

Polenta does not originate in Mexico or the Americas. Instead, it is known as an Italian staple. This ingredient began as a popular food for the Roman military and peasants.

It was an easy and cheap way to feed many people and keep them satiated. Initially made with wheat and grains, this food transitioned to a corn base later, which caused the popularity of polenta to rise. You can use polenta for any recipes that call for cornmeal.

Pros
This food swap offers a very similar flavor to recipes. You can find it in various grinds, making it easy to substitute for any type of cornmeal. Polenta is easy to find at the grocery store in the ethnic aisle near Italian food.

Cons
If your store does not have an Italian section, finding this replacement may be more challenging. The flavor of your dishes will be different due to the higher level of sweetness in polenta.

Cooking Tip:
Use in a 1:1 ratio as a substitution for cornmeal.

Masa Harina

Masa harina works as a substitute for cornmeal because it is similar to corn flour. It is finely ground cornmeal; however, the processing is different, changing the consistency of the flour when used for cooking.
This ingredient translates to “dough flour” in English, fitting as the processing allows masa harina to turn into dough. This dough is often used to create corn tortillas, tamales, or cornbread.

Corn kernels are put into an alkalizing solution which helps remove the outer covering on the corn, then finely ground. Because this mixture is processed differently, it does not work in all recipes. You can use it as a sub to thicken soup and chili or in place of cornmeal in cornbread.

Pros
You can find masa harina in any Mexican grocery store or the Mexican foods section of your local grocery store. It’s a great substitute in cornbread and offers a similar sweetness to recipes.

Cons
Due to the processing, the flavor will be slightly different, and recipes will have a slight mineral taste. The recipes you can use masa harina in are limited.

Cooking Tip:
Use masa harina in a 1:1 ratio.

Corn Grits

Like the above options, corn grits work as a swap for cornmeal as its main ingredient is corn. The main difference between corn grits and cornmeal is how it is ground. Corn grits are ground between two stones, while cornmeal is ground by machine. Because of the difference in processing, corn grits generally offer larger pieces.

Grits originated in the US, with Native Americans credited for the process. It was initially cooked for settlers in the 1500s, though it quickly became a staple after they tasted grits for the first time. Variations of grits include cheesy grits and grits with shrimp.

Initially, they were served only for breakfast, though now they are consumed during as many meals as possible – especially in the southern part of the US.

Corn grits do not work well for all recipes due to their different texture. However, it will still provide a sweet flavor, and you can use them for making cornbread, some sweet recipes, and even casseroles.

Pros
You can use grits for some popular cornmeal recipes like pancakes and cornbread. Since it is made from corn, you can expect a similar taste in the recipes.

Cons
Grits do not work well for all recipes because of the larger pieces present. It may be challenging to find grits in nearby stores in the northern US.

Cooking Tip:
Start with ¾ of the required amount and adjust as needed.

Tortilla Chips

Yes, you can use tortilla chips or corn chips in place of cornmeal for some recipes. Tortilla chips are made from cornmeal, so they do offer a corn taste. However, other ingredients are added, including salt or other flavorings, which may not work well with all recipes.

To use tortilla chips as a replacement for cornmeal, you will need to crush the chips. Use crushed chips to create a crispy crust before frying foods. Otherwise, you can try making pancakes and cornbread with them. However, the texture will be much different, as will the taste. Use tortilla chips as a last resort, and mainly for frying.

Pros
Tortilla chips are easy to find in the grocery store – you’ll usually run into at least 4-5 varieties. Many people also already have this snack in their kitchen. Crushed tortilla chips make an excellent crust for fried chicken or other fried foods.

Cons
The uses for tortilla chips are limited. The flavor will also be much different because of how tortilla chips are created and the additional ingredients used.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 1:1 ratio for crushed or ground tortilla chips.

Semolina

Semolina is another type of flour that you can use as a cornmeal substitute. It is typically grittier like cornmeal and adds a similar nutty taste to recipes. You’ve likely eaten semolina before in a variety of pasta.

Durum wheat is the main ingredient of semolina. Instead of ground-up corn, this item is made from ground-up wheat. The flavor will be slightly different as the main ingredient is different. You’ll notice the sweetness present in cornmeal is missing from semolina.

You can use semolina in most recipes that call for cornmeal, especially those where you want a similar texture.

Pros
This substitute has the most similar consistency out of all the options. It also adds a similar nut flavor to recipes, and you can use it in nearly all cornmeal dishes.

Cons
Semolina originates from a different crop, so the flavor in your recipes will change when using semolina as a swap.

Cooking Tip:
Use 1.25 times the amount requested by the recipe when swapping in semolina flour.

Wheat Flour

Wheat flour is another good swap for cornmeal. It does have a finer consistency like corn flour. It works well in most of the same corn flour recipes, like pancakes and baked goods.

As wheat flour does not originate from corn, there is a taste difference. You will find a similar nutty taste (like semolina). However, this will depend on if you have bleached or unbleached wheat flour available.

Your local grocery store likely has wheat flour available, near to regular flour or flour alternatives in the baking aisle. Those who bake often may have some wheat flour in your kitchen already. If you only need a substitute for consistency, wheat flour is a great choice.

Pros
Wheat flour is pretty easy to find in grocery stores. It has a similar, though finer consistency to cornmeal flour. With a neutral taste, you can use wheat flour in most recipes that call for cornmeal.

Cons
There will be a taste difference and some consistency difference in recipes that use wheat flour as a substitute.

Cooking Tip:
Use wheat flour in a 1:1 ratio as a replacement for cornmeal.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Can Be Used in Place of Cornmeal?

You can use multiple options in place of cornmeal in recipes, including grits, polenta, and masa harina. The replacement you use will depend on the recipe you’re trying to make. The above choices should help you decide on which substitution will work best.

Can I Replace Cornmeal with Flour?

Yes, you can replace cornmeal with flour if you’re only looking for a thickening agent. You’ll notice a textural difference and a slight taste difference. However, the flour will thicken most soups and liquids nicely.

What Does Cornmeal Do in Baking?

Cornmeal is one flour that does not rise in the oven. When you use cornmeal in baking (like cornbread), you’re left with a thick dish, making it feel more decadent.

What Can I Use Instead of Cornmeal for English Muffins?

When creating English muffins, cornmeal is not the main flour used. Instead, chefs add it to the exterior for additional texture. There are two options when considering a replacement, with the first being to swap it out with semolina flour. Otherwise, you can leave the cornmeal out of the recipe if you choose.

Where Can You Get Cornmeal?

Cornmeal is available at most grocery stores; it’s usually in the aisle alongside flour. If your grocery store doesn’t offer cornmeal, you can order it offline. Though, it should be available in your nearest store.

Summary

If you have any of the above options in your cabinet already, there’s a good chance you can use that as a substitute in your cornmeal recipe. Otherwise, semolina is your best bet due to the consistency. If no semolina is available, opt for corn flour as the most similar tasting option.

While cornmeal is a tasty ingredient that has a place in many southern recipes, you can easily swap in the above ingredients for an equally delicious dish. If you can’t locate the above options, some additional choices include rice flour, polenta flour, ground oats, and ground flaxseed.

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document easy real food recipes perfect for busy families. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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