Some people may not be able to consume polenta due to dietary restrictions or simply because they want to try something different. Fortunately, there are several options to substitute for polenta that can be used in recipes.
In this article, we will explore some of the best polenta substitutes and how to use them in your cooking. Whether you’re looking for a gluten-free option, a low-carb alternative, or just want to experiment with new flavors and textures, we’ve got you covered.
Polenta can be a dish by itself or an ingredient for another dish. People make polenta by boiling coarsely-ground cornmeal. It has a mild flavor on its own, and it readily absorbs other flavors.
You can cook it with broth, milk, butter, or cheese, and you’ll have a hot porridge polenta.
Polenta comes from Italy, where farmers traditionally made it from other grains.
Aside from serving it hot as a porridge, you may also allow it to cool and solidify into a loaf. In that form, you can bake, fry, or grill polenta.
People often use the term polenta and cornmeal interchangeably. But it is important to note that cornmeal is a general term, and you can make it using any corn.
On the other hand, polenta specifically uses flint corn, a variety that comes from Italy. Flint corn has a flaky texture as it has lower starch content.
When buying polenta, you can find regular, pre-made, quick-cooking, instant polenta. Always opt for regular, if you can. The other varieties provide convenience but do not produce the best-tasting dishes. Plus, they tend to be too mushy.
There are a few reasons why someone may need a substitute for polenta. You may have corn allergies. Or, you may have a dietary restriction prohibiting you from eating corn-based products. And you may not have access to polenta at the moment.
Sometimes, you may also prefer not to use it due to personal taste preferences. Also, note that polenta can be high in calories and carbohydrates.
You may also be looking for a healthier alternative to polenta. In these cases, a substitute that shares the texture and flavor of polenta can be useful.
Here are our top 8 polenta substitutes.
Corn grits make an excellent substitute for polenta. After all, they have a similar texture and taste. For a closer texture match, cook a coarse grind of corn grits in a mixture of broth and milk or water and milk. Add butter and grated cheese as desired.
Corn grits provide a slightly coarser texture and a more pronounced corn flavor. You may need to adjust seasoning as needed to achieve the desired result.
When using corn grits to replace polenta, pay attention to cooking time. Corn grits have a higher starch content, so they need a longer cooking time.
Use corn grits instead of polenta in polenta bowls, fries, pizza crust, and lasagna recipes.
Cornmeal is a great substitute for polenta because it is basically the same thing. It’s just that cornmeal can be any corn.
Do note that cornmeal will is slightly grainier than polenta. This texture might affect your final dish.
Still, you can use cornmeal as a polenta replacement in bread, pudding, and porridge dishes. Make sure to add plenty of salt, pepper, and other seasonings you like to enhance the cornmeal’s flavor.
Cornmeal may cook faster or slower than polenta, depending on the type of cornmeal. So, adjust the cooking time as needed.
Check the texture frequently to ensure that it’s cooked to your liking.
Semolina is an excellent substitute for polenta as well. It has a slightly different flavor, though. It provides a slightly nuttier flavor and a firmer texture than polenta. But it still makes a good swap in many sweet and savory dishes.
As with any other substitute, use the coarse type of semolina for the best result. And, remember, semolina cooks faster than polenta.
Adjust the cooking time accordingly and closely monitor the semolina while it cooks. It can thicken quickly and become lumpy.
You may use semolina to replace polenta in casseroles, tarts, and pies. Semolina is a great polenta sub in pancakes and waffles.
Rice grits, or rice porridge, is also a great swap for polenta. This kind of grits are naturally gluten-free and have a slightly sweet flavor. That said, they perfectly pair up with savory ingredients.
To achieve a polenta-like texture, use a 4:1 liquid-to-grit ratio. As always, you need to stir it constantly while cooking. Adjust the cooking time and liquid ratio to achieve the desired texture.
But remember that rice grits do not have that distinct cornmeal flavor. And it has a white color as opposed to polenta’s yellow hue. That said, your dish will look and taste different, but it will still be pleasant to eat, though.
You can use rice grits in many dishes as polenta. For instance, you may also make crepes, pancakes, and pies using rice grits.
Its similar creamy texture and nutty flavor make quinoa a good polenta substitute. Cook it until it is tender, then blend it until smooth.
You can use it in various dishes, including casseroles, salads, and stews. After all, it pairs well with different flavors, from spicy to sweet. You can even have it with grilled meats.
Overall, you can use quinoa in all polenta recipes. Adjust the cooking time and liquid ratio to achieve the desired texture.
Remember, quinoa cooks faster than polenta, which can take up to an hour to cook. You can cook quinoa in 15-20 minutes, making it a quicker option for busy weeknight dinners.
In a pinch, you may also use mashed potatoes to replace polenta. A mashed potato recipe is quick and easy to make. And potatoes are everywhere; even powdered mashed potatoes are available.
But mashed potatoes have a creamier and smoother texture. If the coarse nature of polenta is important in your dish, you are better off with other options on this list.
Use a potato ricer or a food mill to achieve a polenta-like texture. Similarly, adding a small amount of milk, cream, or butter will also help.
Consider adjusting the amount of liquids in the mashed potatoes to achieve a consistency like polenta.
You may use mashed potatoes as a base for dishes like shepherd’s pie. Or, serve it as a side dish in place of polenta.
Pureed cauliflower is a versatile replacement for polenta because of its mild flavor. By pureeing cooked cauliflower, you mimic the smooth and silky texture.
Additionally, it is a low-carb and low-calorie alternative. That said, it is suitable for people with dietary restrictions.
Add herbs, spices, and parmesan cheese for a better-tasting dish. This substitute works well in baked dishes like casseroles and gratins.
Replace the polenta with an equal amount of pureed cauliflower and adjust the seasonings. After all, pureed cauliflower has a neutral flavor, so it can taste bland.
After cooking and mashing sweet potatoes, they will have a similar texture to polenta. To cook them, you may boil, roast or steam them before mashing.
You may need to alter your recipes to enhance the flavor and mimic the nuttiness of polenta. Add parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast to make them taste better.
You can use it in dishes like fries, potato cakes, and pasta dishes or eat them with crispy fried bacon.
Also, choose a variety of sweet potatoes with a color close to polenta. Other varieties are white, while some are orange. The color will affect the appearance of your dish, ultimately.
Swap out polenta for an equal amount of mashed sweet potatoes and adjust the seasoning as needed. You may also use packaged sweet mashed potatoes as a quick option.
The American version of polenta is grits. It’s just that polenta uses a specific variety of corn that hails from Italy. Grits mostly use the dern corn variety, on the other hand. But both are dishes that use cornmeal.
Any grain that you cook with liquid and serve similarly to polenta can be the equivalent of polenta. Cornmeal, rice grits, or semolina are the best examples of polenta equivalent.
Cornmeal and polenta both come from ground corn. But these two are different in terms of texture and preparation. Cornmeal can be any corn and has a fine texture.
People use it to make cornbread, muffins, and other baked goods. Polenta, on the other hand, specifically uses flint corn and has a coarser texture.
While couscous is a great ingredient to use in many recipes, it is not a good substitute for polenta. Couscous is made from semolina wheat, whereas polenta is made from cornmeal. The texture and flavor of couscous are quite different from polenta, so using couscous as a substitute would significantly alter the taste and texture of the dish.
Polenta is versatile and delicious. However, there are several reasons why you might look for a substitute.
Corn grits, cornmeal, semolina, rice grits, and quinoa are all excellent swaps. Other options include corn flour, mashed pumpkin, and rice flour. But it’s important to remember that each substitute has its unique taste and texture. So, experimentation is key in finding the perfect substitute for polenta.