Cornmeal and cornstarch are often confused for one another, and it’s hardly surprising considering the fact that they’re both made from dried corn and share many of the same similarities.
However, there are a number of important differences to keep in mind when using cornmeal and cornstarch in the kitchen, with both performing very different functions.
This guide will take an in-depth look at cornmeal and cornstarch, including some of the key differences that separate the two. We’ll also look to answer some of the frequently asked questions related to both cornmeal and cornstarch.
What Is Cornstarch?
Cornstarch is removed from the endosperm of the corn, and is generally used as a thickening agent for sauces. It provides roughly twice the thickening power of flour, although both can be used in the same recipe – much like baking soda and baking powder.
In terms of flavor, cornstarch doesn’t provide too much other than a slight hint of starch. This taste, however, goes away pretty much as soon as you cook it down, rendering the substance flavorless. It’s also worth noting that cornstarch is generally carbs.
Cornstarch is often used to dry wet things so that batter will stick effectively. This is generally best when frying in deep fat. When using cornstarch in this way, you can substitute cornmeal or flour.
It’s worth keeping in mind that you shouldn’t add cornstarch to a hot fluid as this can result in it becoming uneven. The best thing to do is disintegrate the substance in a cold fluid initially, and then add it to a hot fluid afterwards.
If you’re unable to get your hands on cornstarch, there are a number of similar substances you can use as a substitute. The most popular ones include tapioca, potato starch, and arrowroot.
What Is Cornmeal?
On the other hand, cornmeal is essentially dried corn. It’s also often known as ‘cornflour’, although this isn’t technically correct. Cornflour is broken up more extensively, so it’s usually fine and powdery, whereas cornmeal is more of a coarse substance.
Cornmeal contains plenty of fiber, protein, and starch, and is the key ingredient in cornbread, polenta, and grits. It’s also used to make tortillas and other South American classics.
The substance is often blended with wheat flour to help bulk up the surface of bread, with cornbread being the most common example of this. What’s more, cornmeal gives cornbread its distinctive brittle surface and yellowish color.
When it comes to taste, cornmeal has a more prominent corn taste than cornstarch. This is why cornmeal isn’t used as a thickening agent in the same way that cornstarch is.
When Can You Use Cornstarch?
Cornstarch is one of the most effective ingredients for thickening soups, puddings, and pie fillings. What’s more, it’s also used in a number of baked good recipes.
Take for example, cake, shortbread, and cookie recipes. Cornstarch can produce a delicate pastry-like surface which adds an extra dimension to goods such as these.
Furthermore, if you’re making a recipe and want to prevent clumping in your powdered sugar, you can use cornstarch to absorb the moisture.
When Can You Use Cornmeal?
Cornmeal is a popular food in a number of European countries, as well as several states in the US. Mainstream dishes such as porridge, polenta, and grits are all made using this ingredient.
Southerners are particularly fond of cornmeal, using it in several dishes from that district. In fact, some people say that Southerners love their cornmeal nearly as much as they love their barbecues!
With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that cornmeal is a key ingredient for many of their baked goods, including biscuits and cornbread.
Cornmeal is used as a surface enhancer in dishes all over the world. When added to certain recipes such as pancakes and scones, it can create a deliciously crisp coating.
As is the case with most food items, cornstarch is best stored in a cold and dark place in your kitchen or pantry. Ideally the pantry is the best option, although a dark kitchen cupboard will still do the job.
Cornmeal needs to be stored in an airtight container in a cold, dark, and dry place. If you’re able to provide these conditions, cornmeal should be able to last at least 12 months – significantly longer than just storing it at room temperature.
It’s also worth noting that if you store cornmeal with oxygen absorbers in Mylar bags, there’s every chance that it can last for as long as ten years.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is starch?
Starch is found in corn, wheat, rice, potatoes, and is by far the most common carbohydrate in the human diet. While carbohydrates may not be the most attractive type of food with fad diets becoming increasingly more popular, they’re essential for a healthy, balanced diet.
Not only does consuming an appropriate amount of carbs provide you with enough energy to last the day, they’re also incredibly important for keeping your central nervous system healthy.
How can you make homemade cornmeal?
Homemade cornmeal is usually considerably sweeter than the kind you get from the store, and it’s a simple process to make. What’s more, it’ll also be much fresher as it won’t have sat in a bag on a shelf for weeks or months.
To make cornmeal at home, you’ll need to have some freshly harvested corn left on the cob. If, however, you can’t get this, you can still use frozen corn just as effectively. Just bear in mind that it’s probably best to avoid using canned corn to make homemade cornmeal.
Spread the corn kernels on a lined dehydrator tray and set the temperature to around 135℉. Leave the corn in for between eight to 12 hours to dehydrate fully, and remember to give the trays a couple of shakes during this process.
When the corn is dry, grind it to your desired coarseness and spread it onto a baking tray ready to be placed in the oven on a low temperature for around five minutes. Make sure you allow the corn to completely dry before storing it in an airtight container.
Can you use cornstarch instead of cornmeal?
As this guide has explained, it’s not a good idea to use either cornstarch or cornmeal in place of the other. While they may both be made from the same ingredient, the manufacturing process and their function when combined into a recipe are completely different.
What are the best substitutes for cornmeal?
If you can’t get your hands on cornmeal, there are a number of alternative options you can use for a similar flavor and texture. The most effective ones include semolina, corn grits, breadcrumbs, and ground oats.
It’s worth noting that you can also use a pinch of either wheat flour, rice flour, or tapioca starch to serve a similar purpose to cornmeal, although you might not quite get the same flavor or texture.
The Bottom Line
To conclude, cornmeal and cornstarch share many of the same similarities, none more so than the fact that they’re both made from corn.
However, cornmeal is arguably a food in its own right and offers a stronger corn flavor, whereas cornstarch provides little more than a starchy taste, and is mainly used to thicken sauces.
Furthermore, cornstarch derives from just the endosperm of the corn (the starchy part), while cornmeal is made by pounding entire core kernels.