I didn’t eat much cornbread growing up. Tragic, I know. And also quite strange, considering there was definitely no shortage of BBQ or chili in my household. Aren’t those the standard cornbread counterparts? C’mon Mom, what was up? My recent experimentations with Maple Banana Cornbread and Maple Sweet Potato Cornbread must have been attempts to fill that childhood void.
Well, I may not be a cornbread expert yet, but I do know that every great recipe starts with the same thing. No, no…not a Jiffy box. Cornmeal!
Cornmeal is basically dried corn kernels that have been ground. Today, corn is the most widely grown crop in America, but it was actually first cultivated in Central Mexico thousands upon thousands of years ago. It spread north and south and the Native Americans quickly learned to grind it into a meal to use in cooking. Cornmeal is now a staple ingredient in many parts of the world.
Important to note – Not all cornmeal is created equal! And by that, I mean not all cornmeal is whole grain. If the cornmeal you’re looking at doesn’t say 100% whole grain, check for the label stone ground cornmeal, appropriately named after the method used to produce it. To make stone ground cornmeal, dried corn is crushed between millstones, leaving the hull and germ – the nutrients! – of the corn in tact. This grinding process is what gives cornmeal its characteristic gritty texture. Stone ground cornmeal is also, but less commonly, known as water ground cornmeal because waterpower is most often used to turn the millstone wheels. Doesn’t that sound so wonderfully old-fashioned?
Cornmeal can be white, yellow or blue, depending on the type of corn used. The darker the corn, the sweeter and nuttier the cornmeal. Darker corn also produces more protein-packed meal. All varieties are excellent sources of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B-6. They’re also gluten free, which I know some of you appreciate!
Do you have a favorite baking recipe that uses cornmeal?