There are few grains that most people on the planet can eat or have access to. One of them is cornmeal.
It is cheap, easy to use, and absolutely delicious. This southern and soul food staple has been around for many years, being used by the Native Americans and the communities that existed in the south in the last few hundred years.
However, recently people have been looking for substitutes to switch cornmeal out with.
This isn’t because they want something better than cornmeal, but since more people in the modern day have dietary requirements they need to keep their bodies healthy, they want to eat the same dishes without causing their gut problems.
With this in mind, we have written an article about the 5 best cornmeal substitutes around that you can use in lieu of the delicious grain.
What Is Cornmeal?
Cornmeal is actually yellow corn that has dried and ground down into one of three consistencies: coarse, medium, and fine. While the fine cornmeal is very fine, it is not as fine as wheat flour can be due to the dense nature of the corn itself.
There are four types of cornmeal: Blue, steel ground yellow, stone ground yellow, and white cornmeal.
The most common type for the United States would be one of the two yellows for most of the country, and then white cornmeal for southern regions.
Stone grinding cornmeal will produce the coarser variety of texture that provides more bite in the food that it is made into, while steel ground cornmeal will produce a finer variety of cornmeal that will create a fluffier texture to the food it is made into.
These two methods of grinding corn are how you get two of the consistencies of cornmeal with medium using the steel cut method for a slightly shorter time.
What Is Made From Cornmeal?
While originally from the Americas, cornmeal has spread around the globe to become a specialty in many countries.
Thanks to its long history in Pre-Columbian North and Central American cultures – as well as continued use by the people who came after – Cornmeal is a staple in the Americas and contributes to a lot of its cuisine.
One of the most common uses is as Masa Harina, which is a type of dough that is as ubiquitous in this region as wheat dough is in Europe.
From this dough, most of the grain products of Central America are made. Tamales, tortillas, gorditas, and many more foods are made from Masa, making it one of the most common products in both of the Americas.
In the Southern United States, cornmeal is used to make bread and breakfast staples, like cornbread, hush puppies, corn fritters, and grits. Throughout the rest of the United States, many chip snack foods are made from cornmeal, like Fritos or Cheetos.
As you can see, on just its home continents, cornmeal is one of the most beloved and important cuisine items, with so many people using it in their day to day without even knowing it.
Things To Be Aware Of
When people substitute ingredients in dishes, it is normally for taste or dietary purposes. Say, if you wanted to make a spaghetti bolognese, but you don’t like the taste of beef, then you might swap it for pork or chicken mince.
This is also done for dietary purposes, like if you wanted the spaghetti to be vegan, you would use vegan mince or a lot of vegetables.
However, cornmeal is used in different recipes for different purposes, and it is often a foundational piece of the dish.
For example, when it is used to make cornbread, it is made into a batter that then has to rise. This means that any substitute would have to not only have the taste of cornbread, but the texture and consistency as well.
This can be problematic if you are swapping out cornmeal for dietary or allergy restrictions, as most of the products with the consistency and properties of cornmeal use cornmeal somewhere in the product.
Therefore, you need to make sure that you check the packaging carefully to make sure this is not the case.
Now that we have this out of the way, it is time to look at some corn substitutes that you can use if you don’t want or can’t use cornmeal:
1. Almond Flour
A surprising first entry, but hear us out. Almond flour is made by grinding up sweet almonds and is usually made from blanched almonds – almonds with no skin or that have had the skin removed.
It works well for those who have dietary restrictions, as almonds are on a completely separate part of the food pyramid to corn.
They do not contain gluten, and they are rich in antioxidants, proteins, and fatty acids which are great in a completely different way from most corn products.
They are also low in carbohydrates and good at lowering cholesterol, which means if you are on a diet that requires a lowering of both these things, they can act as a good substitute.
As for how they match up to cornmeal, you can tell that it is a different product. Cornmeal can be used for sweet or savory products, but the taste of the almond flour definitely leans on the sweet side.
It would be hard to make a savory dish from them, but not impossible, though you may have to experiment.
The texture would also be different, though more similar than other products. Almond flour is probably one of the closest textures to fine cornmeal without using a corn product, though it still has a little more bite than the cornmeal.
Think of the texture of a macaroon, and that is the texture you would be tasting in your cornmeal substitute product.
However, almond flour does work like cornmeal when baking. If you made an almond flour cornbread, then it would rise and set like an actual cornbread, which is great.
All in all, almond flour is a good substitute, but you may have to experiment to get it to the place you want it.
2. Garbanzo Beans Or Chickpea Flour
Chickpea flour is a type of pulse flour that is made from grinding up Chickpeas or Garbanzo beans.
It is widely used in the Indian subcontinent, and through Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Caribbean. It is mainly used in the production of bread based goods, like pakoras, papadums, and Khaman.
Due to its texture and consistency, it can be used as a cornmeal replacement in a lot of recipes without incident or problems.
This is because it is already widely used to make flatbread throughout several cultures, as well as sweet treats and savory snacks.
Chickpeas have a lot of benefits in adding protein and fiber into your diet with very few downsides.
In fact, they also add a lot of macronutrients like magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, making it one of the healthiest substitutes you can find.
The taste of Chickpea flour is nuttier and stronger than that of Cornmeal, but it is still closer than a lot of the substitutes that you can find. If you add spices or cheese to it, it can be quite hard to tell the difference in flavor alone.
The texture of Chickpea flour is slightly finer than what you’d expect from cornmeal, and it feels more like eating a wheat bread than cornmeal itself.
This can be an issue if you want the same coarse cornmeal texture in your dish, but it can resemble fine cornmeal quite well.
Chickpea flour also doesn’t have the same consistency as cornmeal, and it won’t rise in the same manner.
Yet, if you use more chickpea flour for a denser mixture, it will have a pretty close consistency to fine cornmeal, though it will be slightly spongier as well.
3. Wheat Flour
We all know wheat flour, and we all know that it is very different from cornmeal. It is used primarily in baking (see also ‘The Best Glycerin Alternatives To Use In Baking‘), especially for breads and cakes, but can also be used in sauces like a roux.
Wheat is used throughout the world, from Europe to Africa to Asia to the Americas, it is one of the staple cornerstones of people’s diets.
While the primary benefit of eating wheat is its carbohydrate content, it is also full of vitamins – like thiamine and niacin – and minerals – like calcium and phosphorus – which makes it quite beneficial to people’s diets.
However, for those with gluten allergies, it is possibly the worst substitute there is, as it is up to 14% gluten in total.
In terms of taste, cornmeal and wheat flour are not so different. They both have a slightly sweet, slightly salty taste and adapt whatever flavor you put on them – for example, if you use jam on bread, it becomes far sweeter in a good way.
This makes it quite easy to work with in certain dishes that require the flavor to be close to the flavor of cornmeal.
The texture of wheat flour is also pretty good, however, only in certain scenarios. If you are baking something that would normally use cornmeal, then wheat flour works just as well.
This even includes pan frying flatbread, like you can use wheat flour to make a chapati which is a bit like an Indian tortilla – it is not the same at all, but it is similar.
However, for other dishes the texture will be much different, for example, wheat flour grits will have a very different texture and be much runnier.
The consistency will also change, and many of the dishes are going to resemble other wheat products rather than the cornmeal product you truly wanted. Still, it is a good option for a substitute without too much change.
4. Ground Oats
Another surprising entry onto the list is that of ground up oats or oatmeal. Oats are a member of the grain family that are primarily used for either livestock feed or in porridge or biscuits in the modern day.
They are available in almost every country and while they are not as commonly used as they once were, they are certainly something you can use to replace cornmeal.
Like wheat, oats are full of vitamins and minerals, while also containing a lot of natural fiber and protein as well. They are a great cereal to put into your diet and can be a great low fat alternative to a lot of staple foods.
Oats do not really have the same taste as cornmeal. Although cornmeal doesn’t have much flavor, oats are particularly bland, if we are being honest.
However, much like cornmeal, they will adopt almost all flavors given to them, so if you add a few flavorings to them, then oats can be just as delicious.
The texture is really where oatmeal shines compared to a lot of the other substitutes on this list. Cornmeal tends to have a slight grittiness or bite to it that some people love and some people hate.
Oatmeal has that same coarseness, and so it is a perfect replacement if the texture is the thing you are missing from cornmeal.
Oatmeal is not really as consistent as cornmeal. Cornmeal is slightly smoother and when it is cooked it does rise, but it gets nowhere as big as oatmeal does.
This means that a lot of the things that you cook in replacement of cornmeal with oatmeal, may be lumpier than you want them, but they will still be good.
The last one on this list is Polenta, which is actually a corn based product. We have placed this on the list for anyone who just wants a replacement for cornmeal, but doesn’t necessarily have any particular dietary requirements or needs.
It is a type of coarse cornmeal that is traditionally made in Italy as either a porridge or as a solidified loaf, that can be baked, fried, or even grilled.
While it is usually made with cornmeal, it can also be made with buckwheat or other mixtures, making its nutrient mix diverse and its use versatile as well.
Since it is a cornmeal product normally, it has the same flavor, texture, and consistency as cornmeal, which makes it perfect to use in all cornmeal products that you want to make or use it in.
However, the one issue with polenta cornmeal is that it is very, very coarse, so if you wanted to use it in finer cornmeal products it can be quite difficult to do.
It is important to note that while polenta and the traditional cornmeal are from the same original source, they are not exactly the same.
The processing and the purpose of both mean that they have been made slightly different by the time they reach the end product, which means that although the polenta cornmeal will taste very similar to traditional cornmeal, it may still be slightly different.
Cornmeal can be quite a hard product to replace in different cornmeal based foods, but there are many other grains that can serve a similar purpose and replace cornmeal in a dish.
Although it may never taste quite the same or have the same texture, you can get very close and even improve on the original dish.