The corn used to make cornmeal, grits, and masa is not the same as our much-loved, supersweet summer corn on the cob. Instead, these meals are made from a very starchy variety, called field corn, that has been grown to full maturity and then dried. Once dried, the corn is processed or ground in any number of ways.
Quite simply, cornmeal refers to any ground, dried corn. It may be white or yellow, depending on the type of corn used. With just slight differences in flavor, the two may be used interchangeably. Blue cornmeal also exists, but it’s more of a specialty product.
The most impor tant distinction for cornmeal is whether it’s whole-grain or degerminated. Like wheat and other grains, corn kernels consist of three parts: the oil-rich and vitamin-packed germ or heart; the fibrous hull; and the starchy endosperm. Whole-grain cornmeal contains parts of all three and thus boasts a fuller, richer taste and twice the nutritional value of the other. But because the germ is high in oil, wholegrain cornmeal turns rancid quickly if not stored in the freezer or refrigerator. For this reason, most supermarket shelves are stocked with degerminated cornmeal. Typically, this cornmeal is also hulled to create a finer texture.
White fine-ground cornmeal.
Cornmeal also varies by the grind—fine, medium, and coarse—although product labels don’t always make this distinction. Medium- and fine-grain meals are most often used in baking because the finer the grind of the meal, the lighter the texture of the confection. The tradeoff is a less apparent corn flavor. The coarsest grind is typically reserved for rustic puddings and polenta (although when I want to appreciate the full texture of the grain, I use coarse meal in cornbread).
You may also see cornmeal labeled stone-ground. This is whole-grain cornmeal that’s been milled by traditional rather than modern methods. Modern, high-speed mills heat up the grain, deteriorating the taste and quality of the oily germ. So for more true corn flavor, look for stone-ground cornmeal. Some millers sift their stoneground cornmeal to remove some of the hull and refine the texture