How they are different and how to use them



What is the difference between cornmeal and masa harina? They’re both made from corn (usually dent corn), but the way they’re processed is quite different and they’re generally best used in different types of recipes with a few exceptions.

Cornmeal is simply ground dried corn and is often quite coarse in consistency, and usually yellow in color, although you can find white cornmeal as well.

Coarse cornmeal and moderately ground cornmeal can be used to make polenta (traditional corn polenta is basically the same thing, except it’s made from flint corn instead of dent corn; nevertheless , either type can be cooked in thick porridge). This coarser cornmeal is also handy for making sure a pizza crust doesn’t stick to a pan or baking sheet.

More finely ground cornmeal can be used to dredge food for frying, and although the consistency used may vary depending on the recipe, cornmeal is also the main ingredient in cornbread and many other cornmeal products. bakery.

If you like to DIY, you can make your own cornmeal by grinding popcorn kernels in a food processor or a powerful blender. For the best corn flavor, look for stone ground cornmeal, but note that it doesn’t last as long as the oily germ and bran aren’t removed before grinding and they’re more perishable.

Technically, grits are just another form of cornmeal, but it’s even coarser ground and is also sometimes made from hominy, which is corn that is lime-treated to remove the husk and germ.

Masa harina is also made from hominy, but is ground much finer (usually the same consistency as all-purpose flour – masa is sometimes referred to as corn flour, in fact). Although usually white in color, you can also find yellow masa and even blue masa harina (labeled blue).

All masa is treated with slaked lime or wood ash lye and is made from a moist corn dough which is then dehydrated so that it can be stored longer (i.e. Dried corn kernels are cooked and soaked in lime water, then ground when wet before being dried into fine flour).

To make masa paste, just add water. Masa is the main ingredient in homemade corn tortillas and tamales. You can also add small amounts of masa to things like chili and soups as a thickening agent, and use it in place of wheat flour in many recipes as well (including cornbread).

Here are a few ways to use the two corn products in your cooking.

Cooking polenta with eggplant and mushrooms

Swiss chard Tamales

Mini Tamale Pies

Masa harina forms a tender crust for these mini tamale pies that work equally well as a game day snack or a fun dinner that even kids will love. Get our recipe for Mini Tamale Tarts.

Easy Masa Paste

This basic masa paste is a great starting point for making a wide variety of tamales. You need lard, which is traditional (and delicious), but you can also substitute for vegetable shortening or even coconut oil (which will give a slight coconut flavor). Get our Easy Masa Paste Recipe.

Pork mole tamales

An idea to fill your tamales: the pork mole (or any kind of mole, really). Get our Pork Mole Tamales Recipe. For a vegetarian version (as long as you don’t use lard in the tamale dough), you can try our Bean and Cheese Tamales recipe.

Sweet corn humitas

Similar to tamales, humitas are an Ecuadorian dish that combines masa with fresh corn kernels and cheese. Do it with the last corn of the summer or replace it frozen when the fresh cobs run out. Get our sweet corn humitas recipe.

Jerk Turkey Chili

Masa is also useful when it is not a main ingredient – it is a common secret weapon for thickening chili of all kinds (it also gives body to the traditional Mexican drink atole), and cornmeal can be used in the same way. Get our Jerk Turkey Chili recipe.

Soft cornbread

Speaking of cornmeal, its best known application has to be cornbread, and there are plenty of ways to prepare it. Ours is slightly sweet, but you can reduce the sugar if you prefer. Get our chewy cornbread recipe. (And also try our pan-fried cornbread recipe.)


Okay, corn dogs are probably coming behind them when it comes to favorite cornmeal recipes. Making yours at home isn’t that difficult and it will transport you straight to the State Fair (in a good way). Get our Corn Dogs Recipe.

Cornmeal Fried Catfish

Finely ground cornmeal combined with flour (gluten free if needed) makes a delicious and crispy coating for fried foods like fish or green tomatoes. Do not use too coarse cornmeal or the texture will be unpleasantly grainy. Get our Cornmeal Fried Catfish Recipe.

Cornmeal pancakes

Adding cornmeal to pancakes makes for a more filling version of a classic breakfast, perfect for garnishing with butter-enriched pecan maple syrup. Get our cornmeal pancake recipe.

Olive oil cake

Cornmeal can also work as a dessert. This delicious cake has a slightly crunchy texture thanks to the addition of coarse cornmeal, is chewy without being greasy, and is heavily flavored with olive oil (so be sure to use a good one), plus a hint of orange zest and amaretto. Get our olive oil cake recipe.


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