All Things Corn-y

A primer on grits and its close relatives.

Corn flour—Very finely ground dried corn, often used in delicate baked goods and as a coating for fried fish and other seafoods. Corn flour made from alkaline-treated corn (hominy) is used for tortillas.

Cornmeal—Coarse corn flour and the most commonly used product created from ground, dried corn. Cornmeal is the major ingredient in cornbread, hush puppies, johnnycakes and mush.

Dent corn—A starchy corn variety used to make corn grits, cornmeal and corn flour. Dent corn is dried in the field before harvesting, and it is softer than other dried corn varieties.

Hominy—Dried corn treated with an alkaline solution created with some combination of ash, culinary lime or diluted lye. Thus treated, the corn grains expand, shed their hulls and soften. The soft hominy is again dried and used as a side dish or cooked into soups and stews.

Grits—Coarsely ground dried corn or dried hominy are both called grits. Very finely ground varieties, with the endosperm and hull removed, may be labeled “quick-cooking grits.”  Instant grits are precooked, then dried.

Maize—Drawn from a Native American word for the corn plant. In North America, corn and maize have the same meaning. Elsewhere, maize refers to what we call corn and “corn” refers to various cereal grains.

Masa harina—Corn flour made from dried corn that’s been treated with an alkaline solution. This process gives corn tortillas and tamales, which are made from masa harina, their distinct flavor.

Mush—A hot cereal made from cornmeal mixed with water and boiled to a pudding consistency. Some cooks allow mush to cool in a loaf pan, then slice and fry the mush for a breakfast side dish.

Nixtamalization—The process of treating dried corn in an alkaline water solution. Nixtamalization turns dried corn into hominy, and makes amino acids and niacin in the corn more easily accessible. 

Polenta—A type of cornmeal mush made from ground dried corn. In terms of the grind, polenta falls between grits and cornmeal. Like risotto, polenta cooks over low heat with constant stirring.

Popcorn—A flint corn variety that retains a bit of water inside each dried kernel. When heated, the water expands and causes the kernels to explode into a pillowy, white snack food.

Stone ground—A milling process that involves two large, flat, round stones that rotate against each other, smashing and grinding whatever grain is placed between them. In the case of dried corn, the distance between the stones is adjusted to create a coarse grind for grits, a slightly finer grind for polenta, and a finer-still grind for cornmeal and corn flour.

Sweet corn—Generally refers to corn cultivated for the purpose of eating, canning or freezing while fresh and soft.  Many modern sweet corn varieties are the result of hybridization for various characteristics such as hardiness, shelf life and sweetness. Sweet corn has more sugar and less starch than corn raised for drying or for cattle feed.




Grits Gone Hollywood

(quotes about grits from the movies)

Cook a big pot of grits, bring him into the kitchen, then toss the grits on him. Then after you toss them, swat him with a frying pan. You gotta get you a good balanced weight, toss and swat, toss and swat, Venus and Serena, that's called grit ball.

Madea’s Family Reunion, 2006


So, Mr. Tipton, how could it take you five minutes to cook your grits, when it takes the entire grit-eating world 20 minutes? …..Were these magic grits?

My Cousin Vinny, 1992


That’s all a grit is, a vehicle. For whatever it is you rather be eating.

The Help, 2011


The grits is cold. Take it back.
Yes ma’am. Grits didn’t hold their heat.

The Little Foxes, 1941


You're overcooking my grits, coach. All right, I will allow Coach Tyrell to coach the special teams, but I will be keeping my eye on him. And you.

Remember the Titans, 2000


What did Nana always say? Stick two different people with two different sets of expectations under one roof and it ain't always going to be shrimp and grits on Easter.

The Lucky One, 2012

More About Grits

The A-maize-ing History of Grits

Glorious Grits

Categories: Food & Drink