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I frequently run across recipes in books that require "fine-ground cornmeal", which isn't a classification that exists in the USA (particularly baffling when the cookbook was published in the USA). This leaves me unsure of what to substitute; whether I should be using medium-grind cornmeal, or corn flour. As such, below is a listing of types of cornmeal in the US, as labeled by flour mills*.

  • Coarse Ground Cornmeal: usually yellow, otherwise known as Polenta, 1mm large grains used mainly for boiling.
  • Medium Ground Cornmeal: usually yellow, a rough grind larger than wheat flour and about the same size as pasta semolina. Used for cornbread.
  • Corn Flour: cornmeal, usually yellow, ground to the same consistency as wheat flour.
  • Corn Starch: superfine ground husked corn flour, usually white.

So, when a recipe asks me for "fine ground cornmeal", what is it asking for, if no other information is supplied? A US recipe? A British recipe? An Australian Recipe?

I am looking for a generic answer here for each nationality (or region), because I have seen this in multiple recipes, not an answer for a specific recipe.

(* there's also grits and various grades of masa, which aren't relevant for this question)

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    I suspect a British or commonwealth influence, as what Americans call corn starch is corn flour over here, leaving a gap in the terminology for your corn flour – Chris H Jul 9 '18 at 21:48
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    It would be helpful to see the full recipe for context. – Nat Bowman Jul 9 '18 at 21:51
  • Agreed w/ Nat ... and knowing where a recipe is from helps, too. (a new england cornbread recipe is going to use a finer grind than a southern one) – Joe Jul 9 '18 at 22:13
  • It's not a single recipe, I've run across this multiple times across multiple recipes from different english-speaking countries (and for non-English-speaking countries, translators often use British standards). I really want a generic answer rather than "what does this mean in this specific recipe?" – FuzzyChef Jul 9 '18 at 22:54
  • Chris: yeah, that's what I've been thinking for British recipes, especially since the distinction between meal/flour seems fairly arbitrary. However, what do Brits call the grade of cornmeal used to make cornbread or corn fritters? – FuzzyChef Jul 9 '18 at 22:59
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I'm an American cornbread lover living in the UK, so I have some experience with this. In the UK and commonwealth corn flour = US cornstarch, and in the UK corn meals are coarser then their US counterparts. Coarse polenta is like ball bearings, fine polenta is still too coarse for decent cornbread and fritters. You can get fine corn meal in the UK now, which is slightly finer than your average US cornmeal, but not as fine as US corn flour.

So if I'm in the US using an American recipe that calls for fine corn meal I'd just use regular corn meal, if I'm in the US using a UK recipe and it calls for fine corn meal it would probably mean fine polenta, which is what you generally get in the US.

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  • Well, let's be exact with terminology. "Polenta" is a porridge made from cornmeal or other grains; something dry cannot be polenta (though it may be intended for use in polenta). But since corn ground to the consistency of flour isn't suitable for polenta, anything labeled as "polenta" is going to be coarser than that. – Sneftel Jul 10 '18 at 9:33
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    In the US and UK you get bags of uncooked coarse corn meal labeled as polenta @Sneftel. – GdD Jul 10 '18 at 9:35
  • I've seen "polenta" used on packaging (similar to arborio rice being labeled "risotto rice"), but it's always also labeled "cornmeal". The worry with something labeled "polenta" is that it may be instant polenta, which is precooked and behaves differently. – Sneftel Jul 10 '18 at 9:40
  • Sneftel: sadly, that's labelling for you. In the US, since "polenta" is trendier than "corn meal", you'll see it labelled that way, even when it's from Arkansas. – FuzzyChef Jul 11 '18 at 5:03
  • It doesn't matter whether it's from Arkansas or not; corn is corn. But if it's labeled "polenta", you know that it's not really fine, and you must also check that it's not instant polenta if you want to use it as cornmeal. – Sneftel Jul 11 '18 at 16:28
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The only brand of cornmeal that I have found labeled a fine ground variety is Bob's Red Mill, which calls it 'fine grind.' Bob's Red Mill is an American company. I have not used the product and cannot comment on whether it is more like corn flour or a lighter version of medium ground cornmeal, though the sources below suggest that the two are if not the same, at least interchangeable in American recipes.

The Cook's Thesaurus and Bon Appetit both suggest that you can, for the most part, use medium ground cornmeal interchangeably with fine ground cornmeal, though Bon Appetit notes that medium will give you more corn texture while the fine will be more about flavor. Cook's Thesaurus also notes that you can create corn flour by running cornmeal (texture not specified) through a blender until it reaches flour consistency. I would try a food processor rather than blender. Bon Appetit is an American magazine. The Cook's Thesaurus was created by Lauri Alden, but no biographical/georgraphical information is available on her site.

Danielle Centoni, American food writer and James Beard Award winner, writing in The Oregonian (an American newspaper/news site), states that fine ground cornmeal " is more flourlike and less toothsome than coarse-ground cornmeal." This may indicate products labeled corn flour are an acceptable substitute for fine ground cornmeal.

Finally, depending on your budget and desire to create from scratch, you can achieve your own grinds of varying fineness with a grain grinder and dried field/dent corn. You may also want flour sifters or screens to separate the different grades of flour within your home grind.

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  • Per the question, I'm more interested in authorial intent in cookbooks than actually producing specific grinds of cornmeal. So your answer is an excellent answer to a different question. Oh, and Bob's "fine cornmeal" is corn flour. – FuzzyChef Feb 5 at 21:10
  • For example: is Danielle answering about US recipes, or recipes from a different country? – FuzzyChef Feb 5 at 21:11

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