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Polenta vs. Cornmeal: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 27, 2023
Polenta is a dish made from boiled cornmeal, while cornmeal is the ground dried maize itself.

Key Differences

Polenta is an Italian dish that is widely recognized and appreciated for its versatile culinary applications. At its core, polenta is made by boiling cornmeal in water or broth until it reaches a porridge-like consistency. The resulting mixture can be enjoyed soft and creamy or allowed to cool and solidify, after which it can be sliced and fried, baked, or grilled. In essence, polenta is a preparation or dish made using cornmeal.
Cornmeal, on the other hand, is not a dish but an ingredient. It is the product of grinding dried maize. Cornmeal can vary in texture, from fine to medium to coarse, and can be used in a multitude of recipes, from breads and muffins to coatings for fried foods. The granularity of cornmeal determines its specific use, and while polenta is one notable dish made from it, cornmeal's applications are vast and varied.
It's essential to understand that while all polenta is made from cornmeal, not all cornmeal is used to make polenta. Cornmeal serves as a base for numerous dishes across various cultures. For instance, in the Southern United States, cornmeal is used to produce cornbread, while in Mexico, it's a primary ingredient in tortillas and tamales.
Polenta, being a dish, can have added ingredients for flavor and richness, such as cheese, butter, or herbs. Its consistency can be adjusted based on preference, from runny to thick. Cornmeal, being a raw ingredient, is consistent in its nature until it's integrated into a recipe. Its color can range from yellow to white, depending on the type of corn used.

Comparison Chart


Ground Ingredient


Can vary from creamy to solid
Ranges from fine to coarse

Primary Use

Eaten as a side or base for toppings
Used as a primary ingredient in various recipes




Can have added ingredients for flavor
Consistent until used in a recipe

Polenta and Cornmeal Definitions


A dish made from ground corn that can be served in various forms.
She preferred her polenta fried until crispy.


Ground dried maize used in cooking and baking.
She used fine cornmeal to make a soft cornbread.


A maize-derived base often used in savory culinary applications.
They served a rich ragu over a bed of soft polenta.


A granulated ingredient varying from fine to coarse texture.
The coarser cornmeal added a nice crunch to the fried fish.


A versatile maize-based preparation that can be soft or solidified.
After cooling, he sliced the polenta and grilled the pieces.


A yellow or white powder derived from milling dried corn.
The white cornmeal produced a lighter shade of cornbread.


A cornmeal porridge often enriched with butter or cheese.
The buttery polenta complemented the spicy shrimp perfectly.


The primary component used in dishes like polenta and cornbread.
He mixed the cornmeal with water to start the polenta.


An Italian dish made by boiling cornmeal into a thick consistency.
She topped the creamy polenta with sautéed mushrooms and Parmesan.


An ingredient essential in various recipes across different cultures.
Cornmeal is fundamental in both Italian polenta and Southern cornbread.


A thick mush made of boiled cornmeal.


Meal made from corn, used in a wide variety of foods. Also called Indian meal.


Any of various types and consistencies of a starchy accompaniment to a meal made from coarse maize-meal porridge, sometimes fried or grilled.


Dried corn (maize) milled (ground) to a coarse meal.
She made a kind of polenta from cornmeal and chicken broth, with some cheese sprinkled on top.


Pudding made of Indian meal; also, porridge made of chestnut meal.


Coarsely ground corn


A thick mush made of cornmeal boiled in stock or water


Can cornmeal be eaten on its own?

Cornmeal is an ingredient and is typically cooked or baked into recipes before consumption.

Can you make polenta from any type of cornmeal?

Yes, but the coarseness of the cornmeal can affect the texture of the polenta.

What is polenta?

Polenta is an Italian dish made by boiling cornmeal until it becomes a thick porridge.

Can I use polenta in place of cornmeal in recipes?

Not directly, as polenta is a prepared dish, while cornmeal is a raw ingredient.

How is cornmeal produced?

Cornmeal is produced by grinding dried maize.

Is polenta always savory?

While traditionally savory, polenta can also be made sweet with additions like sugar or fruit.

How should leftover polenta be stored?

Store in the refrigerator, where it will solidify and can be reheated or fried later.

Are polenta and grits the same?

No, while both are corn-based dishes, polenta is made from ground yellow corn, and grits are made from white corn.

How can I make my polenta creamier?

Add more liquid during cooking or stir in butter or cheese.

Is cornmeal gluten-free?

Yes, pure cornmeal is gluten-free, but cross-contamination can occur.

Can polenta be used as a base for other dishes?

Absolutely, polenta is a versatile base for meats, sauces, vegetables, and more.

How long does cornmeal last?

Stored in a cool, dry place, it can last up to a year.

What dishes commonly use cornmeal?

Dishes like cornbread, tortillas, tamales, and, of course, polenta.

Can I flavor polenta?

Yes, herbs, cheeses, spices, and other ingredients can be added to enhance flavor.

Is cornmeal used in desserts?

Yes, cornmeal can be an ingredient in desserts like cakes, cookies, and puddings.

How does the texture of polenta differ from cornmeal?

Polenta's texture can vary from creamy to solid, while cornmeal has a granulated texture.

Is cornmeal the same as corn flour?

No, cornmeal is more granulated, while corn flour is finely ground.

Can polenta be grilled or fried?

Yes, once solidified, polenta can be sliced and grilled or fried.

Why is my cornmeal a different color?

Cornmeal can be yellow or white, depending on the type of corn used.

Which is more versatile, polenta or cornmeal?

Cornmeal is more versatile as an ingredient, while polenta is a specific preparation of cornmeal.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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