What’s Cornmeal?

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Cornmeal is made by grinding dried corn kernels to different levels of fineness. It can be used in various recipes, as animal feed, and even as a natural antifungal agent in gardening. Steel ground cornmeal can be stored for years, while stone-ground cornmeal should be used within a few months.

Cornmeal is a powdered food product, similar to common wheat flour, that is made by grinding the dried kernels of corn or maize, through one of several processes and to one of several levels of fineness. In the US, it is also sometimes called cornmeal, however in the UK, cornmeal is used synonymously with cornstarch, so care should be taken when encountering ‘cornmeal’ in a recipe. While it can be used directly in a number of different recipes, it also has uses beyond simply being an ingredient, and can be used in a number of other applications as well.

There are several ways cornmeal can be ground, but the most common are steel ground or stone ground. Steel earth typically has neither the husk nor the germ of the corn, and this makes it possible to store it almost indefinitely. When stored in an airtight container and frozen, steel ground cornmeal can stay fresh for years. Stone ground, however, still has much of the husk and germ of the original corn kernel, and the oils released in the grind can go rancid quite easily. When frozen in an airtight container, stone-ground varieties can remain safe for up to two years, but when stored in a fresh pantry or refrigerator, they should be used within a few months.

Cornmeal can also be ground to medium, medium, or coarse fineness, and these different consistencies are often used for different recipes. Common American foods like cornbread, corncakes, and grits all use cornmeal. Polenta, often found in Italian kitchens and restaurants, is pretty much through the same process as the grits found in the American South. It is also often used in the preparation of batters for foods such as piglets and corn, and is commonly used as a form of animal feed.

A number of different bakeries and restaurants also use cornmeal to help baked goods release what they’re baked on, and it can often be found coating the bottoms of pizzas and English muffins. Cornmeal has been found to have strong antifungal properties and can be used in gardens to help reduce or stop fungal infections from affecting plants. Because it is edible, it can also be used on food crops and may contain nutrients that are released into growing plants. This can be accomplished by mixing the meal directly into the soil or soaking it in water overnight, straining the mixture, and spraying the water on the plants. For agricultural purposes, horticultural-grade cornmeal used as animal feed is cheaper and just as safe to use on plants.

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