Saturday, November 28, 2009
Posted by DK
Person1 : I am planning to buy some polenta today..
Person2: Buy? Why go for ready made stuff? You can make it so easily at home….?
Person1: Make? How am I going to make some wholegrain at home??
As if the idiosyncrasies of the English language was not enough (quoting my German professor!), we have similar terminologies to mean different things in the Food dictionary too! It can sure be quite confusing at times. The word “Polenta” is used to mean a dish made with cornmeal as well as the cornmeal itself. When it comes to cornmeal, the variety available in the markets now days is simply mind boggling to say the least. Let’s take a quick look at corn shall we?
Corn is a wholegrain which falls under the category of cereal grasses. If you walk down your food aisle in the market, you will come across yellow corn (otherwise known as maize) and other corns colored red, blue and black. I recently happened to see multicolored varieties too. There are many corn products too.It is a staple in many countries around the world with having prominence in U.S.A, Italy and the Caribbean. (White cornmeal - image courtesy -ansonmills.com)
The most commonly available forms of corn are –
The minute ‘cornmeal’ is mentioned, the first thing that probably comes to an American’s mind is the classic cornbread. For the Italians, its ‘Polenta’.
Polenta has a golden, thick-porridge like consistency and is flavored with butter and cheese. They make an excellent alternative to Mashed Potatoes. It is also used to make dumplings and puddings in the Caribbean.
Masa Harina also known as Maize meal is made from the cooked wholegrain where it is ground into flour. This flour is mostly used to make Mexican flatbread called as Tortillas. (Yellow cornmeal - image courtesey - ansonmills.com)
This is a fine white powder mostly used as a thickening agent for stews, soups, casseroles etc. Sometimes it is also used in baked goods and in making desserts. (cornstarch -image courtesy -Bonappetit.com)
Hominy or Grits?
There is big confusion regarding these two where they are sometimes used interchangeably.
Hominy are the husked whole grains of corn. To use them, they have to be first softened by cooking them in hot boiling water and then used in other dishes like soups, stews or in any baked goods.
Grits are in fact coarsely ground dried yellow or white corn. They can be used in baking and also for pancakes.
There is wonderful article which throws more light about Hominy grits and corn grits with humorous analogies at mrbreakfast.com. Also a discussion regarding the finer differences between corn products can be seen here at Chowhound.com.
We all love popcorns don’t we? This is a completely separate strain of corn which is grown specifically for this purpose. The kernels can be store bought and the popcorns can be easily made at home with any type of seasoning added as per taste.
This artificial sweetener is a staple in many households now. Though the name suggests it, it is not made by directly pulping the corn. Instead it is made from cornstarch which is actually the pulpy middle layer of the corn where it is separated from its outer husk and its inner germ layers. Storage of these in giant vats helps it to produce glucose when natural enzymes are added to it. This glucose is heated and made into corn syrup. It’s used in candy making and also in baked goods.
Few recipes with Corn based Products
- Skillet Polenta Pizza
- Iron skillet Jalapeno and Cheddar cornbread
- Corn Muffins
- Corn Tortillas
- Blue cornmeal pancakes
Corn plays an important role in American folk medicine where its famed to be a diuretic and a mild stimulant. Few studies have shown that it even helps to prevent colon cancer and lowers the risks of heart disease. Corn is one of the few grains (or probably the only one) that contains vitamin A as well as Vitamin B and iron. It has about 18.4% of daily recommendation of fiber. Since its high on fiber, it helps to lower levels of cholesterol in the body along with blood sugars proving beneficial to diabetics.
This post was written by Dhivya
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