What Is Polenta?

There’s more than just rice and pasta out there when it comes to a nice and neutral side. Behold: polenta. Polenta is a simple, cozy food that is always there for us when we need to fill our plates and tummies. But what is polenta, actually? Join us as we get into the nitty-gritty (emphasis on the gritty) of polenta! 

What’s polenta?

Polenta is an Italian dish of boiled cornmeal that can be eaten hot and creamy or it can be allowed to solidify before being sliced and fried or baked. It’s often served topped with saucy dishes like saucy sausages, ragu, garlicky shrimp, or even poached eggs. 

Making polenta isn’t difficult—you really just boil up some cornmeal. But if that’s still too much for you, supermarkets typically stock pre-made polenta sold in a tube. 

So, is polenta cornmeal and that’s it?

If you’re in the U.S., then polenta is basically a cornmeal solution, made with different coarseness to suit whatever dish you may be whipping up. But polenta is not made from just any old cornmeal. It’s made from ground flint corn (a variety of corn known for its particularly hard kernels). Specifically, authentic polenta is made with an Italian type of flint corn called eight-row or otto file. 

However, polenta is not an ingredient, it’s a word that refers to a type of dish—coarsely ground grain porridge. So, really, you can make polenta out of a lot of different things. In Italy, you’ll find polenta made with a blend of cornmeal and chestnut flour, or cornmeal and chickpea flour. 

Polenta vs Grits: What is the difference between grits and polenta?

Is polenta the same as grits? Grits and polenta share many similarities, but are not exactly the same. First of all, polenta is typically made from flint corn, while grits are made from dent corn—another type of hard-kerneled corn. Polenta is usually yellow, while grits are white (though you can get yellow grits or grits made with hominy—corn that’s been treated with an alkali). 

What does polenta taste like?

On its own, polenta has a mild corn flavor. Polenta is typically there to soak up whatever’s added to it—like chicken or vegetable broth, milk, butter, or cheese (aka: the good stuff!). 

Look at that! Everything one could ever desire to know about polenta, all in one cozy article. Proud to have been a part of such a feat, especially how we never once got stuck in an Abbott and Costello-esque routine. “I’m eating polenta.” “Polenta of what?” “No, I’m eating polenta!” “I understand, you’re having a substantial amount of something, but what are you eating??” I’m eating polenta!!!!” I mean, sheesh, we could have been here all day!

About the Author

Joe Rumrill

Joe Rumrill is a fictional one-eyed spinach-loving sailor created in 1929 by E.C Se- Wait, no, that's not right... Joe Rumrill is a stand up comedian and writer currently based in Los Angeles. His favorite thing about food is a close tie between the taste and the nutrients one gets from it. His least favorite thing about it is the "gritty, dirt-like quality some food has", but he's most likely referring to the time in third grade he was dared to eat playground sand.

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