Karla Vollmar Hughes and Barbara J. Willenberg
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Cornmeal basics

Cornmeal is made by grinding dried corn. It is a staple in many kitchens because it has a variety of uses. It can be cooked and served as a hot cereal called cornmeal mush. Cornmeal can be used as a coating for fried foods or as a meat extender. It is the main ingredient in cornbread and spoonbread and can be used in pancakes, muffins, cookies or desserts.

One 5-pound bag of cornmeal is about 15 cups. One pound of cornmeal is about 3 cups of dry mix. Because cornmeal swells during cooking, 1 cup of dry cornmeal makes about 4 cups of cooked cornmeal.

Most cornmeal has been processed to remove the germ and enriched with iron and three B vitamins — thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. The package label will note if the cornmeal has been enriched with calcium and vitamin D. Cornmeal provides energy to the body: The iron helps build healthy blood, while the B vitamins help the body produce energy in all body cells.

One-fourth cup of enriched cornmeal has 150 calories, .5 grams fat, 32 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber and 3 grams protein, and provides 10% of the recommended dietary allowance for iron.

Storing cornmeal

Cornmeal is sold in 5-pound bags. There is a "best if used by" date rather than an expiration date. This means there is an opportunity to extend the shelf life of cornmeal; if it's stored under good conditions, cornmeal will keep for about one year. To assure the best quality over time, use the following storage ideas.

  • Store the cornmeal in a cool, dry and dark place. Warm, damp conditions will cause mold to grow and a bad flavor and odor to develop. Don’t store cornmeal near the dishwasher or range, or next to the refrigerator. Those are all warm places that can contribute to deterioration. Warm temperatures can also cause insects to hatch in the cornmeal.
  • After the cornmeal is opened, it can be stored in a plastic zip-close bag or another tightly-sealed container. Squeeze the air out of the bag, and roll it up tightly to release the air before closing after each use.
  • Cornmeal can be repackaged in airtight, moisture-proof containers, then labeled and placed in a freezer at zero degrees F. If cornmeal is stored like this, it will keep well for several years.

Recipes with cornmeal

Cooked cornmeal mush
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups boiling water

Mix cornmeal, cold water and salt. Slowly stir cornmeal mixture into the boiling water in a saucepan. Cook and stir until thick. Lower heat. Cover and cook 15 minutes, stirring as needed to keep from sticking.

Makes 6 servings, ½ cup each.

  • 3 cups of fluid milk
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 3 eggs

Mix milk, cornmeal, salt and oil in a saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened. Beat eggs in a large bowl. Slowly pour and stir cornmeal mixture into eggs. Pour batter in a greased 9-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan. Bake at 400 degrees F (hot oven) 35 to 40 minutes until the top of spoonbread is firm. Serve at once.

Makes 6 servings, 2/3 cup each.

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons sugar (optional)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of fluid milk
  • ¼ cup oil

Mix cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and sugar (if used). Set aside. Beat egg. Add milk and oil. Add fat or oil. Add to cornmeal mixture and stir just enough to mix. Fill a greased 9-by-9-by-2-inch pan half full. Bake at 425 degrees F (hot oven) 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned.

Makes 6 servings.

Cornmeal muffins

Use recipe for cornbread. Fill greased muffin pans half-full of cornmeal mixture. Bake at 425 degrees F (hot oven) 15 to 20 minutes.

Makes 12 muffins.

Cheese cornbread

Use 2 eggs in the recipe for cornbread. Stir 1½ cups grated cheese into the batter before putting in baking pan.

Cornmeal gingerbread
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • ½ cup margarine, butter or shortening
  • ½ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ¾ cup hot water

Mix flour, cornmeal, salt, baking soda and ginger. Set aside. Mix fat, sugar and egg. Beat well. Stir in molasses. Mix in half the flour mixture until smooth. Stir in half the hot water. Mix in rest of flour mixture until smooth. Stir in rest of hot water. Fill greased 9-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan half full. Bake at 350 degrees F (moderate oven) for about 45 minutes, until gingerbread springs back when touched near the center.

Cornmeal pancakes
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ cups of fluid milk
  • 1/3 cup melted fat or oil

Mix flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and sugar. Set aside. Beat eggs in a large bowl. Add milk. Add fat or oil. Add the flour mixture and stir just enough to mix. Cook pancakes on a heated greased frying pan until covered with bubbles. Turn pancakes and brown other side.

Makes 24 small pancakes.

Mexican meatloaf
  • 1 medium onion
  • ¼ green pepper
  • 1½ pounds ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 2 cups cooked or canned tomatoes
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder

Chop onion and green pepper. Mix all ingredients well. Shape into a loaf in a baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees F (moderate oven) for about 1 hour, until browned.

Makes 6 servings.

Publication No. GH1119