What Is Polenta Made From, Anyway?
Made from ground cornmeal, polenta is a traditional Italian dish that’s cooked slowly over low heat using butter, milk, water, or cream. It’s often paired with a tomato-based sauce, butter, or cheese. The aptest comparison you could draw is to American grits.
Glad you asked. This can be a confusing question, and packaging that refers to cornmeal as both grits and polenta only serves to complicate the issue. According to a recent article from NPR, the main issue is that “the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t make much distinction between grinds and treatments of milled corn.” Ultimately, the primary difference between polenta and grits is the type of corn used. Grits are traditionally made from dent corn, whereas polenta is made from flint corn. This gives grits a slightly mushier texture, while polenta is known for its coarseness.
Nutritionally, polenta is something of a clean slate. It’s calorically lower than many grains (and is a terrific option for gluten-free eaters), but it doesn’t contain significant sources of any major nutrients. However, polenta does contain trace amounts of several minerals, including calcium, iron, and zinc, as well as vitamins A, B, and E.
As a base for a wide variety of veggies, sauces, meats, and seafood dishes, polenta is ideal for dressing up or down and can be used for virtually any meal. Try pairing with shrimp and white wine sauce for an Italian twist on shrimp and grits, or combine with marinara and sautéed mushrooms for the ultimate in seasonal European comfort food. To make your cooking adventure a bit easier, you can also purchase pre-made organic polenta that’s ready to serve.
Now that you can confidently answer the question “what is polenta?” the next time you’re asked, it’s time to continue your culinary education. Up next, keep reading for nine whole grains you may not know about, but should.