When it comes to cornmeal selection, the decision isn’t just yellow-and-white. There’s also blue. So which cornmeal should a home cook choose? Studies show yellow cornmeal is more popular in Northern states, while white cornmeal reigns in the South, but there aren’t any regional rules. Yellow cornmeal has a stronger flavor than white cornmeal, and blue cornmeal has the slight antioxidant edge. Still, the different colors can be used interchangeably.
Here, seven more facts that hold true for every kind of cornmeal:
1. Cornmeal has recently experienced a renaissance because it’s safe for eaters suffering from celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Even for eaters without diagnosed medical conditions, though, cornmeal consumption makes sense from a wellness perspective. Cornmeal is rich in iron, phosphorus and dietary fiber, with as many as 5 grams of fiber per 1/4-cup serving.
2. Not surprisingly, the history of hot dogs dipped in cornmeal batter is contentious. It’s likely the preparation was pioneered by German immigrants, who were in the habit of frying sausages rolled in crushed bread. By 1929, a restaurant wholesaler was pitching a dedicated oven for baking battered hot dogs; they were supposed to emerge looking like corn. But the snack didn’t catch on with the public until Jack Karnis in 1941 hauled the recipe back from an Oregon logging camp to the Minnesota State Fair. Or maybe the corn dog’s big break came the following year, when Neil Fletcher started selling corny dogs at the State Fair of Texas.
3. According to “The Presidents’ Cookbook,” Calvin Coolidge was a stickler for perfect cornmeal muffins. The White House staff couldn’t come up with a muffin that met Silent Cal’s expectations, so he asked a Northampton, Mass., innkeeper to provide the recipe.
4. Cornmeal is sold in three different textures: Fine (sometimes labeled corn flour), medium and coarse. The medium-grind is most common, but fine cornmeal is a good fit for soft muffins and spoonbreads. Coarse cornmeal is typically reserved for polentas and grits. Nowadays, most commercial cornmeal is processed through steel rollers, but the traditional method called for a stone. Because stone- or water-grinding leaves more hull and germ in the mix, stone-ground cornmeal is considered more nutritious than its industrial counterpart.
5. Cuisines around the world now use cornmeal, which originated as a staple of the Native American diet. It’s baked into roti in northern India, blended with okra cooking liquid for cou cou in Barbados and cooked into thick porridge, or sadza, in Zimbabwe. In northern China, conical steamed cornbread, or wotou, was elevated from peasant food to an imperial dish after the Empress Dowager Cixi subsisted on the snack while fleeing invaders in 1900.
6. An Italian-Canadian club in Windsor, Ontario, last year set the world record for producing the world’s biggest polenta, winning back the title from an Italian town. The unprecedented polenta weighed just over 5 tons. “If it lumps up, we’re finished,” the club president told a CBC reporter. “Once you get lumps, forget it — you can throw everything away.”
7. Hoecakes probably didn’t get their name from enslaved laborers cooking the thin discs of batter on field tools. According to a recent Slate story, “hoe” meant “griddle” in 17th-century England. Hoecakes are one example of pone, the simplest kind of cornbread and the most prevalent in the American Colonies. British settlers weren’t thrilled by cornmeal at first: Food historian Betty Fussell writes that they thought of cornmeal batter as “the sad paste of despair.”