Fermenting cornmeal is a delicious way to improve the nutritional value of this hard-to-digest grain. Though there are technical differences between polenta, cornmeal and hominy (including the culture of origin, method of preparation and serving style) in terms of fermentation all three are pretty much the same.
Why Ferment Corn
Corn is a very difficult to digest as a result it is hard to absorb nutrients from cornmeal. This is why the Aztec and Mayan civilizations developed nixtramalization, a process that uses lime to breakdown maize for making masa flour.
Fermenting provides a lot of the same benefits. Here are a few reasons to make fermented cornmeal:
- It adds a delicious flavour dimension to cornbread, grits and polenta.
- Reduces the aflatoxins from contaminated corn (a carcinogen produced by fungus on foods.)
- Breaks down the cornmeal so that the nutrients are more easily absorbed.
- It’s easy! Corn ferments really quickly, and will become quite sour in just a few hours. As a result, I don’t recommend fermenting corn for more than 24 hours.
Cooking fermented cornmeal
The recipe below for fermented cornmeal is a basic recipe that can be used for all sorts of different types recipes. Here are a few ways of adjusting the recipe:
- Cornbread: To ferment corn for cornbread, follow the basic fermentation procedure then bake it according to your usual cornbread recipe. Count the soaking liquid as a portion of the liquid in your recipe. Alternatively, try my recipe for buttermilk fermented cornbread.
- Grits: For a simple southern style grits, replace 1 cup of water in the cooking instructions with 1 cup of milk. Add 1/4 cup of butter, 2 cups of grated cheese and 1/2 cup chopped spring onion.
- Rich polenta: Use 1 cup of broth instead of water for cooking.
How to Ferment Cornmeal
Here’s how to prepare fermented cornmeal, polenta or hominy. The recipe is the same regardless as to what type of ground corn that is being used. Fermented cornmeal can be used to make cornbread, grits or Italian polenta.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: Serves 6-8 1x
- Category: Side Dish
- Method: Fermented
- Cuisine: Traditional
- 1 cup cornmeal (coarse, medium or fine)
- 3 cups filtered water
- 2 tbsp lactic culture (see notes)
- 1–2 cups water (see notes)
- Additional oil, milk or flavours (see the section above)
- Mix the cornmeal with the water and culture in a large glass bowl.
- Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave it in a warm to ferment for 12-24 hours – on the kitchen counter is fine.
- When you are ready to cook the corn meal, scrape the soaked cornmeal and any additional fermenting liquid into a saucepan.
- Add in the additional water (or milk) and boil for 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until cornmeal is soft and the liquid is gone.
- Cornmeal breaks down best with a lactic culture. Use yogurt, buttermilk, kefir or whey. For a vegan option, use vegan yogurt.
- The cornmeal will either be firm or soft depending on how much liquid you add during the cooking. Use 1 cup for firm cornmeal or 2 cups for soft cornmeal.
Keywords: polenta, cornmeal, grits, hominy, gluten free, vegan, egg free, wheat free, traditional, grain