Fermenting cornmeal is a delicious way to improve the nutritional value of this hard-to-digest grain. Though there are technical differences between polenta and cornmeal (including the culture of origin, method of preparation and serving style) in terms of fermentation they are pretty much the same.
Why Ferment Corn?
Due to its high cellulose content, corn is very difficult to digest. Thus, it is hard to absorb nutrients from cornmeal. This is why the Aztec and Mayan civilizations developed nixtamalization, 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 well when combined with a lactic bacterial culture.
Cooking fermented cornmeal
This recipe for fermented cornmeal can be used for all sorts of different polenta and cornmeal based dishes. Here’s how to adjust the recipe to work with whatever you are planning to cook:
- Grits: For 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.
- Firm polenta: Replace the 2 cups of water with 1 cup of broth for cooking and reduce the salt, to taste (about 1/2 tsp).
- Cornmeal Porridge: Cook with 2 cups of water for a really soft cornmeal, that has a porridge-like consistency.
Simple Fermented Cornmeal
Here’s how to prepare fermented cornmeal or polenta. The recipe is the same regardless of what type of ground corn you are using. Fermented cornmeal can be used to make cornbread, grits or Italian polenta. See the sections above for more details.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: Serves 6–8 1x
- Category: Side Dish
- Method: Fermented
- Cuisine: Traditional
- Diet: Gluten Free
- 1 cup cornmeal (coarse, medium or fine)
- 2 cups filtered water
- 2 tbsp lactic culture (see notes)
- 2 cups water
- 1 tsp salt, to taste
- Mix the cornmeal with the water and culture in a large glass jar or bowl.
- Cover the container with a tea towel and leave it to ferment for 12-24 hours on the kitchen counter.
- When you are ready to cook the cornmeal, scrape the soaked cornmeal and any additional fermenting liquid into a saucepan.
- Add in the additional water, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir 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 or fermented vegetable brine.
- Feel free to change the liquid to suit your recipe. See the section above for turning this recipe into a firm polenta or soft, creamy grits.
Keywords: polenta, cornmeal, grits, hominy, gluten free, vegan, egg free, wheat free, traditional, grain