What Is Polenta Made From, Anyway?

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If you've ever had the experience of skipping over that delicious-sounding but mysterious polenta entrГ©e on the menu or drooling over someone else's carbonara polenta on Instagram, you're not alone. Polenta has been steadily making its way into some of our favorite dishes, but many people are still unsure what to make of this versatile food. To clear up the confusion-and to help you make the most of your newfound culinary knowledge-we're here to demystify polenta once and for all.

What is polenta? Read on for everything you need to know about this must-try food.

What is polenta?

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.

What's the difference between polenta and 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.

How healthy is polenta?

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.

What is polenta good for?

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 sautГ©ed 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.