What Is Polenta—And What Is It Made Of?
Plus, our best polenta recipes.
Here’s everything you need to know about polenta, a beloved Italian staple:
What Is Polenta?
Polenta is boiled yellow corn mush. While that may or may not sound appetizing, the dish is extremely versatile. It can be served by itself (as a type of porridge or in a dome-shaped loaf that can be grilled, fried, or baked) or used as an ingredient in other dishes.
An Italian staple, polenta has been around since Roman times. It wasn’t always made from corn, as maize wasn’t introduced to Italy until the 1600s. Early versions of polenta were made from farro, spelt, chickpeas, or other starchy ingredients.
Polenta vs. Grits
Polenta is basically Italian grits. The difference is that grits are made from white corn (or hominy), while polenta is made from yellow corn. In a pinch, you can substitute polenta for grits and vice versa—just be aware that polenta has a coarser texture, so your results will be slightly affected.
Read more: What Are Grits and What Are They Made Of?
Grits make a great polenta substitute, especially if you’re serving them for breakfast. Just keep the above warning in mind. Depending on what you’re making, oatmeal could also work as a polenta stand-in.
If the recipe in question is a dinner dish, served with a savory sauce, opt for something like risotto instead.
How to Cook Polenta
To cook basic polenta, all you really need is water, butter, salt, and polenta.
- Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. The classic ratio is 4:1. If you’re using one cup of polenta, boil it in four cups of water. Don’t forget to salt your water!
- Pour in polenta. Pour polenta into the boiling water, whisking constantly until there are no lumps.
- Reduce heat and cover. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pan. Cook until liquid is completely absorbed, stirring often, for about 20 minutes.
- Add butter. Stir in the butter and season to taste.
Get the full recipe: Basic Polenta
Is Polenta Healthy?
By itself, polenta has fewer calories than other grains cooked in liquid. Look for cornmeal that is stone-ground, as it contains more nutrients than more processed varieties.
It’s important to keep in mind what you’re adding to your polenta. Are you eating it plain with minimal butter—or are you dousing it in tons of cheese, butter, and/or milk? These and other additions can cancel out the health benefits of basic polenta.
Is Polenta Gluten-Free?
Since polenta is not made from grain, barley, or rye, it is gluten-free.
But you need to carefully read the labels before buying—many popular brands are not considered gluten-free because of the possibility of cross-contamination.
Is Polenta Keto?
Polenta can serve as a keto-friendly substitute for rice or pasta. Again, though, pay attention to the labels and the ingredients you’re adding.
Where to Buy Polenta
You should be able to buy polenta at your local grocery store on the pasta aisle. If you’re having trouble finding it, check the international foods section. Of course, you can always order polenta online. This 24-ounce bag (which has excellent reviews) is available on Amazon for just $8.99.
Buy it! Amazon, $8.99
How to Store Polenta
Store uncooked polenta in an airtight container for up to two years. It’ll keep best in a cool, dark place, but your pantry is probably just fine.
Cooked polenta goes in the fridge. Stick it in a sealed container and throw it out after a few days.
Did all this polenta talk make you hungry? We’ve got you covered: