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Cornmeal—Originated in the Americas, A Staple Ingredient Binds Many Cultures Together

Corn, or maize—its indigenous name, was first domesticated in the Americas around 10,000 years ago by indigenous people. Today, it is one of the topmost distributed food crops around the world—even more than that of wheat or rice—and has various purposes such as biofuel, animal feed, cornstarch, corn syrup, and raw-eco material.

Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s head into the yummy part of this topic—the varying—but all so delicious—takes on the use of cornmeal (maize that is dried and ground) which first began in the Americas!

From Mexico to Bosnia

masaIn numerous North, Central, and South American countries, cornmeal is used to make masa (corn flour typically mixed with either lime water or lard), a staple ingredient used for various flavorful dishes throughout the region.

For instance, in Mexico, cornmeal is the main component in many meals. Masa is used for things like tortillas (which is a key food), atole (a masa-based hot drink), and tamales—which is masa stuffed with various fillings and encased in corn husks!

In Colombia and Venezuela cornmeal is used to make the maize-dough for arepas, which, similarly to tamales, are filled with varied stuffings. However, they bear more of a resemblance to pupusas from El Salvador (which also contain different fillings) as they are similar in design and are both typically fried.

Then in places like the United States of America, Italy, and Romania, cornmeal is used to make their own delectable creations—which are all varying versions of a sort of cornmeal porridge.

The Southern United States is known for grits, but this meal actually originated from the Muscogee (Creek) Natives who first created this style of dish. Grits are boiled cornmeal, which turn into a porridge, and is now typically served for breakfast, but can also be a dinner entree as a sort of side that would normally be rice or mashed potatoes.

Italy and Romania’s use of cornmeal is more similar to each other than with the Southern United States because they were both introduced to corn in the 16th century by the Turks. They then planted the corn, which resulted in them making a mush with their reapings.

In Italy, they named it polenta, and the Romanians named it mamaliga, but they are similarly made. For both recipes, the cornmeal is boiled in either water, stock, or milk, with some sort of cheese, herbs, and butter.

Another tasty dish is pura, which comes from Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is polenta that’s been boiled in water and oil and is finished once the liquids vaporize. The pura is then topped with a mixture of cottage cheese and yogurt, finishing it off with garlic and a bit of butter.

All of these regions mentioned, though vastly different, share a common appreciation for the corn first introduced by the Indigenous of the Americas, and all have a delicious dish centered around the use of cornmeal.

What’s your favorite dish made with cornmeal?

Scroll down to share with us in the comments!