What Is Corn Flour?
Corn flour is often overshadowed by its grittier cousin: cornmeal. You've probably spotted corn flour in the baking aisle of the grocery store, but you may not have known what to do with it. As it turns out, there are plenty of reasons to stock your pantry with this ultra-fine flour. Here, find everything you need to know about corn flour, including how to use it and how to tell it apart from cornmeal and cornstarch.
What is Corn Flour, Exactly?
Corn flour is a type of flour that's milled from dried whole corn kernels. It contains the hull, germ, and endosperm of the corn and is considered a whole grain flour. Corn flour is usually yellow, but it can also be white or blue depending on the variety of corn it uses. The texture is fine and smooth, similar to whole wheat flour.
Like all flours, corn flour gives structure to baked goods and other foods. It's often combined with a binder like eggs to provide shape. Corn flour doesn't taste very good raw, but cooking—whether it's baking, frying, or grilling—unlocks its earthy, sweet flavor. Corn flour is extremely versatile, and you can incorporate it into recipes for breads, muffins, waffles, pancakes, battered and fried foods, blinis, and more.
Don't confuse corn flour with masa harina, a staple flour of Mexican cooking that's used to make tortillas, tamales, and pupusas. Masa harina has a fine, smooth texture and is made from finely ground corn kernels that have been soaked in limewater, or calcium hydroxide. Popular producers of masa harina include Maseca and Bob's Red Mill, both of which are sold in major grocery stores.
Delicious Recipes with Masa Harina:
Cornmeal vs Corn Flour
While cornmeal and corn flour are both made from milled, dried corn, they differ in texture completely. Cornmeal feels gritty, while corn flour is fine and smooth. The degree of milling determines the texture of the flour: corn flour is finely ground, while cornmeal is coarsely ground. You can find both types of flours from specialty grain purveyors like Bob's Red Mill.
Easy Recipes with Cornmeal:
Corn flour and cornmeal can be used interchangeably in recipes, but know that using one for the other will yield a slightly different result. For example, if you're making pancakes or muffins, using cornmeal in place of corn flour will give them a grittier texture. Conversely, using corn flour in place of cornmeal will give baked goods like cornbread a finer, less crumbly texture.
Cornstarch vs Corn Flour
Cornstarch and corn flour, while both derived from corn, have different appearances, textures, and purposes. Cornstarch is a white, chalky powder that's used as a thickener for sauces and stews. Unlike corn flour, which is made from whole kernels, cornstarch is made from the endosperm of the corn kernel. The starches inside the endosperm are removed, rinsed, dried, and milled into a fine powder (a.k.a. cornstarch). The other parts of the kernel, the hull and the germ, are separated out and processed into other corn products like corn oil and corn bran.
Here's where things get a little weird. In the U.S., the distinction between corn flour and cornstarch is fairly straightforward. In the United Kingdom, however, cornstarch is called cornflour. It's the same product as cornstarch, it's just the name that's different. You want to be especially careful of this when making recipes, as confusing one for the other could completely ruin your food.
How to Make Corn Flour
Making corn flour at home sounds intimidating, but it's much easier than you'd expect. The only ingredient you need is corn, but it must be dried beforehand. Traditional methods involve drying corn under the sun, removing it from the cob, then passing it through a grain mill, but there's a much simpler way to do this.
All you need are popcorn kernels and a high-powered blender like Vitamix or Blendtec. The type of blender you use is important, as the blades need to be powerful enough to grind the kernels. Your standard blender container and blades should work fine—but you may want to consider buying a dry-grains container that's specifically designed for grinding whole grains.
Read More: How to Buy the Best Blender
Simply add the kernels to the blender container until filled about halfway. Blend kernels on HIGH until a fine powder forms. Place in an airtight container or plastic zip-top bag, refrigerate, and use within several days. You can also place the flour in a plastic zip-top freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to six months.
What to Make with Corn Flour
Corn flour is a versatile ingredient that can enhance the texture and flavor of many foods. Use corn flour as a breading for fried fish or okra, incorporate it into a waffle or pancake batter for a satisfying breakfast, or bake it into breads, muffins, or cakes. You can also combine corn flour with other flours like cornmeal, all-purpose flour, and whole wheat flour.
Ready to cook with corn flour? Get started with these recipes:
Check out our collection of Corn Flour Recipes.