Corn Starch Vs Corn Meal: How Do They Differ?

While you might think that corn starch and corn meal are the same things because they both have corn in the name, you would be wrong. And if you try to use one for the other and think that a similar name means that they will act similarly as they cook, then that would be another mistake.

Here’s everything you need to know about corn starch and corn meal, as well as how they are different and what you can use them for!

Is Corn Starch The Same As Corn Meal?

No, corn meal and corn starch are made from two different parts of the corn kernel. They look, taste, and cook differently, and one cannot be used for the other.

Corn Meal and Corn Starch Overview

While you might think that you can use corn meal and corn starch together in one dish, or interchange them for the other when cooking, that doesn’t work. In fact, the only thing these two ingredients have in common is that they are both made from corn! Here’s what you need to know about their differences, because using the wrong one can turn your amazing dish into a disaster!

What Is Corn Meal?

Corn meal is made from dried field corn (which is not the same as the sweet corn that is eaten from the cob) and the dried kernels are ground together into various textures. From super fine to course, and there’s even stone ground corn meal that grinds the corn between two large stones. This grind contains some of the germ and hull of the cornmeal, and those extras give it a richer flavor. 

Very fine corn meal is ground between two metal rollers, and the germ and hull are removed to create a finer texture, though a bit of flavor is lost. Depending on your own personal preference and the recipe you are making, you might decide to use different textures. 

Uses For Corn meal

Corn meal is often used for polenta, which is similar to porridge and can be served like one, or it can be made into a loaf of bread. Corn meal can also be used like flour in both sweet and savory dishes, and can also be used as a fried crust on various types of meat.

Recipes You Can Use On

  • Breads
  • Porridges
  • Pancakes
  • Dumpings
  • Pizza
  • Cornbread

Best Time To Use

Corn meal is very durable and has a ‘best if used by date’ rather than a date where it goes bad. If you keep and store your cornmeal under good conditions, which are in a cool and dry environment, then you can keep it for about one year… and even longer if it looks good whenever you open it.

What Is Corn Starch?

Corn Starch isn’t used as a food, but it is commonly used alongside other flours as a thickening agent. You can combine equal portions of cold water and cornstarch in a bowl, and then whisk it all together to make a slurry. Then add the slurry to any sauce, soup, or liquid mixture that you need to thicken up.

Corn starch has very little flavor on its own, and if you cook it down then the flavor practically is non-existent. So you don’t need to worry about every single dish you make tasting like corn.

See also  What Goes with Garlic Bread?


Corn starch is used as a thickening agent in soups and stews, and can also be combined with all purpose flour in any dish that requires it. They can give cookies and cakes a nice crumb, or corn starch can be used in a batter to help the flour stick to whatever you are frying. Since it is completely flavorless, it can really be used in most dishes where flour shows up as long as the dishes are hot, because cold temperatures can mess with the consistency of the dish. 

Recipes You Can Use On

  • Corn Dogs
  • Cookies
  • Breads
  • Anything battered and fried

Best Time To Use

Corn starch has an extreme shelf life, as long as you keep it in a cool dark place and keep it sealed. As long as it remains dry and properly stored, the shelf life is indefinite. If you find that you don’t have flour or need something thickened, that’s the best time to break out the corn starch. 

What’s The Difference Between Corn Starch And Corn Meal?

Again, just because they are both made from corn and have corn in the name, that doesn’t mean that you can interchange them both. Here are some key differences


Corn starch has a simple texture that is a fine white powder, and it is similar in texture to regular flour. Corn meal on the other hand can be ground together in several different textures, from extremely rough to very fine, and each texture has different uses.

But the textures are different, as corn starch is a thickening agent and corn meal can be turned into polenta.


Corn starch is processed and made more refined than cornmeal is. In order to make corn starch, the protein and the fiber of the corn kernel are removed from the corn. Then only a very starchy center called the endosperm remains and that is what gets ground into the white powder that is used as corn starch.

Now, corn meal is made by taking the yellow corn and then is processed either through a stone ground, which leaves a coarser texture and it is also more flavorful. This is because that the entire corn kernel is ground together, unlike with corn starch where only the endosperm is ground up.

This gives a different texture and also a much more pronounced corn flavor as well, though it isn’t overpowering.


Corn starch is primarily used for thickening soups, stews, and other liquids, or as a replacement or addition to flour. For example, it can be used alongside flour in batters to coat meats before they go into the fryer. 

Corn meal is used for polenta and can also be used as a batter, but it is primarily used to give taste and texture to other baked goods such as cakes, pies, and cookies.

Can You Substitute Corn Meal for Corn Starch and Vice Versa?

No, you can’t. They are too different and substituting one for the other isn’t going to help the end result of your food. However, if you do run out of corn meal or corn starch whenever cooking, you can substitute them with other things you might have in your pantry.

See also  Spanish Ham Vs. Prosciutto

Substitutions For Corn Meal

Corn flour is a great substitute for corn meal, as it is made out of corn as well. However, unlike corn meal which gets ground into a coarse powder, corn flour is ground into a fine powder. This means that if you substitute corn flour for corn meal, you will get a much finer texture, but you will still get the sweetness that corn meal adds.

Grits are also a great substitute for corn meal as well, and grits are also made out of corn. However, grits are more coarsely ground than cornmeal and are in bigger pieces with more texture, so you need to keep that in mind.

Additionally, other types of flour such as almond flour, coconut flour, and wheat flour can be used as well. Almond flour and coconut flour can mimic the textures of corn meal, but they do add a bit of nuttiness and sweetness respectively to what they are being put into. If you use wheat flour, you will need to combine some sugar with it as well to get the sweetness that corn meal provides.

Substitutions For Corn Starch 

If you are out of corn starch and need to start thickening things when cooking, you can use various other thickeners as well. For example, wheat flour is a good substitute for corn starch, although you do need to double the amount to get the same effect. For example, if you need one tablespoon of corn starch, then you need two tablespoons of white flour.

Additionally, you need to mix the wheat flour with water in order to form a paste, and that will keep it from forming those annoying flour clumps that can form inside your recipes. 

Potato starch is another substitute for corn starch, and it is made by grinding up potatoes and then drying those crushed potatoes into a powder. It also only requires a 1:1 ratio as well, and if you add the potatoes late in the process then they can absorb water and help to thicken the liquid.

Finally, if you happen to have some rice flour in your home, then it can act as a thickener, as well as a natural substitute for gluten flour as it is gluten free. Perfect for those with gluten disorders, although you do need to use twice as much rice flour when compared to corn starch. 


Corn starch and corn meal are two wonderful ingredients that can be used in quite a lot of different ways. They can support a lot of meals and can test your cooking techniques by opening new avenues for your food. However, they are not interchangeable, and you shouldn’t use them as such.

Corn starch is a thickener, while corn meal is able to add texture to foods. If you run out of one or the other, you are much better off trying one of the above substitutes, rather than interchanging them.