Polenta Versus Grits: What's the Difference?

by Debbie Wolfe

Being a Southern gal, grits have been a part of my breakfast table since I was a child. It wasn’t until I was in college that I was introduced to polenta. My first reaction to the Italian favorite was that it looked and tasted kinda like grits.  

On Z Living’s Healthy Gourmet, chef Ezra Title prepares a simple polenta side dish using four parts water and one part milk. He then adds fresh grilled corn kernels to the polenta to help raise the fiber and lower the glycemic index to make his co-host, nutritionist Julie Daniluk happy. Find out where to watch.

Chef Ezra introduces polenta as “basically grits”  In fact, many people describe polenta to as “Italian grits”. Although in many ways they are similar, there are some differences too.

Polenta Vs. Grits

Both polenta and grits are corn-based. In short, they are both a type of corn meal.  They are made from dried corn that’s ground down into smaller, coarse bits. That’s perhaps the only similarity of the two.

Polenta and grits are from two very different types of corn. Polenta is made from flint corn: An heirloom variety of corn similar to maize. Flint corn is named for its hard kernels and comes in a multitude of colors. Due to it’s hard nature, the corn contains a hard starch center.

Grits are made from dent corn: a type of field corn with a high soft starch content. It gets its name because of the small indentation, or dent, at the crown of each kernel. Grits are also often made from hominy, which is corn treated with lime (or another alkaline product) that helps to remove the hull.

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Appearance and Texture

The grind of the two types of corn meal is different as well. Polenta is ground finer and yellow in color. Grits tend to be coarser (depending on the brand) and mostly white. The way the corn is milled gives us the difference in flavor and texture.  

Once cooked, grits tend to be mushier and porridge like. Polenta, is creamier with a stronger corn taste. Because of the harder starch content in polenta, it has a distinctly granular texture after cooking. Polenta can be served hot and creamy, like grits or allowed to cool and then sliced. Grits will thicken up as well when cooled, but doesn’t hold together as well as polenta.

Using grits in place of polenta in a recipe will not give you the best results. Instead, if you can not find polenta at your local grocery store, try using plain, fine ground cornmeal instead.


Both grits and polenta are served savory. Grits can be served simply with a pat of butter and a dash of salt, or with, cheese, bacon, crab, or shrimp.

Polenta can be made with seasoned stock instead of water, then further flavored with herbs and spices. Polenta is topped with many types of savory ingredients including sauted mushrooms, sausage and onions.

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Whichever one you decided to use for your next Sunday dinner, you can’t go wrong with either polenta or grits. Both are a delicious and will add something special to your meal.



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