< Southern Basics

What's the Difference Between White and Yellow Cornmeal?

Not sure how to choose between white cornmeal or yellow cornmeal? Maybe you've heard that yellow cornmeal is sweeter than white? Or that white cornmeal is more refined? It's actually a whole lot simpler than that.

The only substantial difference between white cornmeal and yellow cornmeal is right there in the names: their colors. The two varieties get their hues from nothing more than the different colors of the kernels of corn from which they are ground. In terms of recipes and cooking methods, the two can be used more or less interchangeably.

Beyond that, however, there are some traditions and preferences that tend to separate them. Historically, yellow cornmeal has been more popular in New England and the northern states, where it is the foundation of old regional recipes like Indian Pudding, Spider Cake, and Johnnycakes. It's also the preferred cornmeal in Texas, where it's used in cornbread for sopping up chili.

Southerners, on the other hand, tend to prefer white cornmeal. Many people believe that it is because, in the old South, families used white cornmeal as it more closely resembled "fancy" European wheat flour. In any case, today it remains a main component in traditional Southern buttermilk cornbread. White cornmeal is also often milled to a finer grind than yellow cornmeal, which is another thing that gives baked goods made with it a more refined, less rustic texture.

The one concrete difference between corn meals may be that, according to some studies, meal ground from darker corn kernels—particularly ones with deep orange, yellow, or purple hues—are richer in nutrients like Vitamin A and beta carotene and therefore slightly more nutritious. But when it comes to cooking, you can safely follow your own tastes and preferences—they'll all be delicious!