Can I Substitute Cornmeal for Flour? (With 6 Alternatives)


Cornmeal and Wheat Flour on a Small Table

Flour is often viewed as one of those indispensable staples in the kitchen. It’s used as breading for frying and for making an enumerable number of baked goods. But what if you are out or want to substitute for health reasons?

Cornmeal can be substituted for flour but only in a limited fashion. You can use it as a breading, but not for making a roux or thickening soups and sauces. If using cornmeal instead of flour in baking, you will need to substitute by weight and not by volume since cornmeal is not as compact as flour.

The rest of this article will give you details on how to use cornmeal instead of flour and provide six other alternatives that you might want to consider.

How to Substitute Cornmeal for Flour

If you want to substitute only a portion of the flour for cornmeal, you can do so with 30% without taking any additional steps. But if you’re going all the way, you may need something to replace gluten.

Gluten helps baked goods keep their structure. When you take it out of the picture, you’ll have to replicate the effect with a gelling agent.

The one that gained the most popularity in the last decade or so is xantham gum. These days you can pick it up in the baking aisle of most large supermarkets, but it’s readily available online as well.

You can pick xantham gum up on Amazon and usually get fast delivery. (Click the link to see my recommended brand)

The ratio you should stick to is between 0.4% to 0.5% of the amount of cornmeal your recipe calls for (by weight). Stick to the lower range if you’re trying to substitute cake flour and up the amount, if you’re substituting bread flour.

In What Type of Recipes Can Cornmeal Be Substituted for Flour?

When you’re baking, you will have to consider a few things. Flour’s primary purpose in baked goods is to provide structure, and you may need to take a few extra steps to make cornmeal behave the same way.

Anything related to muffins, quickbreads, and pound cakes can do without flour. Things that should have quite a bit of air beaten into the batter like sponge cakes or classic bread will not fare as well.

That’s not saying that you can’t make anything airy, but the recipe will have to be based on a lot of eggs, like macarons or the dacquoise.

Try using your favorite banana bread recipe to create a cornmeal orange cake. Substitute flour for cornmeal, obviously, and ditch the bananas for whole cooked oranges (slow cook oranges overnight for best results or simmer in plain water for 1 hour).

Can You Skip the Gelling Agents?

Yes, but it may cause your product to crumble if the batter is too dry. And it’s a 100% no if you’re trying to bake bread.

If the recipe has quite a lot of eggs, you can relax because egg proteins will keep everything holding together. Also, you can substitute one of the wet ingredients for cream cheese. Commercial cream cheese already has xanthan gum in it.

Always Substitute by Weight, Never by Volume

In general, when baking, it’s smarter to use weight measurements instead of cups and spoons. A cup of cornflour definitely doesn’t weigh the same as a cup of wheat flour. There’s even a slight difference in weight between cake and bread flour.

Working with scales also makes baking more or less fool-proof. You are far less likely to have unfortunate failures and far more likely to succeed even when making the recipe for the very first time.

What Else Can Be Substituted for Flour?

Also consider these other options when looking for a wheat flour substitute:

1. Nut Flour

We’re talking almond, coconut, hazelnut, as well as chestnut flour (even though they are not nuts). All of them have been used alone in baked goods for centuries and today appear in gluten-free flour mixes.

But watch out; not every nut is the same. Coconut flour is the most versatile in terms of what it can do, but it can have a strong aroma. Almond flour has a milder taste, but it’s high in fat and cat throw off the recipe. And, there will always be a difference between the flour that is made by grinding the whole nut or from the pulp that’s left after making nut milk.

These types of flour perform best in the same kinds of baked goods as cornmeal. For example, a frangipane is basically a quarter quatre (aka a pound cake) but made with ground almonds instead of flour. Or put hazelnut or chestnut flour into your brownie recipe and see what happens.

2. Rice Flour

Plain rice flour often appears in shortbread recipes, and it gives the cookies that melt-in-your-mouth texture. On its own, it will need the support of a gelling agent to keep its structure, but you can use it to make bread.

There-s also mochiko – a type of rice flour made from sweet glutenous rice that’s used in traditional Japanese sweets. You can mix it with regular rice flour to give it some sticking power or on its own to create the chewiest chocolate chip cookies or brownies.

Rice flour is not the most effective as a thickener, but it will give a lovely nutty aroma when used in breading.

3. Spelt

If you’re avoiding flour because it wreaks havoc on your blood sugar levels, this may be a decent alternative.

Spelt is an ancient grain that is related to wheat. It contains gluten, so you will be able to use it as a substitute without using xantham gum or other gelling agents when baking.

It also has more protein and minerals than whole wheat.

4. Oats

Pure oats are gluten-free. The processed kind may be contaminated, so you may want to buy them whole (groats) and grind the flour yourself.

Oats also “gel” by themselves. This is an annoying thing when you’re trying to make slime-free oat milk, but rather useful in baking. You will not get the same results if you’re trying to make crusty bread, but you can make some oat blueberry muffins without adding anything else.

5. Starch

When your recipe calls for a very small amount of flour, you can get away with using cornstarch or arrowroot or any other starch that’s lying around your kitchen. And since cornstarch and flour are similar in weight per cup/tablespoon, you won’t have to break out the kitchen scales.

For every two tablespoons of flour, use one tablespoon of starch.

6. Instant Potato Flakes

They may not make the best mash, but they can still have a place in your kitchen. You can use instant potato flakes to thicken soups and sauces and even as a flour substitute when baking.

The ratio is a little challenging to get right since you’ll have to adjust it to the particular recipe. In general, you’re looking at 30% to 35% by weight of flour. And yes, you can even use them alone to bake a cake, but stick to chocolate unless you want it to taste like potatoes.

Final Thoughts

Being from the South, cornmeal might be considered even more in cooking than flour. If you haven’t tasted good Southern cornbread, then you don’t know what you are missing. What I am saying here is that running out of flour is generally no big deal in my kitchen—but running out of cornmeal? Unthinkable!

I hope this article has been helpful.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Jelly Grandma

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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