corn starch vs. Cornmeal (Learn the difference)

What is the difference between corn starch vs corn flour? In the culinary world, these two cause a lot of confusion.

But it all comes down to texture, taste, how they’re made, and their uses.

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bowl of cornstarch with grains

These two common kitchen staples are often confused. They share the same origin, but have different characteristics that can have a great impact on the result of your dishes.

Let’s unravel the mystery and discover the true essence of cornstarch and cornmeal. This will allow you to make confident decisions in your kitchen!

Cornstarch vs. Cornmeal (what’s the difference?)

Several things differentiate these two ingredients. True, they both come from corn, but other than that, they are quite different.

We will explore how these two ingredients differ.


The differences start right at the processing stage. Cornmeal is simply flour made by grinding whole kernels of corn into a powder.

Cornstarch is made by processing only powdered maize endosperm. The processes result in different ingredients with completely different nutritional profiles.

For example, cornstarch has no protein and no fiber, but cornmeal has both. (3 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber). Cornmeal also has more fat, vitamins, and minerals than cornstarch.


While both ingredients are fine, cornmeal is noticeably coarser. Cornstarch is much finer and is more like baking powder than flour.

They have different colors, too. Cornstarch is pure white, while some cornmeal is yellow. There’s also white cornmeal, but it’s still a dirtier white than cornstarch.


As mentioned, cornmeal comes from the whole kernel of corn. As a result, it has a distinctive corn flavor. It’s kind of sweet and earthy. Cornstarch, however, has no flavor and is neutral.

Due to its mild flavor, people often use it as a thickening agent. Adds density without adding flavor.


Cornmeal is most often used for baking. Use as a coating for fried foods. It can also be a replacement for cornmeal in some recipes.

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The uses of cornstarch are very different. It cannot be used as a flour or substitute for cornmeal. Instead, people often use it as a thickening agent for sauces, soups, dressings, etc. It can also help give pie fillings a more gelatinous appearance.

Cornmeal in a Wooden Bowl

Confusing naming practices

So if these ingredients are so different, why do people often confuse them?

It is a matter of vocabulary. In some countries, the US version of cornstarch is called cornmeal. (No spaces in the name). This is most evident in the following countries:

  • Ireland
  • The United Kingdom
  • Israel

To make matters worse, these same countries can call the US version of cornmeal cornmeal. (Which is a totally different thing here in the US.)

So if you see any of these listed in a recipe’s ingredients, determine where the recipe was written. The ingredients could be the UK versions if someone in the UK wrote it.

A bowl of cornstarch and corn on a burlap

What is cornstarch?

Unsurprisingly, cornstarch is a type of starch.

It comes from the endosperm of a corn kernel after it has been separated from the kernel. Producers do this by soaking the kernels until the endosperm and kernel are easy to separate.

They then extract, grind, and dry the starch, creating the fine white powder we call cornstarch.

People use cornstarch to thicken sauces and soups or to add a gelatinous consistency to desserts.

It is also sometimes used in unrelated products, such as powdered sugar or grated cheeses. Manufacturers do this to prevent products from clumping together.

What is cornmeal?

Cornmeal also comes from corn that has gone through a grinding and drying process. However, cornmeal comes from whole kernels of corn, not just the endosperm.

Because it comes from beans, it also has a slightly yellowish to completely yellow color. It is a gluten-free flour option for people with sensitivities.

People often use cornmeal for baking or as a coating for fried foods.

A bowl of cornmeal and corn on a burlap

Yellow Corn Meal vs. White Corn Flour

There are actually two types of cornmeal: white cornmeal and yellow cornmeal.

The difference comes from what type of corn the flour comes from. Yellow cornmeal comes from yellow corn. White cornmeal, of course, comes from white corn.

The yellow variety is the most common, but you can use any type for most recipes.

Can cornstarch be substituted for cornmeal (and vice versa)?

Unfortunately, you cannot substitute cornstarch for cornmeal. You can’t change them the other way either. They have very different uses.

Some recipes will call for both ingredients, but they still serve different functions. Cornstarch is starchy and cornmeal is flour.

Cornstarch contains only negligible amounts of protein and fat (if any). Cornmeal contains fat and protein. That’s what makes it a popular baking ingredient.

Cornstarch is most popular as a thickening agent. The only use where the two overlap is as a “breading” for fried foods. But even then, the cornmeal will provide a completely different finish.

If you need a cornmeal substitute, opt for one of these:

Here are some substitutes for cornstarch:

Never try to use these two ingredients interchangeably.

Corn starch vs. corn flour

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