Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Yankee's Guide to Grits: Chapter 1, What Is Grits?

First, a little housekeeping......grits is a singular noun in spite of ending with the letter "s." It takes some adjustment and feels awkward, but I will try to use the word properly.

What is grits?

Grits is made from dried corn kernels known as flint corn. Most grits comes from white corn though yellow corn is also used. Grits was traditionally ground at grist mills powered by adjacent running water from streams or rivers. The force of the water turned huge water wheels to power two giant mill stones or burrs for grinding the corn.

Screens sift the ground corn yielding a chaff, the most coarse of the grinds, that is fed to farm animals. The remaining two products from grinding the corn are grits and corn meal. Grits is more coarse than corn meal.

Grits is customarily boiled in a liquid until it congeals until it becomes thick. Corn meal is used in baking and can also be boiled like grits for a dish called polenta (common in Italian cooking).

Stone-ground grits is a very nutritional product and has better taste than commercially produced varieties due to its being a ground whole-grain. Because the oil from the germ remains after grinding, grits is perishable and should be refrigerated or frozen.

The health benefits of whole-grains are well documented and grits is an excellent and tasty way to consume whole fiber.


In the supermarket, I see several types of grits. How do they differ?

You will likely encounter instant grits and quick grits. Stone-ground grits is not as common, but are clearly my preference in eating grits.

Instant grits is "made by cooking grits and then taking out the water so that they can be reconstituted quickly with boiling water." (Neal and Perry). To me, instant grits is the least preferable variety.

Quick grits differ from stone-ground grits (sometimes called old-fashioned grits) because the germ is removed and the "starchy endosperm is ground." Quick grits is ground more finely than the old-fashioned, stone-ground variety. This style of grits can produce a fine serving of grits and is very tasty.

SOURCE: GOOD OLD GRITS COOKBOOK, Bill Neal and David Perry. Workman Publishing, New York, 1991.

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