A member of the British Dietetic Association, Juliette Kellow has worked in the NHS and for the food industry, and is the former editor of magazines Slimming and Top Santé. She's also the former editorial...

Low in fat and one of the best flavour absorbers on the shelf, polenta is an inexpensive carb that has become a cook’s staple

What is it?

Polenta is an Italian ingredient made from fine or coarsely ground cornmeal. In many regions, it competes for favour with pasta because it’s such a great vehicle for flavours such as herbs and spices.
Try our recipe for vegetable polenta pizzas

How is it used?

You don’t have to go down the traditional route of stirring polenta in a pan for 40 minutes, as the quick-cook variety (made from pre-cooked cornmeal) is available in supermarkets and takes just minutes to prepare. It can be served as a creamy ‘mash’ – great with rich casseroles. Leave it to set, though, and you can slice it for grilling, frying or baking as ‘chips’. It’s a useful ingredient for gluten-free cakes, too, and goes well with citrus flavours.
Try our recipe for parmesan polenta chips

Diet swap

Polenta is a tasty alternative to wheat-based staple foods as it’s made from corn, making it naturally gluten free. Like most starchy foods, it’s a good energy provider and adds bulk to your diet but without fat (assuming you don’t add loads of oil or butter to it). Another benefit is that it contains around half the calories of pasta or rice.
Try our recipe for beef and mushrooms on creamy polenta

From the shop to your table

Which variety?
Textured, smooth or ready-in-a-flash, there’s a polenta style for every taste and time frame. For baking, the fine-grained stuff is best, but for soaking up sauces, opt for the coarse variety (it takes longer to cook, but it’s worth it).

Biona Organic Polenta Bramata (coarse cornmeal)
£1.89/500g, Ocado
Nutritional information per 100g: 356kcal, 0.5g fat, 0.5g saturates, 0.5g sugars, 0g salt

Merchant Gourmet One-Minute Cook Polenta

86p/500g, Morrisons
Nutritional information per 100g: 357kcal, 1.4g fat, 0.2g saturates, 0.6g sugars, 0.3g salt

Dunn’s River Cornmeal Fine Polenta

80p/500g, Sainsbury’s
Nutritional information per 100g: 375kcal, 1.4g fat, 0.2g saturates, 0.6g sugars, 0g salt

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