Find out if polenta is gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan. Discover the many ways you can enjoy polenta and where to buy it.
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If you enjoy polenta, you may be wondering if this dish is safe for your gluten-free diet. Or if you’re just getting started with a gluten-free diet, you may be curious to find some new side dish or grain ideas that don’t contain gluten.
Whatever brought you here, we know that anything we eat on a gluten-free diet needs to be looked at with a thoughtful eye before enjoying. This is also true for any grain-based dishes, like polenta.
That’s why in this post we’re digging in to understand what polenta is, and help answer all the questions you might have about polenta. We’ll also talk about how polenta can fit into your gluten-free diet, and how to make it at home.
What is polenta?
Polenta is a dish made of boiled cornmeal. It can be made into a creamy side dish or a breakfast porridge. Polenta can also be cooked, then cooled, and cut into slices to fry for crispy polenta.
This dish originates from Italy, and has become a new popular side dish in the United States, especially among the gluten-free crowd.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in most wheat products, and acts as the “glue” that helps to hold wheat, barley, kamut, spelt, farro, durum, bulgur, rye, and semolina together to maintain their shape.
You can find gluten in whole grains, but also in many processed foods as well. If you purchase wheat bread, there will be gluten in it, because wheat by nature has gluten.
Many grains have gluten even if they are grains that don’t contain gluten themselves due to cross contamination. This is something to be mindful of when you’re following a gluten-free diet.
Is cornmeal gluten-free?
Cornmeal is naturally gluten-free, because it comes from corn, a naturally gluten-free food.
That said, since corn is a grain, it’s always a possibility that it is processed on shared equipment and in a shared facility with gluten-containing grains.
For this reason, it’s best to find a brand of cornmeal that has a gluten-free label to ensure there isn’t cross contamination with gluten grains during the manufacturing process.
A gluten-free label requires a product can contain no more than 20ppm of gluten in the package and that the brand making the claim conducts sufficient testing in order to label their products as gluten-free.
Read on: Is corn gluten-free?
Read on: Is cornmeal gluten-free?
Is polenta gluten-free?
Polenta is made from cornmeal, making this a naturally gluten-free food. As mentioned before, look for a package with a gluten-free label to ensure that cross contamination with other gluten-containing grains is avoided.
Read on: Are grits gluten-free?
Is polenta dairy-free?
Depending on how the polenta is prepared, it could be dairy-free and it could not be. The cornmeal itself is dairy-free, so it really depends on the preparation of the dish.
If your polenta is made with water or chicken stock, it will be safe for your dairy-free diet.
If polenta is made with milk, butter, or cheese, it won’t be dairy-free. Be aware of what goes into the polenta you’re eating if you order from a restaurant.
If you are making your own at home, it is much easier to control whether there is dairy in your final polenta dish.
Is polenta vegan?
The cornmeal in polenta is vegan as it contains no animal milk or animal products. That said, the preparation of the dish will determine whether polenta is vegan or not.
If the polenta recipe you use (or order from a restaurant) includes butter, milk, cream, cheese, or honey, it is not vegan.
If you make your own polenta at home, you can easily use dairy-free milk, vegan butter or olive oil, and water or vegetable broth to make your polenta vegan-friendly.
How do you eat polenta?
Polenta can be enjoyed in a number of ways. Here are just a few ideas I’ve tried or have come across in my research:
- Served plain or with herbs as a side dish
- In place of rice or pasta in a bowl with vegetables or meat sauce (this is my favorite!)
- As a breakfast porridge, with cinnamon, nuts, and fruit
- Grilled polenta rounds as a side dish or the base for an appetizer
- As a base for stews or chili to round out the meal
Polenta is a great budget-friendly ingredient as it’s inexpensive and easy to find. Find some of my other gluten and dairy-free budget tips here.
Get a list of my favorite ingredients I use to stock my pantry with this gluten-free food list.
How to cook polenta
Polenta really only needs a liquid and some heat to come together. Everything else is for extra flavor and to suit your flavor preferences.
Polenta can be made with any type of liquid you wish: water, chicken or vegetable stock, milk, or dairy-free milk. I usually like to use a combination of cashew milk and chicken stock. This combination gives the polenta tons of flavor and a rich creaminess.
Here’s how to make polenta step-by-step:
Heat the liquid
In a large pot over high heat, bring the liquid to a boil. You can use any type of liquid you wish: water, chicken or vegetable stock or broth, milk or dairy-free milk.
Add the cornmeal
Slowly stir the cornmeal into the boiling liquid until there are no lumps.
Lower the heat and whisk continuously
Lower the heat and whisk continuously, about 5 minutes, until the polenta thickens. You don’t want to walk away here or the bubbles that form in the polenta as it cooks will start to explode in your kitchen – trust me, you don’t want hot exploding polenta all over your kitchen or you!
Add some fat
Optionally, add butter, vegan butter, or olive oil for flavor and creaminess to finish the dish off.
Use as you wish
Add toppings for a breakfast porridge, fresh herbs for a side dish, or keep it plain. Serve up into bowls or plates and enjoy the underrated deliciousness of polenta.
Where to buy polenta
You can buy polenta at most grocery stores. I usually find it in the health food section of my grocery store along with other gluten-free grains.
I try to pick up the Bob’s Red Mill brand, because they are always clear with their gluten-free labeling and I know this company has dedicated gluten-free processing lines.
There are other brands available as well, like Ancient Harvest, Molino, Colavita, Roland, and San Gennaro.
How to store polenta
Polenta can be stored in a sealed container for up to two years in a cool dark place, like a pantry or cabinet.
I prefer to keep my polenta and other grains in glass airtight jars in my pantry.
- 4 cups your choice of liquid
- 1 cup coarse cornmeal (polenta)
- 1 tbsp butter, vegan butter, or olive oil (optional)
- ½ tsp salt (optional)
- In a large pot over high heat, bring the liquid to a boil. You can use any type of liquid you wish: water, chicken or vegetable stock or broth, milk or dairy-free milk.
- Slowly stir the cornmeal into the boiling liquid until there are no lumps.
- Lower the heat and whisk continuously, about 5 minutes, until the polenta thickens. You don't want to walk away here or the bubbles that form in the polenta as it cooks will start to explode in your kitchen - trust me, you don't want hot exploding polenta all over your kitchen or you!
- Optionally, add butter, vegan butter, or olive oil and salt for flavor and creaminess to finish the dish off.
- Add toppings for a breakfast porridge, fresh herbs for a side dish, or keep it plain. Serve up into bowls or plates and enjoy the underrated deliciousness of polenta.
You can use any type of liquid you wish: water, chicken or vegetable stock or broth, milk or dairy-free milk.
I like to use a combination of chicken stock and cashew milk when I make this as a side dish.
I hope if you’ve been looking for information about polenta fitting into your gluten-free diet, that you’ve found the answers you’re looking for.
Polenta can make a great side dish, breakfast bowl, and base for hearty stews, chili, and meat sauce. Enjoy this delicious naturally gluten-free dish any time!