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What is Polenta and Where is Polenta in the Grocery Store?

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

Wondering where to find polenta in the grocery store? Most people aren’t newcomers to shopping. They usually know exactly where what they want is, and they make a beeline for that aisle once they get to the supermarket. But sometimes, we might have some unusual items on our shopping list and have no idea where in the supermarket they can be found.

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At such times, the supermarket can look like a really scary maze of shelves, cans and stacks. One such item is polenta, and today, I’m going to show you exactly where to find it.

I’ve asked around amongst my friends, visited some of the most popular supermarkets, talked to attendants and finally, I’ve been able to compile a list of the best possible places polenta can be found in supermarkets. I’m certain that if you check some of the aisles I’ve listed here, you’ll definitely find polenta. But before then, let’s talk a bit about what polenta is.

What is Polenta?

Many well-known Italian dishes that we all love and can’t do without today started out as humble family meals, and polenta is no exception.  In its simplest and most basic form, polenta is a porridge dish made from cornmeal.

Originally from Northern Italy, polenta is considered a great staple and a versatile meal. It can be eaten as a breakfast cereal, porridge side dish, or fried and eaten with marinara sauce or baked and topped off with your favorite cheese topping (that’s like eating pasta without really eating pasta). You can make it as spicy, buttery, cheesy or salty as you like.

With polenta, anything is possible.

What is weird though was that it was previously thought of as food for peasants alone because it was so common, so cheap and easy to make. But these days, it has been elevated to gourmet status and so the rich and poor alike can enjoy this Italian delight.

Polenta is usually made with finely ground yellow corn. It is very similar to Southern American grits, but it is not grits. Both polenta and grits are made with ground corn, but the difference is in the traditional type of corn used to make them. The Italians made polenta with yellow flint corn and grits are made with white dent corn. So while polenta is yellow, grits is white.

Another difference is the texture of corn used. Flint corn holds its shape better than dent corn, so grits often come out mushier than polenta, where polenta itself has a flakier, coarser grind and is chewier than grits.

One really great thing about polenta is that because it is made with cornmeal, it is very good for vegetarians and vegans alike. Polenta comes in different types, based on the way the dish is prepared. They include: coarse ground polenta, finely ground polenta, instant polenta, white polenta and precooked or tube polenta.

Coarse ground and finely ground polenta are both made with flint corn, but finely ground is ground more finely than coarse ground. White polenta is made with white ground corn, while instant polenta and precooked polenta are factory made. The type of polenta most commonly found is precooked polenta. It comes in a tube-shaped wrap.

Polenta can be made at home easily but if you’re not interested, you can buy polenta. And this brings us to…

Where is polenta found in the grocery store?

Generally the location of polenta in stores varies with each store, but to find polenta is not a difficult thing. Tubed polenta can be found in the refrigerated produce section (maybe near the tofu) or near the pasta in the dried food section. Boxed, dry, instant polenta can be found near boxed rice or in the ethnic foods section.

Polenta can also be found In the organic aisle or natural food section. Because it’s a vegan meal, it’s often found at the vegan or vegetarian section in most stores. It can also be found near the cereal or bakers aisle. If you’re looking to make your own polenta, coarse ground corn meal is usually found in the flour section.

Big shot supermarkets like Walmart, Kroger and Safeway stock different brands of polenta in their aisles.

Polenta in Kroger: Kroger stocks DeLallo instant polenta in the dry goods and pasta aisle. They also stock Dell’alpe instant polenta, Colavita instant polenta, Valsugana polenta and Aurora natural polenta.

Polenta in Safeway: Safeway stocks Bellino instant polenta and San Gennaro polenta.

Polenta in Walmart: Walmart stocks Traditional organic polenta, Bob’s Red Mill Organic polenta, Food Merchants Brand Organic Basil Garlic polenta and Polenta, Fine Instant.

Now that we know where we can get polenta, let’s talk about how to make it at home. You probably don’t see the reason why since it can be store bought, but it’s so ridiculously easy to make, you just have to try it out.

How to prepare Polenta at home

Bring 4 ½ cups of water to a rapid boil. Add salt to taste. Add polenta into the hot water and slowly whisk it in as the mixture thickens. Take it down. If you want to eat it as porridge, go ahead. Otherwise, you can reduce the quantity of the water used so it can be really thick and then put it in a pan to cool off. It will become solid and you can then slice it and use in other ways (check out the uses for tubed polenta below).

How to serve: polenta can be served as is or topped with butter, herbs, cheese, sautéed peppers, onions or any topping of your choice as a side dish. Polenta can serve as a base for a vegetarian dish, topped with sauce or a hearty vegetable ragout. Polenta can replace pasta or rice in a recipe and accompany stews and chilies. Soft cooked, warm polenta topped with sliced fruits and nuts is a great breakfast option.

Tubed polenta comes already cooked and has a firm, creamy texture so you can just slice it up and fry it or bake it. If you want to be more creative, you could grill the polenta, or use it to make canapés. Simply bake a few slices and top it off with your favorite toppings – it’s especially great as an appetizer.

Tubed polenta is also great for layering.

It’s amazing in a casserole or can replace noodles for pasta-free lasagna. Another way to use tubed polentas is to make croutons. It’s a perfect way to heft up a salad and add bulk to a meal. Just cube up your polenta and sauté with some seasoning in a skillet and add to your meal.

Polenta can also be sliced into wedges and made into fries. Simply slice them up, toss around in breadcrumbs and spices and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, flipping in the middle. Serve with ketchup or your favorite dipping sauce.

It’s super versatile, and also super healthy. Polenta contains carbohydrates and protein, and making it with milk instead of water adds valuable nutrients. Polenta also contains fiber, is gluten-free, contains vitamin A, is a great source of carotenoids, is low in fat and perfect for a heart healthy diet. Polenta also contains essential minerals like magnesium, iron, zinc and low calories.

This is all so amazing. I wonder, where has polenta been all my life? Next time you’re in the supermarket, you should definitely check out the grocery store polenta aisle and get a packet of this gorgeousness. We started off just trying to find polenta in the grocery store, but now we’ve seen the wonderful, creative, delicious ways it can be used. So the next time you’re asked, “Where is polenta in the grocery store?” be sure to point it out and also highlight its many wonderful uses. Until then, its bye for now.

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a freelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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