Corn has a long history of use throughout the world and especially in Latin American countries. In fact, corn is grown in more countries than any other crop. It is a nutritious grain, which can be ground, milled, crushed, cooked whole and even popped. Corn flour is considered a whole grain because it is made from the whole grain kernel and contains all the vital parts of the seed.
Whole Grain Definition
The Whole Grain Council defines whole grain products as those that contain all the naturally occurring nutrients of the whole grain kernel -- the endosperm or inner core, the germ where the sprout emerges and the outer layer, called the bran. Corn is one of the whole grains that when milled, crushed, cracked, extruded or cooked whole is considered a whole grain, as long as those three components are not removed. If the germ or bran is removed, the resultant product is not considered a whole grain.
Corn flour is made by milling whole grain corn kernels. As the seeds are milled, the three parts of the grain are flaked and ground, producing a flour containing the endosperm, the germ and the bran. This is considered a whole grain product and is called "corn flour" in most countries. Australia and England both have a product called "corn flour" that is different than other countries. Their corn flour is called "cornstarch" and is not a whole grain. It is made up of only the endosperm, the inner part of the corn kernel. White corn is used to produce white corn flour, which is also a whole grain. Masa Harina is a special kind of corn flour used to make tortillas. This flour is not a whole grain because in the process, the corn is soaked until the outer layer falls off and is removed before the corn is dried and ground.
Coarse Corn Flour
When milling grains, the final product can be either a fine powdery flour or it can be a coarse meal. Coarse ground corn is often called cornmeal. This is actually a coarse ground flour and has all the vital parts of the whole grain corn. It is used in recipes in many Latin American cuisines. Because cornmeal is a coarser grind of whole corn, it can be further ground to produce corn flour.
Corn flour is not used as much as wheat flour in the United States, yet it is a good choice for those avoiding gluten. Corn flour has no gluten, which makes it good for quick breads but not for yeast breads. It can be added to whole wheat bread recipes, but it cannot take the place of the wheat flour. Gluten is a necessary feature of light yeast breads that develops as wheat dough is kneaded. Corn flour can be used in place of cornmeal in recipes to produce a finer grain product. Masa Harina is the choice of flour to make tortillas.