As a quintessential Southern breakfast food, grits hold a special place in American regional cuisine. But for those who have never tried this porridge, the lingering question remains — what do grits taste like?
Grits offer a mild, lightly sweet corn flavor with a smooth, creamy texture once cooked. Their neutral taste allows them to absorb and complement flavors from anything they’re paired with, from butter to savory meats.
In this article, we’ll explore everything about grits — their flavor profile, origins, ingredients, best cooking methods, recipe ideas, and why they became a classic American comfort food, especially across the South.
Table of Contents
Overview of Grits
Here’s a quick intro to what grits are:
- Grits is a porridge made from ground corn that is a staple of Southern U.S. cuisine.
- Dating back centuries to indigenous corn cultivation, grits were adopted into African and European cooking techniques as corn spread.
- The most common version is made from grinding white or yellow corn into a coarse meal or flour.
- Grits offer comforting breakfast fare served sweet or savory. Their versatility also makes them suitable for other meals.
- Once called “Southern polenta”, grits provide economical nutrition and hearty, filling sustenance.
So in essence, grits comprise a humble Southern staple that offers lightly sweet, smooth corn comfort in a bowl. But what exactly do grits taste like?
Describing the Flavor of Grits
When cooked, grits offer these mild yet inviting flavor notes:
- Subtly sweet – Grits have a delicate natural sweetness from the fresh milled corn flavor.
- Smooth – The coarse-ground texture of dried whole kernel corn becomes smooth once boiled. Almost creamy when fully cooked.
- Mildly earthy – The corn contributes a subtle dusty, vegetal quality.
- Starchiness – Grits offer the starchy thickness expected from cooked cornmeal.
- Warming – The sweet corn flavor provides a comforting, wholesome warmth.
So grits offer delicate sweet corn essence transformed through cooking into velvety smooth wholesomeness. The neutral corny taste also allows them to take on other flavors easily.
The Texture of Cooked Grits
In addition to mild flavor, the texture of grits defines the experience of eating them:
- Creamy – Well-cooked grits become smoothly viscous with a creamy mouthfeel, helped by stirring milk or cream in as they cook.
- Thick – Grits develop the expected dense, thick consistency of cooked porridge once boiling reaches proper starch saturation.
- Coats the mouth – Their thick starchiness results in a coating texture that sticks pleasantly to the mouth.
- Can get gluey – Undercooked grits seem thick yet watery. Overcooked grits become too gluey and gummy.
- Satisfying – Perfect al dente grits walk the ideal line – smoothly thick and neither too loose nor pasty.
Mastering the technique ensures properly cooked grits with just the right silky creaminess.
Traditional Ingredients for Grits
Authentic grits contain just a few simple ingredients:
- Corn (usually white) – Made from coarsely ground dried white or yellow corn kernels. Provides the flavor and bulk.
- Water or broth – Boiling grits in a liquid such as water, milk, broth or stock fully cooks and softens them.
- Salt – A pinch of salt enhances the natural corn flavor.
- Butter – Adding butter after cooking provides richness.
- Milk or cream – Added during or after cooking makes them creamier.
With just corn meal and water, grits themselves offer neutral corn flavor. But what you add to and serve them with makes all the difference.
How Cooking Method Affects Grits Taste and Texture
Cooking brings out the best in grits through:
- Boiling – The bubbling agitation fully saturates and softens the corn meal, bringing out corn sweetness.
- Cream/milk – Adding dairy while cooking makes them creamier and brings out sweetness.
- Salt – A sprinkle of salt when boiling enhances the corn flavor.
- Butter – Stirring in butter after cooking provides decadence and sheen.
- Cheese – Mixing in sharp cheddar or pepper jack gives a flavor and creaminess boost.
Proper simple boiling blooms the corn flavor into sweet creaminess, while mix-ins provide further richness and enhancement.
Sweet Versus Savory Ways to Serve Grits
Grits show incredible versatility through both sweet and savory preparations:
- Butter, honey and cinnamon
- Maple syrup or cane syrup
- Mixed berries
- Brown sugar and raisins
- Milk and cream
- Shrimp, bacon and green onions
- Cheddar cheese and scallions
- Sausage or country ham
- Chili or BBQ pulled pork
- Poached eggs and hot sauce
The options are endless for dressing up humble grits into breakfast, brunch, dinner or anytime dishes.
Traditional Southern Grits Dishes
Grits feature deliciously in these classic Southern recipes:
- Breakfast shrimp and grits – Served with shrimp, bacon, green onions.
- Cheesy grits – Loaded up with butter, milk, sharp cheddar.
- Fried grits – Cold grits fried into wedges or cakes and crisped up.
- Grilled grits – Formed into patties and grilled like polenta.
- Baked grits – Combined with eggs and cheese for a casserole.
- Dessert grits – Sweetened with fruit, brown sugar, milk for a comforting treat.
From the classic shrimp and grits dinner to sweet fruity varieties, grits find their way into Southern cooking traditions easily.
Are All Grits Made the Same?
There are a few differences between stone ground and instant grits:
- Stone ground – Made from whole corn kernels milled the traditional way using stones. Coarser and more textured. Faintly nutty corn flavor. Requires longer cooking time.
- Instant – Made from finely ground corn meal that cooks quicker with just hot water. Smoother consistency and milder flavor. Less corn essence comes through.
Many traditionalists insist that stone ground grits provide deeper, nuanced corn flavor and pleasantly toothsome texture. But instant grits offer convenience that still delivers classic corny comfort.
Nutrition Facts About Grits
Grits offer a range of healthy nutrients:
- Provide complex carbohydrates for energy. About 5 grams fiber per cooked cup.
- Contain antioxidants like carotenoids, especially if made from whole corn kernels.
- No gluten for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Can replace oatmeal at breakfast.
- When made with broth or dairy, grits provide additional protein, vitamins and minerals.
So grits offer a comforting way to start your day with whole grains, fiber and other wholesome nutrients.
Cultural Importance of Grits in the American South
Beyond nutrition, grits hold cultural meaning:
- Grits have long been a traditional economical food of rural America, especially the South.
- They utilize plentiful crops of corn and hot pepper fields across the region.
- Grits were adopted into African, European, and Native American cuisines as maize farming spread.
- They represent heritage, family ritual, and identity tied to the agrarian landscape of the South.
For many Southerners, grits conjure up fond memories of family breakfasts, seasonal fresh ingredients, and food as community.
How to Select and Store Grits
When purchasing grits:
- Seek out stone ground whole grain corn grits for bolder flavor.
- Instant grits offer convenience and quick cooking times.
- Refrigerate unused grits in a sealed container for 1-2 months.
- Frozen, grits keep for 6-12 months. Thaw before using.
- Discard any grits with an off smell or appearance.
Proper storage helps retain the fresh, sweet corn taste that characterizes quality grits.
Key Takeaways About What do Grits Taste Like
- Grits offer a mildly sweet, smooth corn flavor with creamy porridge-like texture when cooked properly.
- Adding dairy, butter, spices and other mix-ins before or after cooking allows grits’ neutral taste to shine.
- Grits make a beloved anytime dish – eaten savory with shrimp or cheese or sweet with syrup or fruit.
- Stone ground grits provide more texture and deep corn flavor while instant grits trade convenience for subtler taste.
- Synonymous with the American South, grits conjure up heritage, comfort food, and familial traditions for many.
With their versatility and wholesome corn essence, grits have cemented themselves as a cherished staple across the Southern table from morning grits to shrimp and grits.