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What Is the Difference Between Corn Meal & Corn Gluten Meal?

By Ellen Douglas

Because corn meal and corn gluten meal have similar names and spring from the same crop, it’s natural to assume they have similar uses. In fact, corn meal is a food-grade product, while corn gluten meal is primarily meant for farming and gardening. Both can be useful to the self-sufficient householder, but they shouldn’t be substituted for one another.

Corn Meal

Corn meal is made by grinding dried corn kernels. Manufacturers use grain corn, as opposed to varieties used for fresh eating or for popcorn. Most grain corn becomes animal feed, but about 10 percent is used for food products like corn meal and corn flakes, according to Purdue University.

Corn Meal Uses

Use corn meal to coat meats, fish or chicken before cooking, or as as the main ingredient in breads, muffins and pancakes. Unlike other flours, corn meal also works well as a breakfast cereal, as dessert pudding or in hearty dinner dishes like polenta. The gluten-free grain is often enriched with calcium and with B and D vitamins, according to University of Minnesota’s extension program.

Corn Gluten Meal

Corn gluten meal is a by-product of the corn milling process. The part of the kernel that doesn’t get used in products like corn meal has value as animal food or in farming and gardening. Corn gluten contains about 60 percent protein and 10 percent nitrogen.

Corn Gluten Meal Uses

Corn gluten meal is not edible by human standards, although it has food applications for pet, cattle and poultry feed. In the early 1990s, researchers discovered that corn gluten meal also had value as an organic herbicide and fertilizer. Specifically, gluten meal targets weed seeds which have not yet begun to sprout, and prevents them from germinating. For this reason, corn gluten meal works best when applied in the spring, or just before the emergence of late-blooming weeds. It does not control annual weeds which have already sprouted, nor established perennial weeds. On the other hand, corn gluten meal is effective in stopping the emergence of seeds cast by perennial weeds, which controls their spread. Rodale’s “Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening” also recommends using corn gluten meal as a natural fertilizer. Its 10 percent nitrogen content makes it a suitable substitute for manure or artificial nitrogen fertilizers, according to the encyclopedia. Because corn gluten meal prevents seeds from germinating, it should only be applied to established gardens or lawns.

Overlapping Uses?

Corn meal is primarily a food ingredient, while corn gluten meal cannot be used as “people food.” Some research has been done to see if regular corn meal has any applications in farming and gardening, especially as a fungicide. According to the Washington State University’s extension service, the advice about using food-grade cornmeal in the garden is not credible. Corn meal is best left in the kitchen, while corn gluten meal should be relegated to the garden shed or chicken house.

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