Cornbread has been a staple of many households for generations. Different families use different recipes, but they all have two common ingredients: cornmeal and baking powder.
Surprisingly, cornbread doesn’t always have to be sweet. Many recipes call for savory cornbread, and it’s just as delicious!
In this article, we’ll talk about why cornbread is sweet as well as the origins of cornbread. We’ll also try to find out once and for all whether or not cornbread is supposed to be sweet.
Let’s take a look.
Where Does Sweet Cornbread Originate?
Cornbread has been around since the beginning of the 18th century. However, recipes for sweet cornbread were only introduced in the 20th century.
During the 19th Century
Almost all families during the 19th century had to go to a toll mill, or stone mill, to get their corn ready for cornbread.
To do that, families took their corn in bags to the local mill to finely ground it. They had to leave some cornmeal behind as a toll.
The mills used were powered entirely by water. Corn was ground using large millstones.
The 20th Century
By the beginning of the 20th century, the toll milling approach wasn’t good for the economy and had to be replaced.
In the southern states, cylindrical steel mills, later called roller mills, took over the stone mills.
However, a problem arose when roller mills were introduced. Roller mills removed most of the corn kernel, which included the germ. The wheat germ contains most of the taste along with other essential nutrients.
In addition, steel roller mills also generated a lot of heat, affecting the corn’s taste greatly.
By doing so, cornmeal lost most of its flavor and nutritional value. As a result, sweeteners had to be added to improve the taste.
Northern Cornbread vs. Southern Cornbread
The cornbread battle between the north and south has been raging for years! Each claims that they have the only proper recipe for cornbread.
So, we put together a brief overview to help you decide for yourself.
Across the history of northern cornbread, one feature has stayed the same: it’s always been the sweeter of the two!
In the past, during colonial times, families used to sweeten cornbread by adding molasses. Generally, nowadays, northerners sweeten their cornbread by just adding sugar.
Cornbread made in the northern states is more like a cake than actual bread. This is why it’s considered to be a type of dessert, and families typically eat it on its own.
Southerners, on the other hand, believe that cornbread shouldn’t be sweetened at all! Again, the reason goes back to the first version of cornbread in the south.
When southerners first started eating cornbread as their daily bread, it was called corn-pone. Corn pone included only three ingredients: salt, water, and cornmeal.
Then, as the years went by, the recipes underwent many changes. Every family had its own recipe, but the one thing that stayed the same was that it had little, if any, added sugar.
For someone who’s not used to it, plain cornbread could be underwhelming. However, it’s common to see southerners eat it with savory dips, like salsa, chili, or feta.
Nowadays, southern cornbread has become extremely versatile, pairing well with a variety of sweet and savory plates.
Is Cornbread Supposed to Be Sweet?
The controversy about whether or not cornbread is supposed to be sweet has been around for ages.
Is Southern Cornbread Sweet?
Cornbread in the south has been completely transformed. It’s almost impossible to taste the cornbread that was made in the past.
So, even though southerners were always against adding sugar to their cornbread, ingredients like sugar and wheat flour had to be added to accommodate different palates.
Is Cornbread Sweet or Savory?!
The versatility of how cornbread is made now is what makes it a fan favorite. Still, every family has a point on whether cornbread should be sweet or not.
Still, many families have grown to appreciate savory cornbread just as much as the sweetened version. It’s often served with jalapenos, cheese, or even as a side with fish.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cornbread
Is cornbread southern food?
Cornbread is associated with Native American cuisine. However, it’s become an integral part of southern cuisine.
Are Johnnycakes different from cornbread?
Yes, Johnnycake is fried cornbread and served as a type of pancake. They’re usually crispier and more tender than traditional cornbread.
What ingredients are different in yellow and white cornbread?
The only difference is the kind of corn being used. White corn kernels are used to make white cornbread, and yellow corn kernels for yellow cornbread.
What’s the difference between traditional cornbread and hot water cornbread?
You can make hot water cornbread by adding boiling water to the batter. Also, unlike traditional cornbread, the batter is divided into small patties and fried in oil.
Does yellow and white cornbread taste the same?
No. Yellow cornbread has a richer and stronger taste than white cornbread.
Do I have to use milk as an ingredient to make cornbread?
No, you don’t have to. You can replace the milk with water. You’ll just need to add half a teaspoon of butter to help increase the moisture levels.
What is buttermilk?
Buttermilk is made when you add milk to cornmeal and mix them together.
How can I keep cornbread moist after baking it?
The best way to keep your cornbread moist is by spreading one tablespoon of butter over the hot cornbread right after taking it out of the oven.
How did hoecakes get their name?
The reason behind the name ‘hoecake’ is how they were originally baked, which was over a wood fire on the flat surface of a hoe.
How much sugar can be added to the cornbread batter?
Try not to add more than two tablespoons of sugar. This won’t make the batter too sweet.
A good tip is to taste the batter before baking and add more sugar if needed.
So why is cornbread sweet? Here’s a brief recap.
Sweet cornbread first originated in the south after the revolutionary changes in agriculture.
The roller mills degraded the corn’s natural sweetness. Then, external sweeteners had to be added to adjust the taste.
Yet, the debate was still there!
This feud between the north and south states has been going on for a long time. However, there’s only one thing that everyone agrees on: all cornbread is delicious!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.