Are You Supposed to Wash Grits? Fortunately, few of us have to face the sort of existential crisis of choice as did poor old Hamlet (of “to be, or not to be, that is the question” fame).
Indeed, most of us encounter far more mundane challenges which nevertheless, although of lesser life-or-death import, continue to irk in an amazingly irksome manner until resolved.
One such question that may have cropped up in your mind recently (else, why would you be reading this article?) is whether or not to wash grits.
Some folks swear by washing grits. Others pronounce doomsday-like ill-fate, curses, plagues, possibly even the culinary equivalent of the End Times, such is the contempt with which they regard the mere suggestion of washing grits.
In Shakespearean language, then, we can narrow down our kitchen woes, our furrowed brows, our gastronomic troubles and sorrows to this one burning question. “To wash grits, or not to wash grits?”
Are You Supposed to Wash Grits?
Not all producers expect customers to wash grits, but cleaning them won’t do any harm. In fact, washing grits can rid them of undesirable impurities such as sand, huff, and chaff. It can also remove excess starch. Also, the process of soaking and rinsing will lead to softened grits that don’t easily clump during cooking and are automatically creamier.
Washing Grits–What’s in it for you?
There wouldn’t be a conversation about washing grits if doing so did not confer a benefit, so what kinds of benefits are we talking about here?
1. Get rid of sand, huff, and chaff
Grits can come with sandy interlopers looking for a free ride down your gullet. Whereas the quantity of sand is such that many of the less fastidious among us could care less, absolutely no one cares to crunch down on silica.
We don’t like the taste of sand, our tongues don’t like its feel, and our teeth positively hate the way it cracks them and grinds them down. All-in-all, chewing sand is about as enticing a proposition as biting steel rebar. In other words, thanks, but no thanks.
2. Help stop your grits from forming clumps
Grits are starchy, and starch is gluey when cooked. So, the more starch your grits contain, the more they will tend to clump while you are cooking them.
To be sure, washing grits doesn’t magically transform them into an ingredient you can then cook without worrying about clumping at all–it isn’t possible to wash out all the starch, nor should you wish to, as you need some starch to help make your grits creamy, as I’ll explain later.
You must understand that there’s such a thing as too little starch (which you get when you over-wash grits). There’s such a thing as too much starch, which you will likely have if you don’t wash your grits, and there’s such a thing as just enough starch, which is one of the goals you try to achieve by cleaning your grits correctly.
It’s like the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” story, but without the trespassing, theft, and illegal squatting.
How They Do It In The South–Keep All That “Starch Goodness”
Rinsing/washing grits is a big no-no in the South, but I’ve never been able to figure out why. There’s the old saw about losing all the “goodness” in grits’ “surface starch,” which is some weird mumbo-jumbo that isn’t confirmed by modern dietary science. Starch is a well-understood food, but it isn’t as if it doesn’t come with its own issues.
What is this starch of which I speak?
Starch is made from long chains of glucose–a type of sugar. The wonderful thing about glucose is that our bodies readily absorb the stuff and can load it quickly into our bloodstream, where smart and complex biological processes convert it into energy.
Because glucose is a precious substance, your body cleverly stores it in selected places; your muscles, your liver, and your fat cells. In other words, if you overeat starch, you will put on weight.
So, yes, starch is an excellent food, and it is vital to us, but pretending that in this day and age of a more sedentary lifestyle than our ancestors, we need it in spades is more than contradicted by the rising rate of obesity among Americans. We love starch because our bodies trick us into getting as much of it as possible, since it means less work for the body to make plentiful energy available.
Before you go haring off saying, “starch is bad for you…”
Don’t! Don’t go rushing off saying some guy on the Internet says starch is bad for you. First off, I said “too much” is bad for you. Then again, “too much” of anything is bad for you, and that’s why it is called “too much.” Second, it depends on the type of starch.
Complex starches with a high glycemic index (GI) of 70 and over are implicated in severe diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and the common problem of obesity. Complex starches are your well-known obesity culprits: potatoes, pretzels, most baked foods, and breakfast cereals, all of which are jampacked with high GI complex starches.
So now you know everything about starch, what should worry you and what shouldn’t, how does this concern washing grits?
Grits contain starch, but they are frequently packaged with plenty of “surface” starch, which you will see as a white powder. Unbeknownst to you, there’s a lot more of the stuff than you might suspect. All this extra starch is entirely unnecessary for taste, health, or cooking, so washing it off is actually a good thing.
To get rid of excess surface starch, soak the grits in cold water for at least two hours. Skim off the scum and other undesirables that rise to the top with a fine-meshed colander sieve. Drain the rest of the water and rinse the grits again. In all, drain and rinse thrice.
That’s it, you’re done.
Afterword: Are You Supposed to Wash Grits?
Traditional southern cooks are horrified by the idea of washing grits and, let’s be honest, most of them seem to know how to make a fine mess of grits for a hungry soul, so you’d imagine that they know a thing or two.
However, and not to rain on their parade, there are many reasons why you might want to buck their advice and do it your way. With practice and due diligence, you will still have grits just as creamy and mouth-watering.
Frequently Asked Questions About Are You Supposed to Wash Grits?
Will washing grits get rid of their black specks?
Washing grits will not get rid of their black specks. Each corn kernel has a germ, the ‘starter’ bit around which the rest of the kernel eventually grows. These germs are black in color, which is what you see as black flecks, or specks, in your grits. There’s nothing wrong with eating them, and, being an integral part of the corn kernel, you can’t get rid of them anyway, so quit worrying about them and enjoy your grits.
Are polenta and corn grits the same thing?
Polenta and corn grits are absolutely not the same thing. In fact, I think it ought to be against the law for manufacturers to pretend that they are. It is a frequent occurrence to see products labeled “Corn grits (polenta),” which definitely suggests that “polenta” is merely a different name for corn grits, but it’s a scam. Don’t fall for it. (Look for products labeled “white corn grits” instead. Those are fine.)