The difference between polenta and semolina

There’s no recipe to post today, just a little guide to baking with semolina/polenta. In my last post I made a cake with semolina in it.

I found out the hard way that polenta and semolina are not always interchangeable when I made a lemon semolina cake about three months ago. I Googled “can you substitute semolina with polenta?”

“Yes” was the resounding answer.

My cake said otherwise.

While they essentially perform the same role in a cake, the outcome of my baking with polenta was a grittier, denser texture than I was looking for.

This is polenta, the fiend that ruined my cake!

Semolina is wheat, polenta is corn. ‘Polenta’ may also refer to the grain or the dish that results from using polenta.

There are occasions where you can substitute one for the other, but not all the time. They both have their benefits:

  • Semolina is high in protein and fibre and low GI, so it’s good for you! Semolina is a good option for people who need to monitor their glucose levels, like diabetics or dieters.  It is also a good source of vitamins E and B, which help your immune system.
  • Polenta is made up of complex carbohydrates high in dietary fibre, which means that they are a better source of energy than simple carbs. Polenta is also high in zinc, and iron.

When buying polenta or semolina, go for the most finely ground version you can find (unless the recipe specifies otherwise.) Generally cakes will call for semolina or polenta without indicating how coarse/fine the ingredient should be – if in doubt, opt for the finer alternative

My Lemon semolina cake (in which I used polenta instead of semolina) turned out even worse because my polenta was quite coarse – a similar size to couscous – and made my cake crumbly. And a little hard on the teeth.

I still Instagrammed it, because I’m lame. (

My advice? Tweak recipes where you need to, but if you’re really unsure, save your time by popping down to the shops and picking up the right ingredients!

21 thoughts on “The difference between polenta and semolina”

  1. Did you cook the Polenta before using it in the cake recipe? I want to make a Turkish Sponge Cake but it has to be gluten free so I can’t use semolina. Do you have any comments? Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. Hi Ros, I’ve never baked a cake that needed you to cook the polenta first, the baking process cooks that polenta for you for you. I suggest looking up a cake that includes almond meal and polenta, although I think you might struggle to make something as light and airy as a sponge because of the density of those ingredients. Good luck with your baking!

  3. Thank you, that was a really helpful article to read. I will progress with my bread a lot more sure of what I am doing.

  4. Yes, thank you for that Gab, I’m making a mandarin and almond cake, with 15gms of fine semolina in the recipe.I had to ask a neighbor to lend me some semolina, but she had polenta. After reading your advice, I will go to the shop and buy fine semolina!

  5. I was thinking of substituting Polenta for Semolina in a lemon cake. I was going to grind it finer in my coffee and spice grinder. you think that might work? I am a coeliac and can’t have the semolina obviously, am always trying to substitute!

  6. thanks for your helpful information. I have just bought an automatic pasta maker and wanted to learn about various flours before trying out my new toy !

  7. THANKS I was soo tempted to use the polenta instead but I think I will wait until my next trip into town (I live on a farm) and get the real ingredient

  8. Thank you for this advice, I was going to swap in semolina for polenta in my lemon cake. Now I just need to find a lemon semolina recipe.

  9. I’m trying to make an orange and almond cake like the ones we have been recently eating in Morocco It asked for polenta I only have semolina … so this week I’m making it one way and next week the other . Thank you for your advice I’ll look you up more often .

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