Grits are a porridge made from corn that is a staple dish in the Southern United States. They are less common in Mexico, but can sometimes be found, especially in northern regions of the country that border the U.S.
What exactly are grits?
Grits are made from dried and ground corn kernels. The corn is ground into a coarse flour or meal. This gives grits their distinctive gritty, grainy texture. Grits are available in yellow, white and blue corn varieties. The most common type of grits are made from white corn.
How are grits eaten?
Grits are boiled with water or milk until they form a thick porridge. They can be eaten sweet or savory. Common ways to serve grits in the U.S. include:
- With butter, salt and pepper
- With cheese like cheddar or Monterey Jack
- With bacon, sausage, ham or shrimp
- With maple syrup, honey, brown sugar or fruit as a sweet breakfast porridge
Grits provide an inexpensive, filling and comforting meal. They can be adapted to both simple, home-style cooking or more elevated cuisine.
History of Grits
Grits have their origins with Native American groups like the Muscogee Creek Nation. Corn was a staple crop for many indigenous peoples across North America.
Archaeological evidence shows that corn was dried, ground and prepared as porridge by indigenous groups thousands of years ago. As corn spread across the continent with trade, so did preparations like grits.
How Grits Became Southern
Corn was not widely grown in the original 13 colonies. But it thrived in the hot, humid climate of the southeastern U.S. This made corn a key staple for settlers and enslaved Africans in the region.
By the 18th century, corn had eclipsed wheat and other Old World grains as the most important food in the South. This cemented grits as a cornerstone of southern cooking and food culture.
Grits in the 20th Century
Grits became more commercialized and widespread in the U.S. during the early 20th century.
In 1941, the National Grits Festival was established in South Carolina, highlighting the dish’s growing popularity. Grits brands like Quaker Oats began mass producing and marketing grits nationwide.
Instant and quick grits helped introduce grits outside the South. Previously, the need to boil grits for a long time made them inconvenient. New quick-cooking varieties made grits an option for all Americans.
Grits in Mexican Cuisine
Availability in Mexico
Grits are not as ubiquitously used in Mexican cuisine as corn tortillas, tamales and other corn-based foods. However, grits can occasionally be found in Mexico, especially in restaurants or homes in border regions or areas with connections to the U.S.
Northern Mexico shares cultural and culinary traditions with the southern U.S. This includes an overlap in ingredients like corn. Grits allow northern Mexicans to put a local twist on an imported southern American dish.
How Grits are Prepared
When prepared in Mexico, grits are flavored and served in ways that align with local tastes. They integrate seamlessly into the complex layers of flavor in Mexican cuisine.
Common preparations include:
- Grits cooked with Mexican spices like chile, cumin and epazote
- Served with common Mexican toppings like queso fresco, chopped onions and salsa
- Made into pan-fried grit cakes called gritones
- Served sweet for breakfast with milk, cinnamon and fruit
Just as Mexicans have adapted imported foods like wheat bread into unique dishes like tortas ahogadas, so have they put their own spin on grits.
Grits in Traditional Recipes
While grits are not essential to Mexican cuisine, they can be incorporated into traditional dishes:
- Chilaquiles: Typically made with fried corn tortilla chips, chilaquiles could also be made with pan-fried grit cakes
- Tamales: Grits could be blended into the masa dough used to make tamales
- Totopos: These baked corn chips could be made with a combination of masa harina corn flour and grits
- Atol de Elote: A hot corn beverage made from fresh corn and water. Grits could replace a portion of the corn for added texture
The pork, chilies, salsas and other flavors paired with these dishes would override any pronounced “grit” taste.
Nutrition of Grits
Here is how the nutrients of grits compare to other common grains:
Grits Nutrition Facts
|Nutrient||Amount Per 1 Cup Cooked Grits|
Nutrition Compared to Rice and Oats
|Fat||4.5 g||0.4 g||3 g|
|Carbs||54 g||46 g||27 g|
|Fiber||4 g||1 g||4 g|
|Protein||5 g||4 g||6 g|
Grits are a high-carb food, providing a substantial amount of calories and energy. They have more calories than rice but fewer than oats per serving. Grits have a comparable amount of fiber to oats.
Benefits of Grits Nutrition
Key nutrients and benefits of grits include:
- Complex carbohydrates: The starch in grits provides long-lasting energy
- Fiber: The corn bran contributes dietary fiber for digestive and heart health
- Iron: Essential for oxygen transport in the blood
- Magnesium: Supports bone, muscle, nerve and immune system function
- Potassium: Important electrolyte for fluid balance, nerve transmission and blood pressure
As a whole grain, grits can contribute to a diet that follows dietary recommendations and guidelines. The fiber, vitamins and minerals in grits come with relatively few calories per serving compared to more refined grains.
Cultural Importance of Grits
Role in Southern Identity
Grits hold an important place in southern identity and food culture. They represent the agrarian roots, traditional home cooking and regional pride of the South. Southerners embrace grits as “their” food.
This attachment has been used in marketing. “Grits just ain’t groceries, they’re the South” is a popular slogan. Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg faced backlash in 2008 for deriding grits as unappealing, reinforcing their cultural meaning.
Grits in Literature
Grits have made appearances in classic southern literature that cement their long history in the region:
- In Eudora Welty’s 1945 short story “A Worn Path,” protagonist Phoenix Jackson makes a difficult journey through the woods to obtain grits for her ill grandson.
- In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck and Jim cook fried grits and bacon over a campfire while traveling down the Mississippi River.
These works highlight grits as humble, rustic food of the rural South. More depictions in southern literature contributed to grits becoming a symbol of the region.
How Grits Unify Southerners
The shared appreciation of grits transcends boundaries like class, race and geography that otherwise divide southerners. Enjoying traditional preparations like cheese grits or shrimp and grits provides a sense of togetherness.
This also applies to grits becoming more accepted nationwide while retaining distinct southernness. Southerners take pride in sharing grits with other Americans while still claiming them as their own.
Where to Find Grits in Mexico
Here are some places travelers may encounter grits in Mexico:
Border Region Restaurants
Northern Mexico shares culinary traditions with the nearby southern U.S. Grits can often be found in locally-owned restaurants in cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez and surrounding areas.
U.S. Expat Communities
American retirees living in Mexico sometimes prepare familiar comfort foods from home. Grits may be served in expat hotspots like San Miguel de Allende, Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta.
Luxury and Boutique Hotels
Upscale, American-style hotels aimed at foreign tourists sometimes offer grits as part of breakfast or brunch. This includes popular destinations like Mexico City, Oaxaca and Cancún.
Chef-driven Mexican restaurants use grits to add unique southern flair to haute cuisine dishes. Oaxaca, Mexico’s culinary capital, has several restaurants that creatively incorporate grits into regional cuisine.
Imported grits from brands like Bob’s Red Mill can be purchased online and shipped to most areas of Mexico through retailers like Amazon Mexico.
Grits have an intriguing history, from indigenous origins to modern embrace as southern American fare. Their place in Mexico reflects the country’s diverse culinary traditions. Grits appear most often near the U.S. border and among American expat communities, but adventurous chefs have also adopted grits in upscale cuisine. Though not a staple food, grits can provide Mexicans and visitors a taste of southern cooking and connection to shared regional cultures and ingredients. With an openness to blending culinary influences, Mexicans give imported grits their own unique flair.