Jamaican Turn Cornmeal is basically a savory dish of boiled cornmeal or polenta. This boiled cornmeal can be made as simple with water and salt or seasoned with herbs, spices, vegetables, and even meat.

It has several versions throughout Italy, the Caribbean, and Africa.  In Italy, a similar version is called polenta.

Fine Cornmeal for Turn Cornmeal

In Barbados,  it is called Cou Cou, and is their national dish along with fried flying fish. On islands such as Antigua, Barbuda, Virgin Islands, St. Martin, and Curacao it is called Fungi.  On some of the islands, okra is substituted with the local cactus.

In African countries, similar versions of turned cornmeal are called Pap, Nsima, Ugali,\ and it is called polenta in Italy.

Basically, cornmeal is cooked in seasoned coconut milk. This dish is popular in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean.

Growing up in Jamaica, my mother rarely made this dish. However, when she did I enjoyed my mother’s turn cornmeal recipe very much. It was loved by many people in Jamaica but unfortunately, it was shunned by some people because it also had a stigma for being food for the poor and dogs.

Now that I’m grown, I’m proud to prepare this flavorful turn cornmeal dish. It brings back fond memories of my childhood. I have also enjoyed eating Turn Cornmeal in Antigua and Curacao.

Why You’ll Love Jamaican Turn Cornmeal

  • Bursting with Flavor: This dish is packed with a variety of aromatic herbs and spices, making it incredibly flavorful.
  • Versatile: Turn Cornmeal can be enjoyed on its own or as a side dish with stews or curries, making it a versatile addition to your meal.
  • Vegan and Gluten-Free: It’s suitable for those with dietary restrictions, being both vegan and gluten-free.
Turn Cornmeal Step by Step Photos

Ingredients Needed

  • Coconut milk: Adds a creamy and tropical flavor to the dish, providing a rich base for the Jamaican Turn Cornmeal.
  • Pigeon peas: Also called gungo, these enhance the protein content and add a nutty, earthy flavor to the Turn Cornmeal.
  • Garlic: Provides a savory and aromatic element to the recipe.
  • Onion: Offers a sweet and savory base flavor, enhancing the overall taste.
  • Green onions: Contribute a fresh, mild onion flavor and also serve as a colorful garnish.
  • Fresh thyme: You can also use dried thyme, just be sure to cut down the amount since it has a stronger flavor.
  • Allspice: Adds a warm, sweet, and spicy note to the recipe, characteristic of Jamaican cuisine.
  • Garlic powder: Boosts the garlic flavor and overall savoriness.
  • Vegan Butter: You can make your own or look for a store-bought version such as Earth Balance Buttery Spread.
  • Salt: Enhances the flavor of all the ingredients and ensures a well-seasoned dish.
  • Scotch Bonnet pepper: Brings heat and a fruity, smoky undertone. Use with caution based on your spice tolerance.
  • Fine cornmeal: The main ingredient, creating the base for Turn Cornmeal and thickening the dish as it cooks.


How To Make Turn Cornmeal

This method is similar to how I make Jamaican Rice and Peas, except that I add cornmeal instead of rice.

  1. Place water, coconut milk in a large saucepan.
  2. Add seasonings, onion, garlic, green onion, thyme, allspice, pigeon peas, salt, and bring to a boil.
  3. I added the pigeon peas for added protein and flavor. You can find pigeon peas in Caribbean grocers or online. It is also called Gungo peas or Gandule in Puerto Rico.
  4. As soon as the seasoned coconut milk starts boiling, I slowly pour cornmeal in a steady stream into the boiling liquid with my left hand while I’m constantly stirring. with my right hand.  I keep stirring making sure all the cornmeal is fully coated without dry spots.
  5. Next, cover the saucepan and reduce heat to the lowest setting and allow turn cornmeal to cook for 10 minutes.
  6. After the first 10 minutes, stir, cover, and cook for another 10 minutes. Grain should be swollen and soft.

Expert Tips

  • Ensure you use fine cornmeal for this recipe. Coarser cornmeal may result in a grittier texture.
  • When adding the cornmeal to the boiling liquid, stir constantly. This helps prevent lumps from forming and ensures the cornmeal is evenly incorporated.
  • If using dried pigeon peas, cook them separately until tender before adding them to the dish. Canned pigeon peas are a convenient alternative.
  • Be cautious when handling Scotch Bonnet pepper, as it’s very hot. You can use gloves or wash your hands thoroughly after touching it. Adjust the amount based on your spice tolerance.

Storage Tips

Refrigeration: Allow any leftover Turn Cornmeal to cool to room temperature. Transfer it to an airtight container. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Be sure to seal the container tightly to prevent any moisture from getting in, as this can affect the texture.

Freezing: Turn Cornmeal can also be frozen for longer storage. To freeze, portion it into serving-sized containers or zip-top freezer bags. Squeeze out any excess air from the bags to prevent freezer burn. Properly stored, it can be frozen for up to 2-3 months.

Thawing: When you’re ready to enjoy the frozen Turn Cornmeal, transfer it to the refrigerator to thaw overnight. Reheat gently on the stovetop with a little water or coconut milk to restore its creamy texture. You may need to stir and adjust the seasoning during reheating.

Reheating: Whether you’re reheating in the refrigerator or from the freezer, do so over low to medium-low heat to avoid scorching the bottom. Stir regularly to ensure even heating, and you can add a bit of extra liquid (water or coconut milk) if it has thickened during storage.

Jamaican Turn Cornmeal With Curry Cabbage

Serving Suggestion

I served mine with Curry Cabbage and it was enjoyed by all. Even my hubby, who typically doesn’t care for it since he was affected by the stigma attached to it, said it was delicious!

Recipe FAQs

Is cornmeal gluten-free?

Yes, cornmeal is naturally gluten-free. However, be cautious about cross-contamination in processing, especially if you have celiac disease. Look for certified gluten-free cornmeal if needed.

Are there alternatives to pigeon peas for this recipe?

Yes, you can substitute pigeon peas with black-eyed peas, kidney beans, or another type of legume.

Why does Jamaican Turn Cornmeal have a negative stigma?

n Jamaica’s history, Turn Cornmeal was considered a basic and affordable food source. It was a staple among the lower-income population and was often used as a means of sustenance during challenging economic times. Over time, this association with economic hardship and limited means led to a perception that Turn Cornmeal was “poor people’s food.” This perception has persisted to some extent, even as culinary traditions evolve.

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(Per portion)
  • Energy: 305 kcal / 1275 kJ
  • Fat: 16 g
  • Protein: 6 g
  • Carbs: 36 g

Cook Time

  • Preparation: 10 min
  • Cooking: 20 min
  • Ready in: 30 min
  • For: 8 Servings



  1. Pour coconut milk, water, pigeon peas, garlic. onion, green onion, thyme, allspice, garlic powder, butter, salt and pepper in a large saucepan on medium-high. Bring to boil.
  2. Slowly pour cornmeal while stirring constantly with a large spoon until thickened. Reduce heat to low, cover, and allow to cook for about 10 minutes. Uncover, stir and cover again to cook for another 10 more minutes.


  • Use fine cornmeal for a smoother texture.
  • Stir constantly when adding cornmeal to prevent lumps.
  • Cook dried pigeon peas separately, or use canned for convenience.
  • Handle Scotch Bonnet pepper with care, adjust for spice tolerance.
Recipe author's Gravatar image

Michelle Blackwood, RN

Hi, I’m Michelle, I’m the voice, content creator and photographer behind Healthier Steps. I share vegan and gluten-free recipes because of past health issues. My goal is to help you make healthier choices and show you how healthy eating is easy and delicious.