This Healthy Cornbread transforms the classic recipe into a lightened-up but still moist skillet version with only 10 ingredients. Bursting with corn flavor, this bread is naturally sweetened, made with olive oil instead of butter, and is finished with a sprinkle of sea salt. I’m telling you, this whole wheat version is as crave-worthy as the original. You will never know the difference. 

Being from the Midwest, cornbread is in my blood. It’s great all year round with soups, proteins, salads…pretty much everything. The classic recipe isn’t often the most healthy version, so I set out on a mission to create a lighter recipe that’s still moist and delicious.

After several recipe tests, I’ve created a foolproof recipe that my family thought was the regular recipe. I’m so excited to share my tips with you.

Side angle of a wedge of healthy cornbread with honey being drizzled over it

Making Cornbread Healthy

First things first, we’ve got to see how we can swap some healthier ingredients into this homemade cornbread recipe.

  1. Instead of all-purpose flour, use a whole-grain flour. And since cornbread is more delicate than most “breads” opt for something that won’t weigh it down too much. The answer: whole-wheat pastry flour.
  2. Instead of butter, swap in heart-healthy olive oil. While we’re at it, do we need to use as much fat as classic recipes call for? The answer: use heart-healthy olive oil and decrease the saturated fat content and overall fat content by at least a quarter (here I decreased it by half). 
  3. Use a natural, more flavorful sweetener. Most recipes call for regular cane or brown sugar. You can easily swap either out for a natural sugar like sucanat or coconut sugar, however, here I opted to use honey (which posed to be a bit more challenging when it came to recipe developing). I chose honey because the floral flavor of honey pairs well with both corn and olive oil.
  4. Use buttermilk instead of whole milk. Buttermilk is lower in fat, adds a nice tangy flavor, and is important for helping to activate the baking powder. This last characteristic is an important one! We are using cornmeal and whole wheat flour, two heavy ingredients. The more leavening we can encourage, the better. 

Ingredients

Good news! This skillet cornbread recipe has only 10 ingredients, and most of them are probably already in your kitchen.

  • Whole wheat pastry flour: whole-wheat pastry flour is one of my favorite ingredients in baking! I reserve it for tender bakes like this cornbread and my Blueberry Lemon Muffins. Find whole-wheat pastry flour near the other flours.
  • Baking powder: this recipe uses quite a bit of baking powder—an entire tablespoon. This is key to giving the bread a lot of lift.
  • Baking soda: just a touch of baking soda is needed for a well-rounded lift and some browning.
  • Buttermilk: an essential ingredient! Buttermilk activates the baking soda and adds savory flavor to the bread. It’s a great way to impart buttery flavor without using butter.
  • Frozen corn kernels: you can also use fresh but I find frozen is more practical. This simple addition elevates the cornbread and gives each bite beautiful pops of fresh sweetness!
  • Large eggs: Make sure to use egg labeled as “large.” If you’re using farm-fresh, you can weigh the egg (out of shell) to verify you have the right amount. It should weight 50 grams.
  • Honey: you’ll need ¼ cup of honey for this recipe, plus a bit more for brushing over the baked bread. Honey adds more flavor than white sugar would, and helps to keep the bread nice and moist.
  • Olive oil: it’s key to use olive oil here! This is what gives the cornbread so much moisture. I like to use extra-virgin olive oil, but any regular olive oil will work too.
  • Flaky sea salt: you can also use kosher salt, but flaky sea salt adds a nice bit of crunch to the top of the baked cornbread.

How to Make Healthy Skillet Cornbread Recipe

  1. Combine the Wet Ingredients
  2. Combine the Wet and Dry Ingredients
  3. Coat Preheated Skillet with Oil
  4. Oil being poured into a preheated skillet for skillet cornbread
  5. Spread Batter Into Preheated Skillet
  6. Bake the Cornbread
  7. Finish with Honey and Sea Salt

Expert Recipe Tips

My main goal with this lightened cornbread recipe was getting the buttery flavor while using olive oil instead of butter. After numerous recipe tests, here are a few ways I did that:

  • Bake the bread in a preheated cast-iron skillet. The moment the batter hits the hot cast-iron skillet, the maillard reaction occurs. What is that? It’s the reaction of food browning, aka flavor.Here, the milk (buttermilk) and sugar (honey) caramelizes and the grains (flour and cornmeal) toast. Together, these ingredients and the maillard reaction combine to create a flavor that’s very similar to butter.
  • Finishing with flaky sea salt. Even if you use unsalted butter, there’s a certain savory, salty flavor that butter adds to baked goods. To maintain that salty bite, I finish this bread with flaky sea salt. Why not just add it to the batter? Well I do that too, but finishing with a sprinkle of sea salt is a surefire way of bringing that flavor to the forefront. 
  • Add frozen or fresh corn to the batter. I always add actual corn to my cornbread. The benefits are three-fold; fresh corn adds flavor, texture, and moisture. For this recipe I call for frozen and thawed corn. But you can definitely use fresh, just be sure to steam it before using. 
  • Make it gluten-free. This version uses whole wheat flour but if you want a gluten-free version, my cornbread with honey is perfect for you.
  • Don’t store the cornbread in the cast-iron skillet. Once baked you can serve the bread right out of the skillet. But I don’t recommend keeping the bread in the skillet for longer than 12 hours. After that, the bread starts to absorb some of the iron flavor from the skillet.

Side angle of cornbread in a cast iron skillet with a piece taken out

Storage and Freezing

  • General storing: Remove the cornbread from the skillet. Wrap in plastic wrap or store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the fridge. This recipe keeps well for 4 days.
  • For the freezer: This recipe freezes like a dream. Cut the bread into individual servings. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for 1 to 2 months. To serve, be sure to thaw completely at room temperature for several hours or overnight before serving.
  • Reheating: Microwave for 20 seconds or so until warm or place in a 200ºF oven for 5 to 10 minutes.

Variations and Mix-ins for Cornbread

The best part about this recipe is it’s a base to add so many other delicious ingredients to create endless flavor combinations. Try adding:

  • Jalapeno. For a little bit of a kick.
  • Cheese. Add grated cheese, any kind will really do. I love cheddar or pepper Jack.
  • Scallions. Gives a great light onion flavor.
  • Fresh or dried herbs. I love chopped rosemary paired with the honey in this recipe.
  • Dried or fresh fruit: For another healthy twist, certain fruits are great stirred into cornbread batter! My favorites are cranberries and blueberries.

What to Serve Skillet Cornbread With

Cornbread is a great go-to side here! Here are a few things I like to serve it with:

Overhead image of healthy cornbread in a cast iron skillet set on a wooden white table with a striped napkin and a knife

FAQs

How should I store healthy cornbread?

We recommend transferring the cooled cornbread from the cast-iron skillet to a plate and covering tightly with foil. Store at room temperature for 1 day. Or transfer to a zipper-lock bag and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Can I use fresh sweet corn instead of frozen?

Absolutely! Simply swap it in for the frozen corn.

1 tablespoon is a lot of baking powder, is that correct?

That amount is correct. Cornbread is made with a lot of heavy ingredients, first and foremost being cornmeal. The key to getting a nice lift and tender cornbread is to use quite a bit of baking powder.

Is cornbread healthy?

Generally yes! This version is lightened-up. Whole wheat flour is used, as well as honey and olive oil instead of sugar and butter. This healthy cornbread has more nutrients and healthy fats that a regular cornbread.

Can I make this cornbread dairy free?

Yes, you can swap a dairy-free milk like oat milk or coconut milk for the buttermilk and a flaxseed egg for the large eggs.

Can I make this cornbread vegan?

Yes, you can use a dairy-free milk like almond milk or oat milk for the buttermilk and flaxseed eggs for the large eggs.

More Easy Side Dish Recipes

Healthy Skillet Cornbread Recipe

4.69 from 32 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Yield 8 servings
Category Side Dish
Cuisine American
Author Lauren

Description

With 10 ingredients, this moist and healthy cornbread recipe is naturally sweetened with honey, made with olive oil, uses whole wheat flour, and is low in fat. Plus, corn kernels are stirred in for fresh corn flavor and texture!

Ingredients

  • cups (160g) whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup (136 g) yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ¾ cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons honey, divided
  • ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • Flaky sea salt

Instructions

  • Set a 9-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven on the middle rack; heat oven to 400°F (204ºC).
  • Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. 
  • In a food processor or blender, pulse together buttermilk, corn, eggs, ¼ cup honey, and ¼ cup oil until combined, 15–20 pulses (corn lumps will remain). 
  • Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in wet ingredients into well. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold mixture just to combine (small pockets of flour are OK.)
  • Carefully remove cast-iron skillet from oven; pour remaining tablespoon oil into skillet, swirling to coat bottom of skillet.
  • Pour batter into skillet and smooth top with spatula. 
  • Carefully return skillet to oven and bake cornbread until golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 24–25 minutes.  
  • Microwave remaining 2 tablespoons honey, in a microwave-safe bowl, for 30 seconds on medium power. 
  • Brush warm honey over surface of warm corn bread; sprinkle with sea salt. Let cool 15 minutes.

Video

Notes

Bake the bread in a preheated cast-iron skillet: The moment the batter hits the hot cast-iron skillet, the maillard reaction occurs. What is that? It’s the reaction of food browning, aka flavor. Here, the milk (buttermilk) and sugar (honey) caramelizes and the grains (flour and cornmeal) toast. Together, these ingredients and the maillard reaction combine to create a flavor that’s very similar to butter.
Finishing with flaky sea salt: Even if you use unsalted butter, there’s a certain savory, salty flavor that butter adds to baked goods. To maintain that salty bite, I finish this cornbread with flaky sea salt. Why not just add it to the batter? Well I do that too, but finishing with a sprinkle of sea salt is a surefire way of bringing that flavor to the forefront. 
Add frozen or fresh corn to the batter: I always add actual corn to my cornbread. The benefits are three-fold; fresh corn adds flavor, texture, and moisture. For this recipe I call for frozen and thawed corn. But you can definitely use fresh, just be sure to steam it before using. 
Make it gluten-free: This version uses whole wheat flour but if you want a gluten-free version, my gluten-free cornbread with honey is perfect for you.
General storing: Remove the cornbread from the skillet. Wrap in plastic wrap or store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the fridge. This recipe keeps well for 4 days.
For the freezer: This recipe freezes like a dream. Remove the cornbread and cut into individual servings. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for 1 to 2 months. To serve, be sure to thaw completely at room temperature for several hours or overnight before serving.
Reheating cornbread: Microwave for 20 seconds or so until warm or place in a 200ºF oven for 5 to 10 minutes.

Nutrition

Serving: 1pieceCalories: 239kcalCarbohydrates: 33gProtein: 5gFat: 11gSaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 42mgSodium: 346mgFiber: 2gSugar: 15g
Like this? Leave a comment below!I love hearing from you and I want to hear how it went with this recipe! Leave a comment and rating below, then share on social media @zestfulkitchen and #zestfulkitchen!
Overhead image of healthy cornbread in a cast iron skillet set on a wooden white table with a bowl of salt and honey to the top right

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine, EatingWell.com, AmericasTestKitchen.com, and more.

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Comments

  1. Hi! Perfect recipe. I love corn bread. What is the replacement for “pastry” whole wheat flour? I have regular whole wheat flour at home which is called “aatta”
    Looking forward to trying your recipe.

    1. Hi Sheenam,

      You can use white whole wheat flour instead of the whole wheat pastry flour, though there is a risk the bread will be a bit more dense. You can also use all-purpose flour, if you do opt for that, I recommend decreasing the baking powder to 2 teaspoons. Enjoy!

      1. If we use regular wheat flour, should we decrease the amount of baking powder? or only if we use a different kind of flour?

        1. Hi Xana,

          If you use all-purpose flour I would decrease the amount of baking powder to 2 teaspoons. If you use regular whole-wheat flour, keep the measurement as-is.

          I hope that helps!

  2. 5 stars
    Absolutely perfect recipe! Very easy for a novice baker and delicious – a big hit when entertaining. Thank you!

  3. 5 stars
    We loooved this. the honey brushed over the top at the end is a game changer. Didn’t have flaky sea salt so I used kosher, but have ordered some flaky sea salt for next time!

  4. 5 stars
    The cornbread turned out beautifully!! A great display at the dinner table. My guests gobbled uo, ok new too!! Sea salt & honey made it truly special. I added rosemary which added additional flavors. Thank you so much!! I am so glad to have a healthy alternative which my boys love.

    1. Hi Helen! I love the idea of adding Rosemary—I will definitely do that the next time I make this! So glad you and your guests loved this—thanks for trying it!

    1. Hi Annie! Great question—I haven’t tested this in an aluminum pan but it should work fine in an 8×8-inch aluminum pan! The cornbread will likely need a few more minutes in the oven since the pan won’t be preheated. Start checking it at 25 minutes, it may need 5-10 minutes more, but keep an eye on it! Let me know how it goes!

  5. This is delicious, I was looking for a heart friendly recipe and this is it. So easy to make, I love the subtlety of the olive oil and the texture of the blended corn.. I did not have whole wheat pastry flour so I substituted Kamut flour.

    1. Hi Dee! I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe and am pleased to hear kamut flour worked out well. Thanks for sharing!!

  6. 5 stars
    My go-to recipe now. I sour almond milk with apple cider vinegar. Sometimes I add a bit of almond pulp (from making the almond milk) as I’m always looking for a way to use it. I’ve used maple syrup, brown sugar- the recipe adapts well to what is in my pantry on any given day. Really terrific.

    1. Hi Andi! I love that you’ve found the recipe adapts well. These are such great tips for other readers. Thanks for sharing!!

  7. Hi, Well, I did make this recipe today and was looking forward to my own “taste test”…..which I just accomplished. I used all the ingredients as called for in the recipe and followed the directions provided. I have to say that it did not meet my expectations for two reasons……it was EXTREMELY dry to my taste…….and I also could not really detect much, if any, “corn flavor”……..The texture was fine…….I did use a medium grind corn meal (Bob’s Red Mill Medium Grind) and Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour.

    I am on a restricted sodium diet and, even though this recipe is not a “low sodium” recipe”, I thought I could use it as a better option to other recipes I’ve seen and might try due to the sodium nutrient level per serving).

    I was also looking for a cornbread recipe that would go well with a spicy Instant Pot Chili Recipe I’ve made several times.

    If anybody has a comment on how to at least make this recipe more ‘moist’, please post a reply. Thanks very much.

    1. Hi Ron, I’m sorry to hear you found this cornbread to be dry. I’ve tested, and made, this multiple times and have never had an issue of it coming out too dry. I’m curious, did you weigh flour and cornmeal or measure by cup. The reason I ask is that we all measure by cup differently, but weight is always consistent. Depending on how the dry ingredients were measured, a bit too much flour could have been added which would cause it to become too dry. Additionally, I would recommend checking the temperature or your oven with an oven thermometer. Most ovens run about 25 degrees higher or lower than they say which could have contributed to it coming out too dry. Lastly, I would make sure you use eggs labeled and graded as large. I have updated the ingredient list to specify that.
      I hope this helps!

  8. 5 stars
    This was very good! Love how the olive oil complemented the dish! Will definitely be adding this to my favorites! Thank you!

  9. Wonderful recipe with great flavor!!! Used a little more corn (1 cup). Very moist. Love cooking with cast iron! Will definitely make again!

  10. I’ll try this, but we eat gluten free. Do you think if I sub in gf all-purpose flour (Bob’s Red mill, mostly rice flour) for the wheat, the ratios would remain similar?

    Thanks!

  11. 5 stars
    This was delicious! I’m not usually a cornbread fan but I had a craving, wanted a healthy version and am so glad I found this one. I’ve made it twice in the past two weeks XD

    1. Hi Amanda, I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed this recipe! Love turning baked goods into healthier versions!

  12. I prefer to use pure ground white self rising cornmeal, without eggs or flour or suger, also prefer buttermilk. Adjustments may need some modification in cooking. I start out with very hot oiled cast iron skillet, basically, just guess. But get lots of comme8. Thanks, Betty Modaff, Asheville, NC

  13. I’m going to make this soon and was wondering if anyone has tried adding a can of green chilies? I’m a southwestern gal and we usually add them to our cornbread, especially when serving it with chili. This looks great and the reviews are all so positive. Just wondering how the extra liquid from the green chilies would alter the recipe. Thanks so much.

    1. Oh I love this idea!

      Here’s what I would recommend doing: drain the juice from the green chiles into a liquid measuring cup then add enough buttermilk to the measuring cup to measure 1 cup. Add the green chiles to the food processor with the corn, buttermilk (and other wet ingredients) and blend as directed. (Or you could fold the green chiles into the batter right before baking if you want large pieces.)

      Let us all know how it goes!

  14. 5 stars
    Thank you so much for such a wonderful and healthy cornbread recipe! I was looking for a recipe without sugar and a lot of fat and I found it!))
    It turned out very tasty bread with a complex aroma. My husband also really appreciated the contrast of honey and salt.
    I added the flavor of butter on my own by greasing a hot frying pan with a small piece of butter and then brushing the top of the hot bread. It added just the right amount of flavor without the guilt.
    I prefer a little more moisture in the bread. I think it might be my whole wheat flour, I’ll try it with a different flour next time. Or I should have taken the bread out of the oven a little earlier, maybe 20 minutes in my oven would be enough.

    1. Hi Alina! I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed this cornbread, I bet the little addition of butter in the pan and brushed over top was delicious! A couple additional tablespoons of buttermilk might do the trick for upping the moisture in the bread.

      Thanks for your comment! 🙂