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.
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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.
Making Cornbread Healthy
First things first, we’ve got to see how we can swap some healthier ingredients into this homemade cornbread recipe.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
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
- Combine the Wet Ingredients
- Combine the Wet and Dry Ingredients
- Coat Preheated Skillet with Oil
- Spread Batter Into Preheated Skillet
- Bake the Cornbread
- 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.
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:
- Our chipotle chili is an easy and classic pairing!
- Serve a slice (or two) with this healthy kale and cherry salad. Or for a heartier salad, try our kale and lentil Salad.
- Cornbread is a natural pairing for roasted pork tenderloin and our recipe creates perfectly juice and spiced slices of pork!
- Use our cornbread to sop up the delicious sauce in our chicken sausages with stewed beans & kale.
- We love this turkey wild rice soup—and it’s begging for some cornbread!
- Serve it with our lamb tikka masala—that creamy tikka sauce is begging to be sopped up with something!
- Serve up our mushroom soup with this bread for a cozy, comforting dinner.
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.
Absolutely! Simply swap it in for the frozen corn.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.