This healthy cornbread celebrates everything we love about classic bread while updating the old ingredients that don’t necessarily serve us anymore. Bursting with corn flavor, this bread is lightly sweetened (naturally), made with olive oil, and is finished with a sprinkle of sea salt. I’m telling you, this healthy version is as crave-worthy as the original. Except this time, you can feel good about it.
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When revamping any classic recipe, the challenge not only lies in “healthifying” it, but making a healthy version that’s good.
Because the thing is—it’s easy to make really delicious unhealthy food. That’s simple. It’s also easy to swap out ingredients for healthy alternatives. BUT, that doesn’t mean it’s going to satisfy what you’re craving.
The thing that’s not so simple—finding a way to make classic dishes healthier that are just as satisfying, decadent and/or soul-warming as their predecessor.
So, how do you make healthy cornbread?
First things first, we’ve got to analyze the ingredients we’re using and determine whether or not we can use something more nutritional.
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 a fat that’s more heart-healthy and contains less saturated fat. 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 overall about by at least a quarter (here I decreased it by half).
Swap refined sugar or a natural sweetener. Most cornbread 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 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.
How to make healthy cornbread, step-by-step
Getting that “buttery” flavor without butter
I wanted to find a way to create that quintessential butter flavor while using olive oil instead. Here are a few ways I did that:
- Baked 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.
Cornbread with real corn
Have you ever made a cornbread that lacks a certain oomph? Like there just isn’t much corn flavor happening? Me too, and it’s always a let down. That’s why 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.
What to serve cornbread with?
Cornbread is a great go-to side here! Here are a few things I like to serve it with:
- Smoky Chipotle Chili
- Kale & Cherry Salad
- Roasted Pork Tenderloin
- Tuscan Chicken Sausages with Stewed Beans & Kale
- Creamy Turkey Wild Rice Soup
Make sure to tag me @ZESTFULKITCHEN ON INSTAGRAM or comment below if you make this healthy cornbread!
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- 1½ 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
- 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.