Bread made from cornmeal flour, the product of ground, dried maize; in Italy the same golden cornmeal is known as polenta.
Cornbread is a generic name for any number of quick breads containing cornmeal. They are usually leavened by baking powder.
Native Americans had been using ground corn (maize) for food thousands of years before European explorers arrived in the New World. European settlers, especially those who resided in the English Southern Colonies, learned the original recipes and processes for corn dishes from the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek, and soon they devised recipes for using cornmeal in breads similar to those made of grains available in Europe. Cornbread has been called a “cornerstone” of the Cuisine of the Southern United States. Cornmeal is produced by grinding dry raw corn grains. A coarser meal (compare flour) made from corn is grits. Grits are produced by soaking raw corn grains in hot water containing calcium hydroxide (an alkaline salt), which loosens the grain hulls (bran) and increases the nutritional value of the product (by increasing available niacin and available amino acids). These are separated by washing and flotation in water, and the now softened slightly swelled grains are called hominy. Hominy, posole in Spanish, also is ground into masa harina for tamales and tortillas. This ancient Native American technology has been named nixtamalization. Besides cornbread, Native Americans used corn to make numerous other dishes from the familiar hominy grits to alcoholic beverages (such as Andean chicha). Cornbread was popular during the American Civil War because it was very cheap and could be made in many different forms—high-rising, fluffy loaves or simply fried (as unleavened pone, corn fritters, hoecakes, etc.)