The Best Vegan Cornbread You’ll Ever Eat

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This crispy-crusted, buttery, and moist vegan cornbread is truly the best cornbread you'll ever eat, thanks to 5 secret techniques. No one will know it's vegan! Easy to make gluten-free.
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 25 mins
Total Time: 45 mins
4.9 from 50 votes

A few months ago, I embarked on a quest to make incredible vegan cornbread. My first few tests came out just okay, so I decided to try some popular vegan cornbread recipes (I tried five). They ranged from decent on the strong end to inedible on the weak end. Even the better ones tasted like mild-flavored corn cake, not actual cornbread.

After talking to my recipe tester Hannah and her father-in-law (he’s Southern and takes his cornbread very seriously), I knew I wanted to create something totally different than what I had tried. I wanted a wow-worthy cornbread that was just as good as a classic Southern cornbread.

The result is a crispy-crusted, buttery cornbread that’s bursting with tons of corn flavor, has the perfect amount of crumble, and is mildly but not overly sweet. When eaten warm, it’s basically the best thing ever.

In this post:
1. Watch! How to make vegan cornbread
2. Five secrets for unbelievable vegan cornbread
3. Step by step instructions (with photos)
4. Tips for making this recipe
5. Frequently asked questions

vegan cornbread in a cast iron skillet with a slice taken out and vegan butter on top

Watch! How to make vegan cornbread

5 Secrets for the Best Vegan Cornbread

In addition to doing days of research on traditional Southern cornbread, reading articles written by cornbread experts, and watching YouTube cooking videos, I also tested this recipe and variations of it 20 times (yes, 20 times).

Here’s what I’ve learned about how to make epic vegan cornbread, cornbread that is moist and buttery with crackly corn bits throughout, and of course, has a crispy golden crust.

Secret #1: Use stone-ground cornmeal

Most cornbread recipes I came across do not specify which cornmeal to use. But there’s quite a range in cornmeals, so it’s important to specify.

Your standard supermarket boxed cornmeal has been industrially processed in steel mills and is finely ground. The corn kernels are degerminated, so they lose some of their fat content and hence moisture. The result is a uniform texture, a muted corn flavor, and a less moist crumb.

In contrast, stone-ground cornmeal (the corn is literally ground between slowly moving stones) retains the hull and germ of the corn. This leaves it with more variation in grains, which results in a cornbread that has more complex dimension and a stronger corn flavor.

Takeaway: I highly recommend using stone-ground cornmeal for the most interesting texture (tender with pleasant crunchy bits of corn grit throughout) and a deep corn flavor. In contrast, fine cornmeal makes for a fairly one-note cornbread with only a mild corn flavor. An easily available stone-ground cornmeal is Bob’s Red Mill medium-grind stone-ground cornmeal.

A note on white cornmeal vs. yellow cornmeal

In my research, I found that many Southern cooks insist on using only white cornmeal. I couldn’t find a true reason for its superiority, aside from it being the cornmeal traditionally used in Southern cornbread. It has a slightly more subtle corn flavor than yellow cornmeal.

It’s pretty difficult to find a stone-ground white cornmeal here in California (I had to order this white cornmeal online), so I stuck with yellow cornmeal. That said, I did test this recipe with two different stone-ground white cornmeal brands and they both came out delicious.

comparison of fine cornmeal and stone-ground cornmeal

Secret #2: Use more cornmeal than flour

In my research, I noticed that every popular vegan cornbread (and many popular non-vegan recipes) used about a 1:1 cornmeal:flour ratio. But, most of the “authentic” Southern cornbread recipes used significantly more cornmeal than flour and some didn’t use any flour (authentic in air quotes because there’s no single way to make cornbread).

In my recipe tests, I found that using more flour than cornmeal resulted in cornbread with (1) a diluted corn flavor and (2) a cakey texture.

That said, in a vegan cornbread, some flour is necessary to provide structure, as you can’t rely on eggs for structure. But too much flour makes for corn cake, not cornbread. One of my taste testers even remarked that she could taste some of the flour in the standard vegan cornbread (not good!).

Takeaway: Use a 2:1 ratio of cornmeal to flour for the best cornbread texture and flavor. Using more cornmeal than flour helps (a) the corn flavor shine (it’s cornbread!) and (b) produces the classic cornbread texture: it crumbles a little but still holds together; it’s moist but has a slightly grainy texture from the corn grits.

PS: Gluten-free? You can easily make this with gluten-free flour (check out the FAQ section).

Secret #3: Bake cornbread in a hot, buttered cast iron skillet

As you can see in the below photo, this cornbread has a mesmerizing golden crust. It’s crispy, buttery, and SO good. Cornbread is all about the crust, and IMO, it’s non-negotiable.

First, pour your cornbread batter into a sizzling hot skillet. This kickstarts the crunchy crust, just like using a hot baking sheet will give you more caramelization on roasted vegetables. Second, add (vegan) butter to the hot pan to enhance the crispiness (and for that mouthwatering buttery taste). Finally, using a cast iron skillet brings the most deeply golden edges and caramelized crust, as cast iron retains heat better during baking than other metals.

Takeaway: For a crispy-edged cornbread with a crunchy and buttery crust, preheat a cast iron skillet until sizzling hot. Add some vegan butter, and once melted, dust the pan with a bit of cornmeal for enhanced crunchiness. Then, pour the batter into the hot pan.

If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, read the “Frequently Asked Questions” section.

Secret #4: Add enough moisture and fat

A few vegan cornbreads I tried (including the first few ones I made) were so dry I had trouble swallowing. Here’s how I avoided that.

First, you need a fair amount of vegan buttermilk (oat milk mixed with apple cider vinegar). Second, I use a mixture of brown sugar and agave nectar, which both have more moisture than the commonly used white sugar. Finally, since classic cornbread contains whole buttermilk, eggs, and a generous amount of butter, I use a mixture of olive oil (adds lots of moisture) and vegan butter (which brings that essential buttery taste) to replicate that richness.

Takeaway: For cornbread that is perfectly moist, slightly dense and incredibly buttery, you need a decent amount of fat. The vegan butter takes this cornbread over the top in a way that oil alone cannot, so please don’t skip it!

A note on sugar in cornbread. I was surprised to learn that traditionally, Southern cornbread contained no sugar at all (here’s a fascinating read on why Southern cornbread doesn’t have sugar). I did try making vegan cornbread without sugar, but it was significantly worse, so I decided sugar (but not a lot) was needed in this recipe.

Secret #5: Rest the batter to hydrate

Compared to flour, cornmeal needs a bit more hydration, especially larger cornmeal grains. Since this recipe uses medium-grind cornmeal and twice the amount of cornmeal as flour, hydration is key.

If you allow the cornbread batter to rest for just 10 minutes, the cornmeal gets fully hydrated by the liquid. And the acidic nature of the buttermilk also helps tenderize the cornmeal. The result is a tender crumb that still keeps its subtly crackly texture.

Takeaway: Allow the cornbread batter to rest for 10 minutes (while the skillet heats up in the oven), or up to an hour. This hydrates the batter, making the crumb more moist and tender.

vegan cornbread in cast iron skillet with one slice turned up

How to make the best vegan cornbread

Gather your ingredients!

ingredients labeled for vegan cornbread

Stir the oat milk and apple cider vinegar together. Set aside to slightly curdle (this is the buttermilk).

In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, and baking powder. Whisk well.

Make a well in the dry mix, and then add the buttermilk.

Add the olive oil, melted vegan butter, brown sugar, and agave nectar.

Gently mix with a whisk, and do not over mix. The batter will have some lumps. Fold in the chopped fresh rosemary. Allow the batter to rest for 10 minutes (or up to an hour).

While the batter rests, heat a 9 or 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven at 400ºF for 10 minutes. Remove the hot pan from the oven and 2 tablespoons of vegan butter. Once it melts, dust lightly with cornmeal.

Slowly pour the batter into the hot pan.

Bake for 25-28 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 15-20 minutes, then slice and serve warm.

Tips for making the best vegan cornbread

I like using full-fat oat milk (Oatly brand) for the best texture. Oat milk does a great job at browning baked goods, and the fat content helps compensate for the generous amount of fat used in classic cornbread. This recipe would probably work well with soy milk or cashew milk too, but I haven’t tested that.

I add fresh rosemary to the cornbread batter, which adds so much interesting flavor. Many of my taste testers particularly loved this addition.

If you prefer a classic flavored cornbread, you can omit the rosemary. If you love the corn-rosemary flavor combo as much as I do, be sure to try the Sweet Corn Rosemary Cake in my cookbook, The Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook.

This cornbread is subtly sweet, but not sweet like cake. It’s meant to be eaten as a side dish, either plain with a pat of vegan butter, or alongside savory foods. That said, if you want additional sweetness, there’s a recipe for a maple butter topping in the recipe card. Or, you could spread some jam on top!

When mixing the batter, use a whisk and don’t be worried that the batter has lumps. The bread won’t be lumpy :) And try to pour the batter fairly slowly; if you pour the batter quickly, it will cause the hot butter to pool up at the surface.

sliced vegan cornbread in cast iron skillet

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make this cornbread gluten-free?

Yes! We tested this with King Arthur’s measure-for-measure gluten-free flour (affiliate link) and it worked great. I’m no expert at gluten-free baking, but this brand has xanthan gum, which I think is helpful for binding and structure.

(1) Use the same amount of flour (3/4 cup GF flour). (2) Since GF flour absorbs more liquid, add an extra 1/4 cup (60 mL) oat milk. (3) Given the extra moisture, allow the cornbread to rest for a bit longer (30 minutes) before slicing.

Our gluten-free cornbread turned out slightly more moist and more crumbly than the original, so if you can tolerate gluten, I recommend using regular flour. But if you can’t, the gluten-free version was still the best damn vegan and gluten-free cornbread I could imagine.

What brands of cornmeal do you recommend?

Here are the brands I’ve tried in this recipe with delicious results (affiliate links). Bob’s Red Mill is the most widely available, found at several grocery stores (Whole Foods, Vons/Safeway, Ralph’s, and health grocery stores). I had to order the other cornmeals online.

Bob’s Red Mill stone-ground yellow cornmeal (medium-grind)
Marsh Hen Mill stone-ground yellow cornmeal (finer texture than Bob’s Red Mill)
Marsh Hen Mill stone-ground white cornmeal (previously known as Geechie Boy Mill)
Anson Mills stone-ground yellow cornmeal (coarse ground)
Palmetto Farms stone-ground white cornmeal (interestingly, the recipe turned out dry with this same brand’s yellow cornmeal; would not recommend)

How can I make this recipe without a cast iron skillet?

Use a 9×9 metal baking pan instead. The crust didn’t get as crispy or crunchy as it did with the cast iron skillet, but it was still very good. If using this method, add only 1 tablespoon of butter to the hot cast iron skillet (instead of 2). And it may need an extra 5 minutes bake time to get nicely golden.

Can I make this recipe oil-free?

Sorry, no. I worked really hard to make this the closest thing to a Southern-style crispy-crusted, buttery cornbread, and it just wouldn’t be the same thing without the vegan butter and oil.

How long does cornbread last? How should I store and reheat it?

Cornbread is the best on day 1, but leftovers will stay good up to 3 days (the texture will be a bit softer). Store in an airtight container, not in a reusable bag (it will get soggy), for up to 3 days.

To reheat cornbread, reheat in the oven at 375ºF/190ºC. Reheat for 10-15 minutes, either (1) unwrapped on a baking sheet – this returns some of the crispiness; or (2) wrapped in foil – this makes it softer and moister.

slice of vegan cornbread with a pat of butter on a plate

That’s everything you need to know about how to make *incredible* vegan cornbread! I hope you’ll love this recipe as much as we do. If you do, please rate and review the recipe below :)

The Best Vegan Cornbread
The Best Vegan Cornbread

The Best Vegan Cornbread

4.9 from 50 votes
This crispy-crusted, buttery, and moist vegan cornbread is truly the best cornbread you'll ever eat, thanks to 5 secret techniques. No one will know it's vegan! Easy to make gluten-free.
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 25 mins
Total Time: 45 mins
Course: Bread, Side Dish
Cuisine: Southern
Diet Vegan
Keyword: corn, nut-free, soy-free
Serving size: 8 to 12

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups (360 mL) full-fat oat milk**
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups (195g) stone-ground yellow or white cornmeal (medium-grind is my preference)***
  • 3/4 cup (94g) all-purpose flour****
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Heaping 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons (56g) vegan butter, melted + 2 tablespoons for greasing the skillet
  • ¼ cup (56 mL) extra virgin olive oil or neutral-flavored oil of choice
  • 1/4 cup (40g) organic brown sugar*****
  • 1/4 cup (84 mL) agave nectar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of finely chopped rosemary (4g)

For serving (optional)

  • Softened vegan butter; OR
  • Maple Butter: 2 tablespoons vegan butter + 2 teaspoons maple syrup

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400ºF/204ºC and arrange a middle rack in the oven. Stir the vinegar into the oat milk and set aside for 5-10 minutes to slightly curdle.
  • In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Whisk well to break up any clumps.
  • Make a well in the center and pour in the 4 tablespoons melted vegan butter, oil, brown sugar, agave, and buttermilk. Gently mix with a whisk until just smooth, taking care to not overmix – there will be lumps, that’s okay!
  • Fold in the rosemary using a silicone spatula. Allow the batter to rest for 10 minutes, or up to 1 hour. It should look somewhat like a pancake batter.
  • Meanwhile, transfer a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet to the pre-heated oven to heat up for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven (use oven mitts!) and add the 2 tablespoons of vegan butter. It will start melting almost immediately. Dust the pan lightly with a sprinkle of cornmeal, about 1 teaspoon.
  • Pour the cornbread batter into the hot skillet (but not too quickly or the butter will pool up to the top). Bake for 25 to 28 minutes (check at 25 minutes), until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is golden brown.
  • Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing. Serve warm, or with a pat of softened vegan butter on top of each slice, if desired.
    Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days on the counter.
  • If making the maple butter, add the softened butter to a small bowl and whisk vigorously until it starts to get fluffy. Add the maple syrup and whisk until well combined and smooth.

Notes

*If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, use a 9×9 metal baking pan. And add only 1 tablespoon of butter to the hot cast iron skillet (instead of 2 tbsp). It may need an extra 5 minutes bake time to get nicely golden.
**For other plant-based milk subs, check out the “Tips” section. 
***Read more about cornmeal varieties and recommendations in the “5 secrets” section. 
**** To make gluten-free, make three changes: (1) use 3/4 cup gluten-free flour (ideally, one that has xanthan gum in it; we used King Arthur’s measure-for-measure GF flour). (2) Add an extra 1/4 cup (60 mL) oat milk, or a total of 1 3/4 cups (420 mL) oat milk. (3) Allow the cornbread to rest for 30 minutes before slicing. 
***** Coconut sugar should work in place of brown sugar, if you prefer that.  

What to serve cornbread with

You can serve cornbread plain or with a pat of softened vegan butter (we eat it for breakfast like this all the time). Or, if you like it sweeter, with some jam or maple butter (maple butter recipe is in the recipe card).

Cornbread is also excellent served with savory dishes. Some favorite ideas:

Sources referenced in writing this post:

I referenced a number of posts in writing this post. If you’re interested in learning more, please do give them a read:

Happy baking!

Did you make this recipe?

Tag @rainbowplantlife and hashtag it #rainbowplantlife

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110 comments on The Best Vegan Cornbread You’ll Ever Eat

  1. Cathy Fabry

    5 stars
    Made this cornbread and your chili recipe for a friend tonight and she said it was probably the best she’s ever had. I believe she is sincere in saying that. This cornbread had such a lovely deep golden color on top and was perfectly moist inside. Loved the rosemary touch as well! Thanks, Nisha, for really working out any kinks in your recipes before publishing. Your tips and commentary are SO helpful. I know I can trust anything on your site.

  2. Mariajose

    I bought a smaller cast irons for this recipe but I just realized I got 8 in instead of 9-10 :( what can I do to make sure the recipe still comes out good?

  3. Tasnim

    Can I substitute Agave nectar ? with more brown sugar or maple syrup ?

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Yes Tasnim, that works! We suggest maple syrup as the closest alternative.

  4. Kana

    5 stars
    I made this cornbread for thanksgiving. Everybody loved it especially my husband. He was asking me to make it again! We all enjoyed it. Thank you for your recipe!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Kana!

  5. Chris

    5 stars
    I made this cornbread along with a vegan chipotle chile for my family recently. Followed your directions and it was ‘over the top’. Whole family enjoyed it.
    Thanks for sharing the background on how you came up with this recipe. It is well written and gave me the confidence to make it successfully and know it would be a hit with everyone.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Chris. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  6. Michael Webb

    4 stars
    I personally did not like the flavor of the rosemary (I love it in other things) definitely need the medium ground cornmeal

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Did you add fresh or ground rosemary? Sorry you didn’t love it. Hopefully you can try it again sometime soon without the rosemary!

  7. Matthew J Knauf

    5 stars
    I made this for a Thanksgiving gathering with my friends. Everyone loved it, even the picky eaters. I added rosemary and a bit of sage to give more of the Thanksgiving vibes. 100% will be making this with the vegan chili as winter approaches. Thanks again Nisha!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Matthew!

  8. Joan

    5 stars
    My husband and son LOVED this cornbread, that I made exactly according to the directions. I loved it too, but partook sparingly due to the generous amounts of butter and oil. To my surprise and delight, my cake looked exactly like the photos you posted. Your tips are right on, too. I would not have thought to preheat the skillet. Thanks for all the work you did to perfect this staple recipe.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Joan, So glad to hear you loved this recipe and you are so welcome for all of the recipe tips!

  9. Ahila Gulasekaram

    I absolutely LOVE your channel! Every recipe is mouth watering and super easy to follow! You have the best tips, and I watching your family taste your creations is simply the best! Just bought all the ingredients for the cornbread, and can’t wait to try it! I hope you get your own show on Netflix! I would binge watch that:)

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Ahila! We hope you enjoy the cornbread. And a Netflix show would be pretty cool, wouldn’t it?!

  10. Anisha

    5 stars
    This cornbread is PERFECTION. The texture, taste, everything. It is definitely going to be at my Thanksgiving spread for years down the line!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Anisha. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  11. Leigh

    5 stars
    This cornbread was the star of our Thanksgiving dinner! I’ll definitely be making this again.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Leigh!

  12. Jeremy

    5 stars
    Perfect! We’ve permanently added this to our fall holidays recipes!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Jeremy. We are honored!

  13. Lisa

    5 stars
    Thanks for this delicious recipe! I’ve made it twice now and the second time I used oat flour instead of regular flour. It tastes great but it’s a bit crumbly, just an fyi for anyone trying to swap out the flour. I also reduced the amount of sugar as the suggested amount turned out too sweet for me.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Of course, Lisa! Reducing the amount of sugar could have also led to a drier cornbread. We are glad you enjoyed the recipe nonetheless!

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