There's a longstanding linguistic debate over if the word grits is singular or plural: "Grits are good." vs "Grits is good." We'll never as a people achieve accord on that particular topic, so let's perhaps skip along to another: What the heck are grits in the first place, and to get even more granular, what are the different kinds of grits? As a Redditor asked our editors in a recent AMA, "What's the actual difference between quick grits and instant grits? Also, why do I have to cook instant grits if they're instant? These are the things that really unnerve me when I'm trying to sleep or communicate with other people."
We consider ourselves to be both humanitarians and professional grit-ologists, so this question was pretty much our dream come true. Corn grits are kernels of corn—usually dent corn—that have been milled down into a meal. It's not unlike the Italian polenta, and both are indeed boiled down into a mush, but polenta tends to be made from flint corn, rather than the softer dent. Hominy grits are, shockingly enough, made from hominy, which is a dried, whole-kernel corn that's gone through a process called nixtamalization, where it's soaked in an alkaline solution to remove the kernel's outer coating and improve the flavor and nutrition inside.
In either case, "regular" grits are made when this meal is boiled, simmered and stirred and stirred and stirred some more until the mixture has turned into a satisfying mush that isn't overly soft, but still retains a little bit of pleasing texture and bite. This process takes time to get right, as you may recall from a key bit of courtroom interrogation in the movie My Cousin Vinny.
Mr. Tipton: "No self-respecting Southerner uses instant grits. I take pride in my grits."
Vinny Gambini: "So, Mr. Tipton, how could it take you five minutes to cook your grits, when it takes the entire grit-eating world twenty minutes?"
Mr. Tipton, it turned out, was an unreliable witness, but his dedication to properly-made grits was admirable. For those who have a little less time (and pride), there are quick grits, which are more finely ground and take less time to make. Instant grits are not instant in the sense that they don't pour out from the box all ready to chew, but a good amount of the work has been taken care of. Instant grits have been partially cooked so they only take a few minutes in boiling water before they're ready to load up with butter, cheese, and the seasoning of your choice, so long as it's not sugar. Per our Redditor, "Sweet grits are an affront to God," and while we're pretty laissez faire about personal taste we're gonna have to agree.