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Are (Is) Grits Really Food?

Some Grand Strand travelers have never heard of grits until their first Southern vacation. So what are grits and are they actually a food?

Jesse Broadt: Contributor

Although “grits” is a word that sometimes still strikes fear in the hearts of Northerners, vacationers visiting Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand will notice this item on virtually every menu from Little River to Pawleys Island. Below are some fun and interesting facts about this popular southern side dish that will help eradicate the fear of the unknown in those who were not born and raised in Dixie.

What are (is) Grits?

Grits are made from corn after it is coarsely ground and then boiled. Grits are typically made from dent corn, which is a starchier variety of the more commonly used sweetcorn. The flavor of grits is somewhat neutral, but many of its fans regard this as its best characteristic: it instantly becomes a base for savory ingredients such as cheese, butter, sugar or essentially any palate pleasing addition.

Grits and butter

A classic southern favorite with breakfast

The First Truly American Food

Although primarily regarded as a Southern invention of the 20th Century, grits are arguably the first truly “American” food, dating back to the first settlers. Originally called “rockahominie” by Native Americans in what is now Jamestown, Virginia, this steaming porridge was typically eaten plain or seasoned with animal fat and salt. As time went on, settlers found ways to add a variety of flavors to grits and that tradition has remained in place for thousands of years. The actual term “grits” may have originated from the Italian word “gruzzi” or the German word “grützeor,” both of which mean ”crushed corn.”

Grits Are Always in Season

Although fresh seafood and produce are seasonal and therefore local menus must change accordingly, grits are virtually always found at any Myrtle Beach restaurant, particularly if the establishment serves breakfast. Over 150 million pounds of grits are produced each year, and approximately 70 percent of them are consumed in the South. It would be interesting to see how much of that is consumed somewhere on the Grand Strand.

As previously mentioned, grits are not typically plain. Rather, numerous ingredients are usually added to this humble dish, with some of the most popular being gravy, sugar, cheese, salt, butter and even sausage. Almost always served with breakfast in the South, grits also make an appearance in other dishes, such as the popular Grand Strand favorite “shrimp ‘n’ grits.”

Shrimp and grits plate

Fun Fact

Because the word grits is always spelled with an “s,” many people wonder about the grammar of some restaurant employees when they tell customers “the grits is really tasty.” However, although the word sounds plural, making it seem as if it should always take a plural verb, the term is actually a rare and unique noun with its own grammar rules. It can actually be used in either a plural or singular fashion in both speaking and writing. Leave it to grits to be the rebel of the restaurant industry.

So, yes, grits are actually a food–despite what the darn Yankees might say–and even contain some of the same nutrients associated with “real” food. Therefore, Grand Strand vacationers who have never tasted grits may wish to consider giving this savory side dish a try.

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