Cornbread originally derives from Indigenous people, and the oldest recorded recipes are not sweet. They’re basically cornmeal, hot water and lard. A great many people still eat the dish more or less the same way.
As these ingredients worked their way into other regional cuisines, especially in the south and southwest, cornbread branched out into different flavors and textures. Some people insist that cornbread be made with buttermilk and little or no sugar, in a cast iron skillet. For others, the recipe is more like cake, with a higher ratio of flour to cornmeal, a third cup or more sugar, and baked in a cake pan for a softer and sweeter variety.
Preferences vary by region and sometimes by ethnicity. We don’t want to start a fight with you and your grandma at Thanksgiving, but what’s your take?
Non-sweet cornbread, especially of the skillet and buttermilk variety, is more like a meal. It’s hearty and works beautifully with soups, chilis, and other savory dishes. Also, it holds up better when utilized as stuffing (or maybe you call it dressing, but that’s another debate).
Sweet cornbread occupies the meeting point on the side-dish-and-dessert Venn diagram. It’s not as sweet as a cake, nor as savory as a dinner roll. Like sweet potato casserole, it’s a way to get something sweet before dessert is served.