BACKGROUND Low adoption of maize varieties bred to address the nutritional needs of the growing African population limits their impact. Aroma is essential in consumer preference, but has hitherto hardly been studied. We analysed the volatile organic compounds of flours and porridges of 22 maize varieties belonging to four nutritionally distinct groups, namely provitamin A maize, quality protein maize, yellow and white maize. RESULTS Proton‐transfer‐reaction quadrupole ion time‐of‐flight mass spectrometry (PTR‐QiTOF‐MS) analysis generated 524 mass peaks ranging from 16.007 to 448.089 m/z . Principal component analysis separated the varieties belonging to the four groups. With headspace solid‐phase microextraction gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (HS‐SPME GC–MS), 48 volatile compounds were identified in maize flour and 21 in maize porridge, including hexane, nonane, pentanoic acid, 1‐octen‐3‐ol, 1‐hexanol, hexanal, nonanal, 2‐pentylfuran and 2‐heptanone. Volatile compounds such as 1,2,4‐trimethyl benzene, associated with thermal degradation of carotenoids, increased in the porridge of yellow and provitamin A maize. CONCLUSION The results indicate that PTR‐QiTOF‐MS and HS‐SPME GC–MS combined with multivariate analysis are instrumental to study the volatile aroma compounds of different maize varieties.