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Without the miracle of masa harina, tortillas, tamales, and other Mexican dishes would not exist. Here is more about the wonders of this corn dough flour.
You see it on the store shelves and have heard about it in many of my recipes, but what is Masa Harina?
It’s not cornflour. It’s not cornmeal. Whaddaya know, it’s really dehydrated corn dough.
As mentioned in my more detailed blog post about hominy, dried corn is soaked in lime water (aka “pickling lime” or calcium carbonate). This highly alkaline solution gives masa harina that unique flavor.
After it is soaked and cooked, the corn has its outer skin removed and it is thoroughly rinsed and dried.
Once you have the final dry product, it is ground into flour with different degrees of fineness depending upon the need.
This process is called Nixtamalization.
This magic corn dough flour comes in a variety of colors. You will find it as white, yellow, and blue.
White corn makes white masa harina. Yellow corn is used to create yellow masa harina. And, of course, blue corn makes blue masa harina.
The blue variety, however, can be pretty darn difficult to find. But both white and yellow varieties are far more popular and can be easily found.
Maseca is probably the most common brand found for sale.
It’s the brand that most Mexicans use. But if you don’t live near a Mexican community or Latin grocery store, you can also buy Bob’s Red Mill online. (AFFILIATE)
These days some big chain grocery stores and some health food stores now carry both brands as well.
What is a good Substitute?
- To get that distinctive flavor, try grinding stale or dry corn tortillas in a food processor until you get a fine powder. Add salt and warm water until a dough forms.
- Ground hominy (either the dry or canned varieties). This is a great substitute for masa harina. Hominy has already had the outside skin removed. Only the soft interior remains.
- Ground Tortilla chips. Do you remember all of those crumbles of tortilla chips in the bottom of the bag? Gather them up and place them in a sealable container until you have enough to grind into a small dough of masa. Be sure the tortillas chips have been baked and not fried, or the taste will be slightly off.
Fun fact: My uncle owned a tortilleria in Durango, Mexico. He would wake up every morning Sunday-Sunday at the crack of dawn to grind the corn.
It’s not Cornmeal
Is masa harina the same as cornmeal? No.
- Masa Harina is ground maize corn that has been previously soaked in lime water.
- Cornmeal is never ever soaked in lime water.
- However, both are made from corn and both are therefore gluten-free.
Cornmeal is great for baking, but it will not make good tortillas. In fact, the tortillas will fall apart. And a broken tortilla just breaks your heart. Right?
The lime soaking process brings out the unique and distinct flavor that really differentiates masa harina from cornmeal.
Bonus: It releases nutrients like the B vitamin niacin providing far more nutrition than untreated corn.
Tamales Dulces are perfect for the Christmas Season. Sweet and delicious and hard to resist.
Make Instant Pot Pork Tamales in half the time as regular tamales. More time to enjoy a few tamales with friends and family.
A bite out of one of these Beef Tamales will make your tastebuds sing. They are such a treat especially on special occasions.