If you’ve ever had succulent barbacoa wrapped in a corn tortilla, bitten into the firm but tender texture of a sopa, or unwrapped the corn husk of a tamal (tamale), then you have had masa.
What Is Masa?
Masa is made from nixtamalizing corn, which just means dried corn is soaked in calcium hydroxide (lime, not the fruit) and water. This process tenderizes the corn making it easy to mill and releases amino acids which transform the corn into complete protein. It also improves the bioavailability of calcium, cooper, zinc, and niacin.
If you’re lucky enough to live near a tortilleria, a bakery that sells freshly made tortillas, then you can buy fresh masa to take home and use as you see fit. But keep in mind fresh masa will ferment as time goes on, so unless you want it to sour, then it’s best to use within 24 hours.
What Is Masa Harina?
Masa is what comes of corn once it is nixtamalized. Masa harina is what happens when masa is dehydrated. Masa harina is sold at most supermarkets throughout the United States, typically in bags that look similar to flour or cornmeal bags. It can be yellow or white. It just depends on the kind of corn that’s used.
Masa harina is the next best thing to fresh masa and a practical alternative for home cooks, because it’s shelf stable, and you can make masa whenever the craving for fresh tortillas, sopas, or tamales strikes.
Gabriela Cámara, celebrated chef of restaurants in both Mexico and the United States, and author of My Mexico City Kitchen, recommends Bob’s Red Mill organic masa harina. It has a lovely flavor, is readily available, and uses non-GMO corn.
Try masa or masa harina in these delicious recipes:
- Tamale Pie with Chicken, Green Chiles, and Cheese
- How to Make Corn Tortillas
- Vegetarian Banana Leaf Tamales
- BBQ Pulled Chicken Sopes
To learn more about Gabriela Cámara and Mexican cuisine, read:
- Q & A with Gabriela Cámara, author of My Mexico City Kitchen
- Beginner's Guide to Modern Mexican Cooking
- Gabriela Camara’s Must Have Tool for Cooking Authentic Mexican Food at Home