Corn for making masa

cleaning corn for masa:

Masa (Dough for tortillas and tamales)

Masa in Mexican means "dough". The masa is made from field corn, called maiz blanco or "cacahuazintle" [kaw-kaw-WAH-SEEN-til] which was dried, treated with a lime water solution, then ground. This page will describe the process of making masa. The masa can then be used for corn tortillas or for tamales.

Article by: Barbara Bowman

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Masa Recipe And Instructions

This recipe for slaked corn (Nixtamal) can be used for making pozole (hominy) or for making tortillas. 

Makes: 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pounds

1 1/2 pounds (1 quart) dried white or yellow field corn
2 tablespoons "cal" slaked lime

Clean the corn
Place the corn in a colander and rinse under cold water.
corncolander.jpg (14729 bytes)

Prepare the lime mixture

Add 2 quarts of water to a large (at least 4 quart) noncorrosive pan.  Place the pan over high heat and add the lime (cal) and stir until it is dissolved.

cal.jpg (11809 bytes)
slaked lime (cal)

Boil the corn
Add the corn into the lime water, stirring gently.  Use a slotted spoon and remove any kernels that float to the top of the water.  Allow the water to boil then reduce the heat to a simmer.  If you are making the dough for tortillas, allow to boil 2 minutes. If you are making tamale dough simmer for 12 to 15 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and allow the corn to soak.  For tortilla dough allow to soak, covered, overnight.   For tamale dough, allow to soak for an hour.

Wash the corn
This step is very important. If you don't rinse and clean the corn properly your dough will be yellow and taste like lime. 
Pour the corn into a colander and place it under cold running water.  Use both your hands and rub the corn between your hands to loosen any hulls still attached to the corn.  

Washing the slaked corn

Continue until the corn is all white (except the tips).  Drain the corn well. This cleaned, prepared corn is what is called "Nixtamal" or "Nixtamalado".

Close-up of damp, cleaned field corn for masa
nixtamal - cleaned, damp corn

Pictured above you can see the little brown "heads" left on the corn.  If you are making Pozole and you want the kernels to open (flower) then you need to "de-head" the kernals.  De-heading simply means to pick off those little tips. This rather time-consuming step is optional and does not affect the flavor of the pozole, just the appearance.  

Making Pozole

After completing the final cleaning step (above) the corn is read to use in your favorite pozole recipe.  Here are some pozole recipe suggestions:

Chile Pork Pozole This recipe can be made with canned or dried pozole. For something different try making it with Blue corn pozole, a specialty of the US Southwest
Pozole (Hominy) CasseroleA recipe from Juanita's Foods, manufacturers of Mexican specialty foods. The recipe includes pozole (hominy) cheddar cheese, green chiles and sour cream.
Pozole Verde con Pollo (Chicken Pozole Verde)This recipe is based on a recipe by Anya von Bremzen. You can use canned pozole but for best flavor buy prepared, dried pozole.

Grind Corn To Make Tamal Dough

Spread the drained corn onto a towel and pat dry with another towel. Use a corn grinder or a metate to grind the dried corn. If you are using the plate-style grinder, use the medium or medium-fine setting. The ground corn should be a consistency of damp hominy grits. Add approximately 2/3 cups water to form a stiff dough.

Grinding Methods

Grind the corn for tortilla dough

You can use one of several tools to grind corn.  The most traditional of the three is the metate, a stone slab with a rolling-pin shaped "mano".    This is an efficient but laborious grinder.  Probably the most commonly used tool today is a cast iron grain grinder.  Corn grinders are inexpensive and relatively easy to use.  The third tool is a food processor.  While can grind the corn into flour the particle size may be inconsistent.  The next section gives a brief description of each tool.

grindcorn.jpg (17590 bytes)

Metate y Mano

The traditional tool for grinding the nixtamal is the metate y mano. If you are an adventurous cook and don't mind a good work out then you'll enjoy using the metate.   Depending on the size of your metate, place a handful or two of corn on the top surface.  Use downward pressure on the mano and roll across the corn (like a rolling pin).  Continue until the corn becomes finely pulverized. Repeat until all the corn has been ground.

Plate-Style Corn Mill (Molino)
While this is less labor intensive than the metate the corn mill requires significant effort. Use the corn mill fitted with a stone plate.  The stone plate, rather than a metal plate will produce the smoothest textured dough.  Place the corn in the hopper and grind it through using the finest setting.  The resulting mixture should be smooth and not gritty. 

Once the corn is all ground add approximate 2/3 to 3/4 cup of water to the corn and mix to form medium-soft dough.

Food Processor
You can use your food processor to prepare the dough for tamales but it does not get quite fine enough for tortilla dough. Grind the corn in small batches, pulsing the corn 5 or 6 times. Then let the processor run continuously until the corn is the proper consistency.

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Are you sure that your simmering and soaking times are correct?  In my hominy making recipe, removing the hulls requires: bringing to a boil, soaking off heat for 2 hours, simmering for about 2 hours.   Making masa for tamales may take less time but a 15 minute simmer and a 1 hour soak seems way to short.

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Grinding Tools

metate3.jpg (6325 bytes)
stone metate y mano

This Stone Metate y Mano is available at  View
All Mexican Cooking Tools  in our catalog.  We sell molcajetes, tortilla presses, lemon squeezers, metates, all the essential Mexican products.

Plate-Style Grinder

corn (masa) grinder molino

This grinder is made by Victoria in Colombia.  The grinder attaches to your counter top or work surface.  The standard version comes fitted with with adjustable plates made from a special hardended cast iron and a high hopper.   Moist corn is passed through the grinder 2 - 3 times to produce corn flour.

Buy Tortilla Making Supplies

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More Sources

Tortilla presses -  Read complete article on how to select and purchase a good quality tortilla press.

Masa Harina -  Premade masa harina is available in most grocery stores. You can find it online too but shipping is typically more that the cost of the flour.  

Masa Dough - If you have a local taqueria you may be able to purchase freshly prepared masa then take it home and press it out.  Fresh masa will sour so make sure to use it the same day you pick it up or freeze any unused portion.

Dried Corn - Purchase field corn in Mexican markets or check our GourmetSleuth online store for several varieties.

Cal (Calcium Hydoroxide) -  This is also called slaked lime and it is used to treat the corn to make it easier to grind and to make the corn more digestible and nutritions.  Cal gives the corn that distinctive tortilla flavor. Buy Cal.

Complete Tortilla Kit -  GourmetSleuth offers a complete tortilla kit that includes tortilla press,  Mexican cookbook, tortilla basket w/napkin, cast iron comal, 1lb masa flour, tera cota salsa cup and a palote (wood dowel rolling pin). Buy Tortilla Kit


Masa flour Nutrition

1 cup
Total fat (g)4.3 
Saturated fat (g)0
Monounsaturated fat (g)0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)0
Dietary fiber (g)
Protein (g)10.648
Carbohydrate (g)86.9
Cholesterol (mg)0
Sodium (mg)5.7