How To Make Masa Nixtamal



Nixtamal (nixtamalado) is dried maize which has been lime treated and partially cooked. This cooked corn can now be used whole to make pozole (hominy) or it can be ground and made into dough for tortillas (called masa) or used for masa to make fresh tamales. Learn how to make your own, step by step with pictures.

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 (dent corn).
  • 2 tablespoons "cal" slaked lime

Steps Overview

  1. Clean the corn
  2. Prepare the lime mixture
  3. Boil and soak corn
  4. Wash the corn
  5. De-head corn (only for pozole)

Each step is detailed in the next section below.

corn in colanderClean the corn

Place the corn in a colander and rinse under cold water.  This step just helps to loosen and rinse away any extra hulls and dust pesticides that might be coating the corn.  Ideally you would use organic corn but some of the special Mexican varieties are difficult to find when trying to buy organic.


calcium hydroxide for making nixtamalPrepare 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.

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 corn for nixtamalWash 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.

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".


damp corn after soaking with calDe-head The Kernels

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) Casserole A 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 Tamale 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.

corn on a metate ready to grind

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.

Nutrition Information For How To Make Masa Nixtamal

Serving Size
1 cup
Calories from Fat
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 4g
Saturated Fat 1g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 6mg
Total Carbohydrate 87g
Dietary Fiber 11g
Sugars 1g
Protein 11g
Vitamin A  0% Vitamin C  0%
Calcium  0% Iron  0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Grinding Tools

el salvador metate
stone metate y mano

The 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 hardened cast iron and a high hopper.   Moist corn is passed through the grinder 2 - 3 times to produce corn flour.

Buy Tortilla Making Supplies

You can buy everything you need for making fresh nixtamal, including several varieties of dried corn, cal, corn grinders, metates, and tortilla presses.  Visit our store here.

More Resources

  • 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).

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.