“Nixtamal” comes from the Nahuatl word nixtamalliwhich means “unformed corn dough.” Nixtamalization is the process of soaking the corn in an alkaline solution, such as “cal” or wood ash. This soaking process makes the corn more digestible and the nutrients in the corn more accessible to the body. On a practical level, it makes the corn easier to grind and makes it easily form into a dough (masa) for use in tortillas, tamales, pupusas, tlacoyos and more. To make posol (hominy), you skip the grinding process and simply boil the nixtamal corn in broth.
Nixtamal has sustained our ancestors for thousands of years. No one knows for sure when our ancestors first discovered the process of nixtamalization—the earliest evidence of nixtamal has been located in Guatemalan cooking equipment that is 3500 years old! I think it quite powerful—at a spiritual and cultural level—to reclaim this practice by doing it yourself.
Health benefits of nixtamal:
- Converts corn’s bound niacin to free niacin, making it available for absorption into the body.
- Alkalinity improves the balance among essential amino acids, making more protein available.
- Is rich in calcium, iron, copper, and zinc. After nixtamalization with cal, the corn has 750% more calcium!
- Eliminates certain carcinogenic fungus found in corn.
Note: Industrially-produced tortillas no longer use the ancient process of nixtamalization and instead use an enzymatic process that produces a much inferior masa. There are still tortillerias in the US and Mexico that produce nixtamal but I fear their days are numbered. Blame NAFTA.
Because it is hard to find organic, GMO-free masa in the Bay Area, I decided I would learn how to make nixtamal corn masa myself. There are a lot of steps involved but it is not *that* difficult and totally do-able with a little practice and planning.
And, nothing beats the taste of a tortilla made this way! It’s not spongy and sour like the fresher store-bought ones, nor dry and stiff like the older ones. The outside has a slightly toasted texture, the inside is tender but fully cooked. You can taste and smell the sweetness of the corn. Plus, you are eating something that is entirely good for you, you are resisting GMO tortillas, and you are connecting to an ancestral practice that is over 3500 years old.
I am going to need to engage this practice into
my healing. The one element I have been deprived of
since leaving Chicago has been true maize tortillas.
Tomorrow I am headed to Little Havana for some ingredients.