What Is Masa Harina?

Apr 23, 2013 1:31 pm

Learn about this building block of Mexican cuisine

what is masa harina?
Photo: rossination on Flickr
Masa flour and water forms the dough for tortillas.

Without masa harina, there would be no tortillas. Without tortillas, there would be no nachos, enchiladas, huevos rancheros, breakfast tacos, steak tacos, fish tacos...no tacos, period. No arepas, pupusas, tamales or sopes, either. Embrace this crucial ingredient, learn its importance in all our lives, then let's go get tacos.

Here's how corn becomes tortilla/arepa/tamale dough: dried corn is soaked in water and slaked lime (calcium hydroxide). The resulting product, called nixtamal, has the husks of its kernels removed and is cooked into hominy, or ground into a dough and dried and re-ground into masa harina, which translates to "dough flour." 

When the flour is mixed with water and sometimes lard, it's pressed into tortillas, formed into arepas or stuffed and steamed to make tamales. You can buy it in Latin markets if you don't have the wherewithal to remove husks from corn kernels and grind it painstakingly via whatever corn-grinding means you have at home. Here's a recipe to get you started.

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