Masa Harina is a flavorful flour made from nixtamalized corn (corn soaked in limewater). It is a must-have ingredient for traditional, homemade corn tortillas.
Masa, the Spanish word for "dough," is the traditional dough used to make corn tortillas. It is made with hominy, or dried corn kernels that have been cooked and soaked in lime water, which is ground into masa. Masa harina is flour made from dried masa. The nixtamalization process (soaking in lime water) was developed in Mesoamerica thousands of years ago. It loosens the hulls from the kernel and softens the corn for grinding by breaking down the glue-like component called hemicellulose. This process also changes the structure of the corn, freeing the nutritionally rich niacin so that it can be easily absorbed into the digestive track. In addition, calcium is gained from the lime used as an alkali. The nixtamalization process also balances the amino acids, accessing more usable protein from the corn.
Masa harina is most commonly used to make tortillas, but it is also featured in other delicious dishes including tamales, pupusas, and arepas.