What is Nixtamalization? Plus 2 Recipes and 4 Uses

Pot of lye water and corn beginning nixtamalization process

Nixtamalization is the cooking of dried corn with water and lime, removing Mycotoxins found in corn making it safe to eat. Hominy, maize and tortillas can then be made from the resulting Masa flour.

How Nixtamalization Originated

Nixtamalization was developed long ago, the indigenous people of the americas have been growing corn for thousands of years. They discovered that by steeping and cooking the dried kernels in a mixture of water and lime or water and ash they could change the make up of the kernels somewhat.

Without knowing it Nixtamalization released Niacin “B3”,  and Calcium. Thus greatly improving the nutritional value of their foods. VItamin B# helps the body deal with Type 1 Diabetes and can also prevent the disease Pellagra. Many Europeans were effected by this disease when they first began consuming corn as they did not know to Nixtamalize it.

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When the Nixtamalization is completed you are left with a form of Hominy. This is dried and ground up to make maize or eaten as it is. The native americans would then combine this Nixtamalized corn along with beans and meat to balance their diets. The ground corn could be formed into a dough called masa. They could then use the masa to make corn tortillas, polenta and even tamales. 

The Process to Nixtamalize Corn

Now that you know the answer to What is Nixtamalization it’s time to learn how this process is done. 

There are two main recipes in which to Nixtamalize Corn. These are steeping in water and lime or steeping in water and ash. For obvious reasons the original method involved the use of ash.

Water and Lime Recipe for Nixtamalization

This version is made from ingredients you can purchase and is probably the place where most people will want to start. Read on for the more adventurous version further down. 

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Ingredients – Water and Lime Nixtamalization

  1. Spring water – Any filtered water will work
  2. Lime – Buy it in some Hispanic stores or order it from AMAZON
  3. Either Corn or Corn Meal

Directions – Water and Lime Nixtamalization

Using a 1 quart Mason Jar add 1/2 cup of the lime, top the jar off with water. Put the lid on the jar and shake well. Let the jar and mixture sit on the counter for several hours until the lime settles. This will leave a slightly cloudy liquid and is ready to be used at this time. I prefer to separate the liquid out from the material at the bottom at this time. You can do it later if you prefer, just remember not to add the chalky lime material to your cooking pot.

The liquid can now be used when you are ready. If you wish to leave it in the jar for storage this works as well as it has nearly an unlimited shelf life in this form.

In order to make Hominy you will add 1lb of kernels and 1 ½ quarts of prepared lime water to a large pot. Heat this to a boil and then simmer for around 13 to 15 minutes. Once that is completed, allow the corn to remain in the water at room temperature for up to 8 hours or it can be left in the fridge overnight.

Final Prep – Water and Lime Nixtamalization

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At this point, the corn should be washed several times in a strainer while being rubbed in your hands to remove the hull. This exposes the kernel at which point, you can boil the corn for a bit more and eat it as hominy. You could also grind the corn up and add water to create Masa. Tortillas and Tamales can be made with this.

You can also complete this process with cornmeal instead of kernel corn. Use 1 cup of liquid for every 2 cups of cornmeal. It is not necessary to boil cornmeal. Allow the mixture to stand at room temperature for 12 hours and then proceed with the recipe you are making.

Water and Ash Recipe for Nixtamalization

Most people you talk to in today’s society would think you crazy if you suggested cooking with wood ash. However, this is after all a survival site and wood ash will be more readily available than lime would be if SHTF. Make sure that your ash is made from clean wood. (Do not use any paper, plastics or wood that has been treated with any chemicals, dry natural wood is the only way to go.)

Ingredients – Water and Ash Nixtamalization

  1. Corn – 3 cups of dry
  2. Wood Ash – 3 cups sifted – Hardwood is preferred, Oak, Maple, Ash etc.
  3. Water – 3 quarts – Rain,Filtered or Spring Not tap unless you are on a well, 

Directions – Water and Ash Nixtamalization

Place the water in a large pot and begin to boil. Once the water reaches a rolling boil add the wood ash and allow them to boil for ten minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to settle for around half an hour. At that point either pour the water into a second pot or dip it out leaving the wood ash at the bottom of the original pot.

This water that you have now infused with the ashes is known as Lye. Rinse the ashes from the original pot and add the lye water back in. Now add your corn to this and simmer for thirty minutes. Within the first few minutes the corn should change color. This is expected and confirms that your lye solution is strong enough. Different varieties of corn will change different colors. For example red corn turns almost black.

After simmering for thirty minutes remove from heat and allow to stand at room temperature for at least ten to twelve hours. You then need to rinse the corn, several times, while rubbing it between your hands to remove the shells. 

Final Prep – Water and Ash Nixtamalization

At this point, you have nixtamalized corn and can grind it or continue with another preparation such as hominy. You can use the same process to treat cornmeal as well. If you grind the results from this recipe you should end up with about 6 cups of finely ground masa.

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You Answered – What is Nixtamalization? Now What

You have learned what Nixtamalization is and two methods to prepare it. Now what do you do with it? You really have two choices at this time. Store it for later use or Prepare one of more than hundreds of recipes which rely on Nixtamalized corn.

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Storage of Nixtamalized Corn

You can store Nixtamalized Corn “Hominy”  in either whole or ground form “Masa” for up to a week in the refrigerator. Both the whole kernels or ground up Masa can be dried and then stored in a jar indefinitely. 

Ok let me clarify here for this part as it can get somewhat confusing. The whole nixtamalized corn kernels that have been rinsed and their shells removed is what is commonly known as Hominy. If you grind this product while it is still moist then it produces masa which is a form of dough. Either of these products create Masa Harina if dried and ground to a fine powder. Masa Harina is the best product for long term storage.

Dehydrating Nixtamalized Corn

For dehydrating Masa or Hominy you are best starting with a temp of around 110 to 120 degrees. When dehydrating Masa place dehydrating sheets down and then dehydrate for 6 to 8 hours. For hominy it will take about a day and a half. You can also use an oven for masa, though I am not sure I would with Hominy just due to the time required.

Once dehydrated you can store the Hominy or Masa either in Mylar bags or mason jars. I prefer mason jars

One step I would suggest even though it probably is not needed is to place your jars once filled in the freezer for twenty four hours. This ensures that no weevils are present. It is likely that they did not survive the nixtamalization process. But I add this step just to ensure no eggs were laid during the drying process.

Store these filled jars in a cool dark place. Stored in this manner they will easily last a year or more. It is not normally age that causes Masa Harina to go bad; it is becoming infested with weevils. Even one weevil can ruin an entire pantry if the products are not stored in air tight containers.

Cooking Your Bounty

Both the Hominy and Masa can be used as soon as you complete the Nixtamalization process. 

Hominy can be heated up and eaten as is or prepared into any of the following recipes, just to name a few.

Southwestern Hominy

Hominy Au Gratin

Hominy Chilli W Beans

Masa or Masa Harina can be used to make dozens of recipes, such as the following.

Tamales

Tortillas

Masa Harina Cornbread

Grab some Corn and Ash

Now that you know what Nixtamalization is, have learned a few methods on how to complete the process and have a few recipes to try, why don’t you gather the stuff and give it a try yourself. Nothing tastes better than authentic home cooking and you can get your start now. If you’re here from a survival and preppers stance, which I hope you are, then this is a great way to build up your stock piles and increase nutritional value.

While you are here make sure to check out our article on why you should Prep. Maybe Dehydrating your own Survival Food is more to your liking.

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