How and Why to Nixtamalize Corn


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Nixtamalization is a method of processing corn into masa flour. This is done by soaking the corn kernels in water, then cooking them in lime or other alkaline solution. The resulting dough is ground into masa flour, which is used to make corn tortillas, tamales, and other Mexican dishes.

Masa is a type of corn flour that has been used throughout Mesoamerica since pre-Columbian times. In Mexico, nixtamalization is commonly practiced in rural areas where corn is grown.

This article will cover an overview of the nixtamalization process, benefits, and how to nixtamalize corn.

History of the Nixtamalization Process

The history of nixtamalization goes back thousands of years. It was first discovered by the Aztecs who were farmers living in Mexico.

They noticed that when they soaked their corn kernels in water for several days before grinding it into meal, the flavor improved greatly. When they combined this with the fact that corn was abundant in their region, they started using this as a way to preserve food.

Nixtamalization has been practiced throughout the world since ancient times. In Europe, the Romans used it to make bread. The Chinese also used it to make noodles.

The process has been adopted across many countries and cultures for its benefits. 

Nixtamalization Benefits

Nixtamalization is a very important step in the preparation of corn and can bring out a number of benefits.

  • Easier to Digest – It makes corn easier to digest and helps prevent the formation of harmful compounds.
  • Improved Nutritional Profile – It also improves the nutritional value of corn by making it more readily available to the human digestive tract. 
  • More Flavor and Aroma – It also adds flavor and aroma to foods. This is especially true with nixtamalized corn flour.
  • Better Taste – It also improves the taste of corn.
  • Increased Vitamin Content – It increases the amount of vitamins found in corn.
  • Reduced Toxins – The toxin Mycotoxin can be present in ingredients such as corn, coffee, and peanuts. Nixtamalization will reduce up to 90% of mycotoxin. 
  • Getting Masa Harina – Masa harina is a better corn flour made from ground masa (corn meal). It is commonly used in Latin America to make tortillas, tamales, arepas, and other dishes. It’s smoother and more pliable as a dough.   

How to Make Lime Water

Lime water is the most common method of nixtamalizing corn. The lime water is easy to make and is great to make limed corn flour.

Fresh lime water is prepared by mixing one part pickling lime (or calcium hydroxide) with three parts of spring water. 

Pickling lime can be found online, like this one

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Get yourself a Mason jar to make the lime water in, like this one

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Last update on 2022-10-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Once you have the pickling lime and spring water, mix the two together with 1 part pickling lime and 3 parts water into a mason jar. 

Shake the jar and let it stand for 8-10 hours. Leaving it overnight will be good. The pickling lime will settle down and leave a slightly cloudy liquid. 

The lime water is ready to go whenever you need it. You can store the lime water in a cool, dark place or your refrigerator until you’re ready to use it and nixtamalize corn.

How to Nixtamalize Corn

With the lime water prepared, you can now start the nixtamalization process and make nixtamal. Nixtamal (also known as Hominy) is made by soaking whole corn kernels.

First step is to gather the corn kernels and prepare the corn.

To prepare the corn for nixtamalization, first wash the ears of corn thoroughly. Then cut the kernels off the husks and silk, and remove any damaged or dead corn.

Next, soak the corn in cold water overnight. You’ll want to soak the corn at least 6 hours before cooking. After soaking, drain the corn and rinse them under cold water. The corn is then ready to be cooked. 

Place the rinsed corn into a large pot. Add enough lime water to cover the corn by about an inch. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat. 

Once boiling, lower the heat to low and simmer the corn for 30 minutes.

After simmering, turn off the heat and allow the corn to sit in the water for 8-10 hours or overnight. 

Check the corn to see if it’s been soaking in the liquid enough. Take out a corn kernel, rub it gently and see if the soft exterior will easily come off. It’s the kernel inside that you want to grind into masa that you can use to make tortillas. 

Once the corn has soaked long enough, you can now grind the corn using either a hand grinder or a food processor. If grinding the corn manually, use a mortar and pestle or a heavy duty blender, like a Vitamix. If using a food processor, add the corn to the bowl and pulse several times.

You can now use the grounded corn to make fresh corn tortillas, tamales or arepas by adding some water. 

If you want to use the corn in soups and stew, there’s no need to grind. You can put them in as a whole kernel. 

Nixtamalize Corn Final Thoughts

 All in all, making nixtamalized corn is not difficult but requires patience. 

Corn nixtamalization takes time to get used to working with the lime water and nixtamalizing the corn. But once you’ve done it a few times, it becomes second nature.

You can even grow open pollinated corn in your garden and harvest the corn when it’s ripe. This way, you won’t have to worry about buying seeds every year. Create a sustainable system where you don’t have to buy your own corn and seeds every season. 

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