What Is Corn Masa Flour or Masa Harina?
Masa — sometimes called corn masa flour or masa harina — is a traditional type of flour used to make tamales, tortillas, and many other Mexican favorites. Masa harina means “dough flour” in Spanish, because it’s made from dried masa.
To make masa, field corn is first dried and then soaked and cooked in a solution of lime and water (called slaked lime). This scientific process is called nixtamalization.
The slaked lime loosens the hulls from the kernels of corn and softens the corn. It also reacts with the corn to make it easier to digest.
After it has been soaked and cooked in slaked lime, the corn is then washed and ground into a dough that’s then called masa. When fresh masa is dried and powdered, it becomes the corn masa flour or masa harina you can buy in stores.
Some Mexican markets will sell fresh masa by the pound. Powdered corn masa flour or masa harina is a fine substitute, though, if you can’t find fresh masa. These powdered versions just need water added to turn them into dough to make your favorite Mexican dishes.
If a recipe calls for masa, don’t substitute corn meal or regular corn flour. These other products are made from different types of corn and processed differently. If you use them in a recipe that calls for masa, you won’t end up with the result you expect! For example, regular corn meal made from untreated ground corn will not form dough simply by adding water.
Masa is gluten-free and nutritious. In addition to being low in fat, it’s also cholesterol-free and a good source of calcium. Although it’s popular in Mexican cuisine, masa has a wide variety of uses in many other types of foods.