I find it interesting that our society has taken what has been a nourishing food eaten at most meals for generations and turned it into one of the most toxic ingredients in our food chain. Now corn is in everything and in many strange forms. As a sweetener it is prevalent, as a filler it is everywhere, and as a GMO grain it fills our grocery stores. But it wasn’t always like this. Heirloom corn was eaten in South America for generations with good results, but this corn was nixtamalized. The nixtamalization of corn isn’t exactly a culturing process. It is, however, a historic means by which a society improved the quality of their raw ingredients, making them more digestible and unlocking certain nutrients for better health. In those terms, nixtamalization isn’t that far off from fermentation. The process isn’t all that different from souring grains, either, in that time and liquid are involved. The other key ingredient is lime, and not the citrus fruit. Let’s take a closer look at this age-old practice and which common corn foods can be made from them. In many South American regions, nixtamal (corn masa that has been nixtamalized) is still being made in small batches every day. This is then used to make some of the most delicious and ubiquitous foods of South America:
fresh corn tortillas
tamales with various fillings
These foods are often eaten with other flavors of the regions including beans, meat, chilies, and vegetables. Tortillas are especially popular in some areas, being eaten at every meal.
To Make Nixtamal You Need Two Things:
Quality corn. Finding organic, non-gmo heirloom corn can be a challenge but it’s worth the time. Lime. This is also known as pickling lime or calcium hydroxide. Do use caution with this stuff as it is quite potent. The first step is to cook whole corn with the lime water. For each cup of whole corn you can use 1 Tablespoon pickling lime. Mix these together in a large pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for about 15 – 30 minutes. It’s a good idea to check the corn after 15 minutes. It is done if the skin easily slips away from the rest of the kernel. If not, cook a bit longer and check again after 5 more minutes. Try not to overcook the corn, though. When the corn is done, simply turn off the burner, cover the pot, and allow to soak for 8-24 hours. When ready, pour the corn through a collander and rinse 3-5 times until the water runs clear. While rinsing the corn, rub it together with your hands to remove the outer skins which should pull away easily. The corn is now ready to be used as an ingredient (hominy) or ground in a food processor in small batches or using a traditional corn grinder. This then is your masa dough for making tortillas the like. It might seem complicated but the hands-on time is fairly minimal.