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What is masa harina?

masa harinaWhen a recipe calls for cornmeal, it is usually referring to a slightly coarse and sandy flour made from ground, dried corn. It’s perfect for cornbread (for instance) and is widely used in other types of cooking, but in Mexico, Central and South America, this coarse type of cornmeal is not popular and a different type is used: masa harina.

Masa harina is a very finely ground corn flour made from corn that has been dried, cooked, ground up and dried again. The cooking water always contains slaked lime, also known as “limewater,” which gives masa harina its distinctive taste. It has a soft texture and reconstitutes very easily with water, so it is ideal for making easy-to-shape doughs.

When masa harina is mixed with water and a dough forms, it is generally just called masa (spanish for “dough”), and although the masa harina can be reconstituted with many other liquids – from water to eggs to oil – water is generally the most common. The most widely seen use of masa is in making corn tortillas. To make them, masa is simply mixed with water and salt, then mixture is rolled out and steamed or fried. Other uses for masa include empanadas, tamales, pupusas (an El Salvadorian specialty), arepas (small stuffed breads popular in Colombia and Venezuela).

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21 Comments
  • sara no h.
    July 21, 2008

    Heh, what a timely post – Chef Hamilton just used some of this stuff on Iron Chef America in Battle Zucchini and I had been wondering what it was. She made some kind of frozen lollipop treat with it … anyway, thanks for the information!

  • Jenny
    July 23, 2008

    I have been going crazy trying to get the name of that “FROZEN LOLLIPOP” treat that Chef Hamilton made on Iron Chef America battle zucchini… what was it?

  • gaby
    January 26, 2009

    hello I want just to let you know that masa harina it’s not cornmeal they are 2 totaly different things this masa harina we used to do tamales tortillas etc.. the cornmeal comes form granding popcorn or dent corn but to do masa harina you use white corn that is dry

    2 dif. things

    tanks!!!

  • laila
    September 29, 2009

    Hii So Like what exactly is it is it cornflour
    ????? :S :/

  • art
    September 22, 2010

    The type of corn (there are 7 types) that is used for Masa Harina is the Flour type. Overall it has a very soft kernel when compared to the common field corn (Dent) type that is grown in the USA.

  • Dorothy Reis
    January 31, 2013

    thank you , Chilis chicken enchillada soup calls for this and I couldnt find it. Now that I have, I bought big bag and must find more recipes for this. thanks again.

  • Masa
    December 23, 2009

    […] types of corn and are processed differently. They will not produce the same results. Here is what the package looks like and some more info about […]

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