6 Amazing Masa Harina Substitutes

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Outside of Mexico and Central America, masa harina substitutes are often necessary, as the ingredient can be hard to find. Latin markets will carry it, but it is not commonly stocked at average supermarkets. Having a knowledge of masa harina substitutes makes preparing Mexican and Central American meals easier where ingredients from those regions are rare.

Masa Harina Substitutes

A staple ingredient in Latin American cuisine, masa harina is a dried corn flour. Also known as maseca, after the most popular brand, this fine flour comes from hominy – corn that has been cooked with slaked lime (calcium chloride). This process, called nixtamalization, releases more nutrients from the corn and allows masa harina to be made into a sticky dough when mixed with water. This dough, called masa, is the basis for tortillas, tamales, and pupusas. The dried flower is also used to thicken soups and sauces.

It is difficult and even dangerous to make at home because slaked lime can cause chemical burns, lung damage, and even blindness if handled improperly. Fortunately, there are many substitutes for masa harina that are readily available, including cornmeal and flour, hominy, ground tortillas, polenta, corn grits, and cornstarch among others.

Cornmeal and Flour

For making homemade tortillas, this is the easiest replacement. Mix two parts all-purpose flour with one part fine-ground cornmeal and use this mixture as the basis for your dough.

Hominy

Available canned or sometimes dried, this is the treated corn that is used to make masa harina. Mashup canned hominy, or cook and mash the dried version.

Ground Tortillas

If you have corn tortillas and are making a different recipe, simply grind the tortillas in a food processor and use this hardy mixture in place of maseca.

Polenta

Although it is coarser than masa harina, polenta is made from corn and can be substituted in certain recipes, such as soups. Polenta can also be ground more finely using a food processor or grain mill.

Corn Grits

These are similar to polenta, and can sometimes be found in a more finely ground form.

Cornstarch

If masa harina is needed as a thickener, cornstarch will work in its place. However, the flavor will be less distinct, so use this cautiously if the recipe has a delicate flavor balance.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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