What Is Masa?

Corn is a jack-of-all-trades. It’s the base for countless foodstuffs—corn nuts, corn ribs, cornbread, corn syrup—and today we’re hitting you with yet another corn-based delight: masa. What is masa? It’s basically dough made with ground corn traditionally used to make tamales, tortillas (the corn ones, at least), and many other Latin American favorites. But that’s not all; there’s so much more to discuss. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and roll out the dough, it’s time to talk masa!

What is masa made of?

Masa is a dough made from ground corn kernels. But not fresh-off-the-ear kernels! To make masa, you first have to cook starchy corn kernels in an alkaline solution (such as lime and water or wood ash and water). After that, the corn is washed to remove any excess alkali. This process, called nixtamalization, produces nixtamal, which you can then ground up to make masa harina. 

What is masa harina?

Masa harina literally translates to “dough flour.” It’s the powder you get when you grind up nixtamal (corn kernels that have been cooked in an alkaline solution). And it’s the flour you use to make masa! 

Is masa cornmeal?

When discussing the great “masa harina vs cornmeal” debate (which really ought to be televised, just to give voters a broader spectrum of the issue), it all comes down to our old friend, nixtamalization. While cornmeal and masa harina (the base flour used to make masa) are both made from ground corn, masa harina is made from nixtamalized ground corn, aka corn cooked in an alkaline solution. This process gives masa harina a savory flavor that you won’t find in cornmeal. 

Is masa gluten free?

Masa is naturally gluten-free. So, if you’re looking for a gluten-free substitution for flour, masa harina could be a smart choice when making your next dinner! Or lunch! Dare we say even breakfast! 
So, while it may not be the flour you gift a partner on Valentine’s Day (unless they’re really excited to make tortillas for date night), masa harina is still certainly an incredible addition to your kitchen inventory. In fact, if anything, masa flour is more useful than a bouquet of flowers, because it won’t wilt in a few days.

About the Author

Joe Rumrill

Joe Rumrill is a fictional one-eyed spinach-loving sailor created in 1929 by E.C Se- Wait, no, that's not right... Joe Rumrill is a stand up comedian and writer currently based in Los Angeles. His favorite thing about food is a close tie between the taste and the nutrients one gets from it. His least favorite thing about it is the "gritty, dirt-like quality some food has", but he's most likely referring to the time in third grade he was dared to eat playground sand.

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