After meaning to for a number of years, I've finally made masa harina out of some flint corn that I grew--it is delicious! There are a few threads on making nixtamal, but I thought this would be a good new thread
(plus I have pictures!)
I wanted to make masa using wood
ashes rather than lime, given the relatively high energy
intensity of lime (and the fact that I cannot, at present, make it myself). However, procuring wood ashes has been a perennial
challenge, as I have been flatting, and many flats don't have fire places, and it has been more difficult than I anticipated getting clean ash from untreated wood. Having a South African flatmate saw us building a braai (a sort of wood-fired barbecue), which meant I could finally make some masa harina, which is otherwise difficult to procure locally as well as expensive.
A number of scientific studies exist comparing wood ashes and slaked lime for making nixtamal--these provided a range of traditional ratios of dried corn to wood ash
. By weight, a common figure was 1 part corn to 0.8 parts ash. By volume, this is closer to 1 part corn to 0.5-2 parts ash. The right value likely depends on the types of hardwood comprising the ashes, as well as how long the ashes are stored. Ashes are good at binding CO2
from the atmosphere, making them less caustic over time (and why they are being used in all manner of CO2 scrubbers being devised for coal and oil plants). As my ashes were half fresh, and half a month old, I used a 1:1 ratio by volume.
I started by sifting the ashes through a fine sieve, to avoid hunks of charcoal getting stuck in the corn. To reduce cooking time, I soaked the corn in ash water
overnight to hydrate it. I only had to boil it for ~20 minutes before the corn was fully cooked and smelled of delicious tortillas. After it cooled, I returned the corn and ash water to its original jar and let it sit overnight. I had heard a lot of bad things about washing the ashes out of the corn, but it was pretty easy--put it all in a bowl of water and just pull out the kernels with a slotted spoon
, or even your hands. Do this a couple times--use a sieve or colander or whatever is to hand to help out. My end result had virtually no grit from the ash. As a bonus, the wash liquid can be applied (sparingly) to brassicas, tomatoes
, and root
vegetables, which need lots of phosphorous, potassium, and calcium.
The kernels were very tasty as-is at this point, but I wanted to make masa harina so I could make tortillas later. As I was concerned that the kernels might not dry very quickly whole, I ran the lot through my mincer, then spread it on the dehydrator
's trays. Worked a treat, and was easy to grind afterward! I really like this methodology, as it circumvents the use of industrially produced lime and significantly decreases the cook time of the corn. The wash water, being reduced significantly of its caustic power is useful afterward in the garden
rather than as a weed killer--what's not to love?
Here's the short version--low-energy masa harina
Place 2c of flint corn into a jar with 2c finely sifted wood ashFill with water and soak overnightBoil corn-ash mixture until corn is fully cooked (20 min in this case)Return to jar and let sit for 24 hoursWash corn 2-4x in water, using a sieve or slotted spoon to retrieve corn from the ash-laden water. No need to remove the skins for making masa harina.Run the masa through a meat grinder to crush it and prepare it for dryingDry pellets in a solar dehydratorOnce dry, run through a flour millEnjoy your masa!
Have you tried using wood ash to nixtamalise corn? How do you like it compared to using lime? Do you make dried masa or use it fresh? Pictures of nixtamal, masa harina and home-made tortillas very welcome!