What is Nixtamalization? And Why You Should Know?

Categories: Education

Nixtamalization (from the Spanish "Nixtamalización") describes the process for any grain that can be used to remove the pericarp, by cooking and steeping the dried kernels with water and lime (calcium hydroxide). This process provides several nutritional benefits, converting maize into dough and then tortillas.

In Mexico alone there are more than 300 food products derived from nixtamalization.

The indigenous peoples of the Americas have been growing and breeding the plant we know today as corn, Zea mays, for thousands of years. Over that same period of time, they also developed a process for making the kernels of the plant much more nutritious and delicious. This process is called nixtamalization.  

It involves cooking and steeping the dried corn kernels in an alkaline solution, then cooking them until tender.  At this point the corn is called nixtamal and can be ground into masa for tortillas, tamales, or hundreds of other dishes.  The whole corn nixtamal can also be eaten as is, and then it is usually called hominy.  In Mexico and the Southwest it is commonly added to soups or stews along with meat, peppers, and other seasonings to make pozole.

The nixtamalization process releases niacin, a vital nutrient.

When Europeans integrated corn into their diets and introduced it into Africa they didn’t understand the importance of nixtamalizing the corn.  Many Europeans and Africans developed niacin deficiency as a result, which often led to the serious and often fatal disease pellagra.  The niacin deficiency also led to protein deficiency in many cultures, and the resultant disease kwashkiorkor.


In contrast, nixtamalized corn was eaten by Native Americans in combination with beans, which provided an amino acid balance and served as an important source of protein in the diet, making corn a nourishing staple food in the Americas for thousands of years even when other sources of protein were scarce.

found via ThreeStoneHearth

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