Which is the Best Masa Harina Substitute?
Masa Harina is a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine, particularly to make soups, corn tortillas and tamales. This fine and powdery substance is a corn meal product and is the flour used to make Mexican dishes. It is ground from hominy, which is corn that is boiled in water and lye or lime — calcium hydroxide — to remove the kernel from the hull.
It can be pretty cumbersome to make Masa Harina, so if you’re looking for a substitute for it, you’re going to save a lot of time, for sure. In certain cases, you may have to sacrifice texture for taste.
How Masa Harina is made
After corn has been dried, cooked in water and slaked lime, ground and dried once more, you get Masa Harina. When water is added to this powder, you get a dough or “masa” from which corn tortillas are made. Here’s a video on how to make Masa Harina:
Masa Harina Substitutes
There are food experts who will tell you that there can never be any substitute for Masa Harina. But if you’re desperate for something when you’re in the midst of cooking, you need to know what you can use. For those moments, here is a list of substitutes for Masa Harina:
- Fresh Masa: This is a corn dough that was used to make Masa Harina in the olden days. First, the dough is dried completely and then ground to make Masa Harina corn flour. Corn kernels, dried completely, are boiled in water together with lime which breaks the corn kernel to form hominy. This makes the corn easily digestible.
Though fresh Masa is difficult to source, yet it is better than Masa Harina to make tortillas and tamales. To make tamales, it’s best to go with coarse Masa, while corn tortillas are best made with finely ground Masa. Since fresh Masa is already in dough form, all you need do is to roll it out and cook, while Masa Harina needs to be dried and then made a dough of.
- Raw Polenta: A dish from northern Italy, this Masa Harina substitute resembles yellow porridge or grits. Today, polenta is made with ground cornmeal and is the perfect substitute for Masa Harina. If you buy dry finely ground polenta. There are times when you can’t find dry polenta but you see it in a tube. Use the latter as a thickening agent for your dish.
- Ground-up Corn Tortillas: Made from Masa Harina, corn tortillas are another great substitute for Masa Harina. To the mix, all you need do is to add some kosher salt and hot water. Generally, ground-up corn tortillas are used only as soup thickeners. To get the best out of this product, go in for the baked version rather than the fried. You can either crumble the chips in your hand or put them through a food processor to get a fine consistency.
- Ground Hominy: Hominy is the chief ingredient in Masa Harina as also in polenta and the Mexican drink, atole. It is made of corn kernels and can also be eaten whole. If you want to use this ingredient as a Masa Harina substitute, grind the corn in a food processor. To buy hominy, go to any Latin American grocery store.
- Cornmeal: It’s not necessary that you use Masa Harina to make corn tortillas. You can also use it to make plain cornmeal. You’ll find that no matter how much you grind cornmeal, it will always be coarser than finely-ground Masa Harina. So, mix it with all-purpose flour so that you get a texture that is quite like conventional Masa Harina, as used to make corn tortillas. To make two cups of Masa Harina, use cornmeal and all-purpose flour in the ratio of 2/3: 1 1/3. As you probably know, lime isn’t used to boil with ground cornmeal, so you can add a little into the dough, if you wish.
- Cornstarch: Often, Masa Harina is added to soups for thickening, including soups like chicken tortilla and chilli. First, a slurry is made of Masa Harina and cold water and gently stirred into the soup to let it thicken and simmer. If you run out of Masa Harina and your soup is way too thin, substitute the Harina for cornstarch, adding a little at a time until you get the desired consistency. Since cornstarch has a fine texture, your soup won’t look or taste gritty.
- Arrowroot Powder: This is a kind of starch that comes from the arrowroot plant’s root. As you would do with cornstarch, with this Masa Harina substitute too you need to make a slurry of one part of the powder and another of wine, water or any other liquid and thicken your sauce, soup or jam.
Arrowroot is preferred because its extraction process is very organic and therefore it does not call for the use of harsh chemicals. There are also fewer chances of it having genetically modified ingredients. A point to be noted is that arrowroot should never be combined with dairy products or it will form an ugly mix.
- Grits: Here’s a Masa Harina substitute that’s made from hominy, so once again this one too’s treated with lime. Apart from fresh Masa Harina, grits are the closest substitutes to this fine flour. However, they are far coarser than coarsely-ground Masa that’s used to make tamales. They may not be perfect substitutes for Masa Harina, still you can powder them in a food processor and get a texture similar to that of Masa Harina.
- Fresh Masa Preparada: Fresh corn masa is also called Masa Preparada. It is a dough made using freshly ground hominy, instead of Masa Harina flour. You can also buy smoothly prepared Masa Preparada which comes with a short shelf life.
These substitutes to Masa Harina are so many and so varied in their uses that any one of them can be of immense value to you in the kitchen. To use them, first experiment using a small quantity of it and improvise as you go along. This way, you can never go wrong with these substitutes.