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Flowchart of Nixtamalization process.svg
The process of making masa from maize
Type Dough
Associated national cuisine Mexico
Main ingredients Hominy
Cookbook: Masa  Media: Masa

Masa (English: /ˈmɑːsə/; Spanish pronunciation: [ˈmasa]) or masa harina is a maize (corn) flour or dough that has been soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution in the nixtamalization process. It is used for making corn tortillas, tamales, pupusas, and many other Latin American dishes. The full name is masa de maíz; the dried and powdered form is called masa harina, masa de harina, and sometimes Maseca, the name of a leading commercial brand. It is reconstituted with water before use.[1]

In Spanish masa harina translates to 'dough flour' and can refer to many types of dough in addition to the specific subject of this article.


Field corn (maize) grain is dried and then treated by soaking and cooking the mature (hard) grain in a diluted solution of slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) or wood ash, a process termed nixtamalization, and which produces hominy, which is ground to create masa.

Lime and ash are highly alkaline: the alkalinity helps the dissolution of hemicellulose, the major glue-like component of the maize cell walls, and loosens the hulls from the kernels and softens the corn. Some of the corn oil is broken down into emulsifying agents (monoglycerides and diglycerides), while bonding of the corn proteins to each other is also facilitated. The divalent calcium in lime acts as a cross-linking agent for protein and polysaccharide acidic side chains.[2] The soaked maize is washed, and then ground into masa. When fresh masa is dried and powdered, it becomes masa seca or masa harina.

The chemical changes in masa allow dough formation, and also allows the nutrient niacin to be absorbed by the digestive tract. By contrast, untreated cornmeal is unable to form a dough on the addition of water, and a diet heavily reliant on its consumption is a risk factor for pellagra.[3]

Other uses

The ground product can be called masa nixtamalera. In Central American and Mexican cuisine, masa nixtamalera is cooked with water and milk to make a thick, gruel-like beverage called atole[citation needed]. When made with chocolate and sugar, it becomes atole de chocolate[citation needed]. Adding anise and piloncillo to this mix creates champurrado, a popular breakfast drink.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Kennedy, Diana (1975). The Tortilla Book. Harper and Row. ISBN 9780060123475. 
  2. ^ Harold McGee (2004). On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York, New York (USA): Scribner. p. 478. ISBN 978-0-684-80001-1. Retrieved 23 January 2013. 
  3. ^ Food and Agriculture Organization (1992). "Maize in human nutrition". United Nations. Retrieved 2007-01-12.