Here Are The 5 Best Masa Harina Substitutes That Live Up To The Original
If you can’t get a hold of masa harina and you want to make a dish that requires it, here are the five best ingredients that you can use instead of it!
Although I know that it would be nearly impossible for me to just pack my things and leave for Mexico for a few days in reality, as I have two young girls on my hands at home, I do think that this is one thought that has crossed many parents' minds at least from time to time.
Or what, is it just me?
Still, even though I can just fly off to Mexico, put on a sombrero and dance to the fabulous Latina music while being served some of my favorite food in the whole world only in my wildest dreams, I know that I can bring a bit of Mexico to my own home. 🙂
Although being an avid food lover in general, Mexican cuisine is something that has stuck with me since my early days of cooking, and is certainly always among the things that I find it hard to say no to.
As masa harina is an ingredient that many Mexican dishes are based on, let's see what exactly it is, and just how it can be replaced when you don't have the original thing!
What Is Masa Harina & How Is It Made?
What some lovers of Latin American food may not know is that a lot of Mexican dishes are based on a certain ingredient called masa harina. I'm sure you've run into that term when looking for tortilla recipes, for example.
Originally used in the commonly spicy and delicious Mexican cuisine, masa harina stands for "corn flour" in Spanish. It is used the most often to make tasty Latin American meals that we all love, including corn tortillas and tamales. So, let's see how they're actually made!
The corn grains that are used to make this kind of dough are drenched in an alkaline solution in order to absorb it and are then also cooked in it. The solution is most commonly slacked lime, and this is the part where masa harina gets is recognizable taste.
This process is called nixtamalization and has to be done before the preparation of such tasty meals as hominy and tamales.
Later, and after being cooked, the soaked corn will be washed and minced, and after this process, it needs to be dried, and then powdered. And voila! Masa harina is ready to store, and use for some of the most delicious (guilty pleasure) foods of all time!
So, Are There Any Good Substitutes for Masa Harina?
Although masa harina has a very distinctive taste to it, it isn’t as accessible as some of the other ingredients that might do the work just as well.
Even some professional chefs use these substitutes from time to time, so you know they work. They might even give your Mexican dishes a bit of a unique spin.
Stay tuned to find out what these ingredients are!
Further Reading: Popcorn Kernels
The Best Masa Harina Substitutes on the Market
Just as I said, I’ve prepared a list of the best ingredients that can be a proper replacement for masa harina. I am going to describe the characteristics of each one of them for you, and hopefully, you’ll be able to make an informed decision by the end of my list. Let’s do this!
1. Masa Preparada
Also stemming from Mexico, masa preparada is the kind of substitute that can really live up to the expectation. So, what exactly is it?
- For those of you who don’t know any Spanish, masa preparada means “prepared dough,” and it is exactly what its name suggests. The fact alone that this dough is ready-made makes our job as cooks so much easier and gives us an advantage at the very beginning.
- With so many of the steps already done for you, you will love this dough! In addition to it giving you the upper hand at preparing your meal, it’s also a perfect substitute for masa harina for another reason.
- Namely, masa preparada is actually made from masa harina, which means that it will act and taste the same in most dishes! Because of this, it is used in almost the same way, and you don’t have to learn how to use it to prepare meals, as it’s almost the same thing as the original. However, a small downside to this otherwise great product is that it doesn’t last for long, so try to make sure you use it all up quickly upon opening the bag!
2. Ground Hominy
The previous product on the list was made from masa harina, but this product here is actually one of the main ingredients of masa harina itself!
This should make it pretty clear how these two have many similarities in terms of how they act when being prepared with food. They obviously also have a very similar taste.
You’ve probably had polenta for breakfast before. This delicious meal with little calories and fat is actually made mostly from hominy. Hominy is coarsely ground corn that can also be eaten whole.
- IMPORTANT INFO: You will need either a food processor or a grinder in order to incorporate hominy in your meal as a proper substitute for masa harina. This is because the corn needs to be ground. A metate y mano or piedra de moler is an alternative option.
Hominy can be gotten in two different forms – dried and canned. If you happen to prefer canned hominy, you can get it by cooking the dried stuff, no sweat. In either form, it’s a good substitute for masa harina; it just acts a bit differently.
3. A Different Kind of Flour
Since masa harina is a type of flour, it stands to reason that it can be replaced by other kinds of flour. In the case of most recipes, this is true, but it’s not always the case.
- Even when you can substitute masa harina for other kinds of flour, don’t expect the taste and texture of the dish to remain the same. If you’re using a different kind of corn-based flour, it will be almost, but not quite the same. If not, it will be wildly different.
- The dishes where masa harina is not used for flavoring work the best with other types of flour. Chili or different kinds of soups and broths can work almost as well with any type of flour as they do with masa harina.
- If you’re making tortillas or something similar, they might come out significantly different, though still tasty. You’ll have to experiment with different kinds of flour and various dishes to see what works for you and what doesn’t.
Related: Most Recommended Flour Sifters
Grits is an easy-to-make tradition corn-based dish that can be found in almost any store. It was extremely popular in the past due to being so cheap and simple to produce. If you’ve ever seen orphans eating something that looks like white sludge in a movie, it was probably grits.
It is made from broken-off pieces of corn and is basically a by-product of cornmeal. When corn is ground up and screened, the larger pieces are used for grits, while the smaller ones end up being cornmeal.
These days grits can still be found in almost any store and is a decent substitute for masa harina in most dishes that require it. It is a better substitute than cornmeal because, unlike cornmeal, it has the same type of thickness and similar texture to masa harina.
- MAKING GRITS: If you want to make grits, it’s an incredibly simple process. Just heat up some water and butter on the stove, add grits, cook it for 40 minutes and you’re done. If you want to use it as a standalone meal just use more water than if you want to use it in another dish.
5. Try Making Masa Harina On Your Own!
If all else fails, this is your last resort – making your own masa harina at home. It’s a bit of a challenge, but it’s possible to do it.
- You will need dried whole-grain corn and some powdered lime or calcium hydroxide. You can get these at almost any store near you, not just those specialized for Mexican food.
- The process of making your own masa harina can be quite challenging, and you can find a lot of recipes online. I’m sure I’ll share my own on the site sometime in the future, but it’s a bit too long of a process for this article I’m afraid. However, once you try it, I’m sure you’ll find that it’s more than worth it to make masa harina with your own two hands!
The Final Word
As you can see, even if you don’t have access to masa harina near you, that shouldn’t stop you from trying to make delicious Mexican dishes!
Where there’s a will, there’s a way and masa harina can definitely be substituted – or you can just make your own. I’m always up for a challenge, so I always prefer the last option myself, but I know that not everyone has the time or the will for that.
Of course, these are not all the masa harina substitutes out there, just the ones I prefer the most. If you have any others to recommend, please do so in the comments, or post any questions you might have and I’ll try to answer them as quickly as possible.
I hope you’ll have fun making Mexican food and I’ll see you next time! 😉