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Apr 16, 2010 04:08 PM

corn meal vs. semolina vs. masa harina

What differentiates one from the other (and when to use which one and why?)

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  1. In a nut shell.........

    Corn meal....finely ground corn...Uses are numerous...Corn bread, coating on fried fish etc....Why? Because it taste good!

    Semolina is Wheat (not corn) used to make pasta..

    Masa harina (dough flour)... field corn (not sweet) is dried and then treated/soaked in a solution of lime and water.This loosens the hulls from the kernels and softens the corn. The soaked corn is then washed, and the wet corn is ground into a dough, called masa. It is this fresh masa (dough), when dried and powdered, that becomes masa harina (dough flour)....

    Used in making Tortillas, Hot tamales etc, etc.. Why? It gives the products made from it a characteristic flavor...HTH

    14 Replies
    1. re: Uncle Bob

      You have such an encyclopedic wealth of knowledge, Uncle Bob, and as usual, well said.

      Can I ask you this, since I don't know enough Spanish to ask my Guatamalan housekeeper and make any sense, why do some recipes call for a different kind of masa harina for making tamales or tortillas? Specifically I'm referring to the fine cooking article in this past Holiday's mag, I would post a link for you if I could remember my da*#@! password!!

      1. re: Phurstluv

        I speak no Spanish.....Not aware of different kinds of masa harina...My "wealth of knowledge" is very limited :)

        Have a drink and remember your #%@&8 password!! LOL!!


        1. re: Phurstluv

          masa harina for tamales is a bit coarser grind than that intended for tortillas.

          1. re: paulj

            Thank you, Paulj, I believe that was the whole point, the recipe called for a coarser grind, and LA supermarkets (not the carnicerias, mind you) only carry one grind.

            1. re: Phurstluv

              Rick Bayless (in his first cookbook) has no problem with using the finer masa harina . He lists this under 'Nuevo Leon' style. He also suggest using a mix of masa harina and quick grits (which he runs through the blender to make finer).

              1. re: paulj

                For tamales? Or for Arepas, see below? Good to know either way, maybe I will do a search for some of his stuff....

          2. re: Phurstluv

            WOW you have a housekeeper you can't talk to and you have no clue on a password?

            1. re: Quine

              Hahaha!! No, that's not right, I can communicate with her, it's just about on a 1st grade level.

              And yeah, haven't you ever forgotten an internet password before?? Sheesh!!

          3. re: Uncle Bob

            Some sources confuse semolina and farina (cream of wheat). Farina is from a softer wheat.

            Semolina comes in various grinds. A finer one intended for pasta, a coarser one can be made into a polenta like porridge.

            Note also that corn meal can have various grinds. And overlaps with polenta (Italian corn meal), and grits.

            To confuse things more there's a cooked corn flour used to make corn cakes (arepas) in Columbia and Venezuela

            1. re: paulj

              Oh, I love arepas also!! But I guess I've never had an authentic one since that Gourmet recipe I used once did call for white arepas flour, which my poor housekeeper searched all of East LA for & couldn't find so we used masa harina instead. Good thing was the guests of the party were none the wiser and inhaled the carnitas w/pickled red onions on False Arepas anyway!!

              1. re: paulj

                Goya brand Masarepa is what you want for arepas. It's a pre-cooked corn flour and it has a unique taste. I'm sure there are other brands available but this is the one I can find most readily and use.

                1. re: bushwickgirl

                  We don't have that brand here, in the stores & carnicerias that we checked. Maybe I can find it online, but my "arepas", made with the traditional masa harina seemed to turn out just fine.

                  1. re: Phurstluv

                    Some times shops will have a section(s) devoted to non-Mexican hispanic items. For example various Peruvian chiles (aji) in dried and paste form. This is where you are most likely to find 'masaarepa'. Pan is another common brand.