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Nov 9, 2012 09:10 AM

Canned corn + baking soda = Nixtamal, masa and tortillas?


I found this simple recipe for making corn tortillas from scratch:

Now, although it's a time-consuming process, it seems simple enough, so I figured I should give it a try. However, I have a couple of problems. Apart from water, I only need two ingredients (corn and lime), neither of which are easy for me to find here in Norway. So, I was wondering:

a) Will canned corn give similar results? I mean, in the recipe the corn is supposed to be cooked (with lime) anyway, so I figure using canned might be a viable option?

b) I understand the lime is added to make the water alkaline. So, if I can't find any pickling lime, could I use some other alkaline ingredient instead? Simplest option here would be baking soda (bicarbonate of soda). But if substituting baking soda for lime, how much would I need to use? I guess baking soda is perhaps less alkaline than lime, so I would have to use more?

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  1. a) Canned corn is sweet corn. The corn used in tortillas is generally a larger kernel corn called cacahuazintle. Most dry dent corn will work. It needs to be raw. Canned corn is generally cooked -- at least here in the US -- so I doubt it would work.
    b) You need slaked lime. I seriously doubt the baking soda would Nixtamalize the corn. Nixtamalizaton traditionally used ashes. See the recipe here

    I think nixtamal was discussed a few months ago here. Check out the search.

    Making nixtamal is a lot of work. Note that the corn needs to soak for a few days, preferably two weeks.

    3 Replies
    1. re: travelerjjm

      Sodium bicarbonate is too mild an alkali. Sodium carbonate is stronger, as is sodium hydroxide. It is possible to make sodium carbonate (washing soda) by baking sodium bicarbonate. Slaked lime is calcium hydroxide.

      1. re: travelerjjm

        Why is it so important that it's raw? The very first thing you're supposed to do with it is drop it into boiling water, right?

        Anyway, probably won't ever get this to work here in Norway then. But I don't understand why you say it's a lot of work. From the web page I linked to, it seems quite easy: Combine corn, water and lime, boil 10 minutes, and wait 2 weeks.

        1. re: henrikbe

          The original purpose was to remove the hard hull from field corn, the kind of dry corn that more often (in the modern world) is used as animal feed. The treated corn is also easier to grind by hand. As for the work, note this line from my link: " rinse the corn in a colander to remove all traces of the lime while rubbing the kernals to remove the softened hulls."

          Perhaps more important than the 'cooked or not', is the starchiness of the corn. The corn that is canned, and meant to be eaten as a vegetable, has a higher sugar content. Also higher water content. Have you tried pureeing canned corn, say in the blender or foodprocessor. You will probably get a wet sweet slurry, not something you can form into a dough and bake like lefse.

          In South America they do make a tamale like food using fresh ground corn, called an humita. Though even in that case, sweet corn is probably too wet, though one might approximate the dough by adding a finely ground corn meal (corn flour) to corn puree.

      2. Are you able to Order Nixtamale by Mail? I really do not think you are going to endup with a workable Masa from what you described.
        You would get better results from Masa Harina than trying to mess around with Canned Corn.

        1. Found some folks looking for Mexican supplies in Norway and they mentioned these places
          Middlethons Bunnpris in Tasta-Stavanger
          Ethnic shops the sentrum in Sandnes
          Fresh Tomatillos at Coop Mega in Tvedt Senter
          Also sounds like others in Norway are able to get "Bob's Red Mill" Masa Harina though I can not tell if the orederit or found it in a store.

          2 Replies
          1. re: chefj

            Thanks, I'll check out some ethnic shops then!

          2. No, sorry. You simply don't have access to the right ingredients.