12 Best Masa Harina Substitutes That You Can Try

Masa Harina

You decide to try those tortillas you had at your favorite restaurant and even challenged your Mexican friend that you would make authentic tortillas. Unfortunately, you find yourselves out of masa harina. What can help you win this affair of honor? 

Don’t worry; this article will help you win the duel. Also, if you wonder what masa harina is and its relation to tortillas (You are like Rachel Greene from F.R.I.E.N.D.S when it comes to cooking, I guess), then it’s time to brush up on your cooking knowledge. 

Masa harina is a staple ingredient in many Mexican and Latin American dishes. This flour is made from finely ground corn kernels.

You must be crossing your eyebrows by now. Am I talking about corn flour? Of course not. You will find the difference if you continue reading. 

Some of the best masa harina substitutes are cornmeal, cornstarch, masa preparada, grits, and corn tortillas.

Before we get on to the substitutes of masa harina, shall we go through the doughy world of masa harina? Come on!

Quick Peek: Masa Harina

Masa Harina

The following scribbles tell you what masa harina is, its flavor, texture, culinary uses, and health benefits.

What Is Masa Harina?

Masa harina, in Spanish, translates to dough flour. It is flour prepared by grinding fine corn kernels cooked and soaked in an alkaline solution (usually calcium hydroxide). This process is known as nixtamalization. 

Masa harina can be white, yellow, or blue in color. When added to water, Masa harina becomes masa or masa dough – masa dough is the secret ingredient to those authentic, delicious tortillas. Ta-da!

Masa Harina Vs. Corn Flour

So, the difference between masa harina and cornflour? Corn flour is simply the ground version of dried corn kernels, while masa harina is the ground version of nixtamalized corn kernels.

Describing Masa Harina: Flavor and Texture

Masa harina has a nutty, buttery flavor which is not the same as cornflour. It is because of the nixtamalization that is involved in the making of masa harina.

Masa harina has a subtle flavor which makes it the perfect base ingredient. It has a smooth texture and is white in color. 

Uses of Masa Harina

In a Mexican household, masa harina is a typical ingredient used for everyday meals like tortillas, gorditas, tamales, pupusas, and several fillings such as tostadas, tamales, tacos, tlacoyos, and tlayudas.

The nixtamalized corn renders a subtle, nutty, buttery, sour flour and is indispensable in preparing those yummy tortillas. It has a rich flavor with a gritty texture suitable for dredging ingredients before frying. What is dredging, you ask?

Dredging is the process of coating an ingredient in a dry substance like flour or breadcrumbs. It finds a fascinating use in preparing foods that demand crispy and crunchy textures. It also works as a great thickening agent in sauces, soups, and drinks.

Heard of the famous Mexican drink atole? This drink uses masa harina, thickened with water, cinnamon, and vanilla. Atole is often consumed for breakfast or as an after-dinner snack.

Masa Harina On The Health Radar | Looking Through The Wellness Telescope

Masa harina is an incredibly healthy ingredient that should be considered a staple in your kitchen. You wonder why? Read on!

Masa harina is naturally gluten-free and rich in niacin, a B-vitamin vital for converting food into energy. It helps to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart diseases.

Since the corn used to prepare masa harina is soaked in calcium hydroxide, masa harina is also rich in calcium. Masa harina is also a good protein, carbohydrate, and fiber source. It aids in weight loss and reduces constipation.

Why Should We Substitute Masa Harina?

Masa harina is a versatile ingredient used in cooking for thickening and baking purposes. But it is not easy to find this flour every time you need it. This necessitates finding good substitutes for it so that you don’t ruin your day and dish.

Even though it is uncommon, some of us may develop slight allergic reactions to corn, forcing us to seek alternatives for masa harina. 

Shall we now get back to winning the game with a bunch of masa harina substitutes? Look at the list of substitutes given below.

12 Best Masa Harina Substitutes

Behold the list of twelve best substitutes for masa harina.

1. Cornmeal

Cornmeal

Cornmeal is the flour of ground-dried corn kernels. It has a fine, uniform texture that varies from fine, medium to coarse varieties.

Cornmeal can easily replace Masa Harina due to the similarity in taste and texture. To replicate the exact taste of Masa Harina, you might have to add a spoon of lime juice when using cornmeal. 

If you don’t have cornmeal, then I have a solution for that as well. Here is a list of cornmeal substitutes that you can try.

2. Cornstarch

Cornstarch

Cornstarch is made from the endosperm of corn kernels. This starchiest part which comes to us as cornstarch can be an alternative to masa harina to thicken soups, sauces, marinades, and gravies.

However, it may not emulate the distinctive flavor of masa harina. Want a recipe with cornstarch? Here is the recipe for Hong Kong style ginger lobster. Do give it a try!

3. Ground Hominy

Hominy

The term hominy actually means milled corn. Hominy refers to the food produced using dried corn kernels subjected to alkalization. It can be made from white as well as yellow maize. 

The exposure to an alkaline solution discards the hull and germ of the corn, causing it to expand in size.

Hominy has a corn-like flavor and a fluffy, chewy texture. Since hominy is the major ingredient in preparing masa harina, ground hominy can be used to replace masa harina effortlessly.

4. Masa Preparada

Masa Preparada

Masa preparada is basically prepared masa harina. This Spanish dough is easily available in pouches, and you can use it directly to prepare tortillas and tamales.

The characteristic flavor of masa harina can be matched by using masa preparada. But it is not a highly recommended alternative due to its low shelf life and high cost.

5. Grits

Polenta

Grits are powdered versions of milled and boiled corn kernels treated with alkaline solutions. They are made from white corn. They have a sweet, corn-like flavor with a coarse texture, unlike masa harina, which has a fine texture. 

Grits can be an alternative to masa harina due to the similar primary ingredient they share. For a smooth texture like masa harina, grind grits in a food processor before using. 

6. Polenta

Polenta

The Italian dish Polenta is made of coarse-ground yellow corn. It is very similar to grits but with added grains. Polenta is available in two varieties – dried and precooked. Polenta is a gluten-free substitute for masa harina.

Dry polenta can easily replace masa harina, while precooked polenta can be used as a thickening agent. Precooked polenta is commonly seen and sold as a polenta roll known as tubed polenta. 

Want to make polenta at home? Here is Christian Petroni’s polenta recipe

for you. It is chef’s kiss.

7. Corn Tortillas

Corn Tortillas

Have a few leftover tortillas? Great. Tortillas are prepared using masa harina as the primary base. Grind them in a food processor to effortlessly swap with masa harina.

Ground tortillas work perfectly well as a masa harina alternative that can be used to prepare tortillas and tamales. It can also be used in any recipe that calls for masa harina.

Remember to opt for plain tortillas as flavored ones can overpower other ingredients in your dishes.You can also opt to choose tortilla chips which are baked corn tortillas cut into various shapes to replace masa harina.

8. Ground Taco Shells

Ground Taco Shells

It is incredibly hard to say no to taco shells. Those delicious, crispy snacks are worthy alternatives for masa harina. A Taco shell is a popular Mexican dish that comprises a tortilla that is stuffed with meat, cheese, veggies, or salsa. 

Taco shells have an enriching flavor similar to corn but with the added goodness of other ingredients. Ground taco shells can be used to substitute for masa harina due to the similarities in flavor. 

If you can get your hands on some corn tostadas, which are basically a flat taco shells, consider yourself to have another worthy substitute for masa harina.

9. Arrowroot Powder

Arrowroot Powder

Arrowroot powder is obtained from grinding roots of the tropical plant Arrowroot. It is a white powder with heavy starch content. This gluten-free, vegan alternative is one of the healthiest substitutes for masa harina.

Arrowroot powder can also be used for thickening sauces, soups, and gravies.

With lots of health benefits, arrowroot powder is a little costly substitute for masa harina. It may not be the best call for use in recipes that comprise dairy products due to the resulting slimy texture. 

10. Flour

Flour

Flours of various kinds are readily available in your pantry, and they work really well as thickeners and stabilizing agents. Swapping masa harina with flour should be your last call since it can never emulate the unique flavor of masa harina.

That said, rice flour, wheat flour, and potato flour are options that can be tried out. By trying out adding flavors or essences, you can determine how well flour can be used as a viable substitute.

It may not be a viable masa harina substitute but you can make great things from flour. Here is the recipe for the best French crêpes made from flour.

11. Flaxseed

Flaxseed

You never thought flaxseed could be an alternative for masa harina, huh? I never thought so too. But guess what? Ground flaxseed can be used as an alternative for masa harina due to the rich health benefits they offer.

Flaxseeds have an earthy, nutty flavor, unlike masa harina. But they can work as a substitute if you are genuinely out of all options.

12. DIY Masa Harina

DIY Masa Harina

If you are brimming with the spirit of cooking, then it is time to do away with the substitutes of masa harina. Make homemade masa harina to use in your recipe, and I will tell you how to do it. It can be challenging, but what’s life without a challenge?

Whole grain dried corns in a pot are simmered for about 30 minutes in a solution of calcium hydroxide (a teaspoon) or powdered lime and 8 cups of water. Take the pot off the heat and give it a proper rest for eight hours.

Wash off the husk from the corns under tap water and then grind the corns using a food processor to get a dough-like substance, which is nothing but masa harina.

Short Recap

You think that was a lot to know about the substitutes for masa harina, you think? Let me ease the job of remembering the details with the help of a few points.

Corn-Based Substitutes: Cornmeal, cornstarch, masa preparada, grits, polenta, taco shells, hominy, and tortilla chips.

Non-Corn Based Substitutes: Arrowroot powder, flour, flaxseed.

Flavor: Cornmeal, cornstarch, masa preparada, hominy, grits.

Texture: Cornmeal, hominy, grits, polenta.

Final Musings

The above list comprises the best substitutes for masa harina (which should help you win the game). Feel free to try them out in your recipes. Also, let me know if they worked well for you in the comments. Adios amigo!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you substitute cornstarch for masa harina?

Cornstarch or corn flour can be used to substitute for masa harina.

Can polenta be used interchangeably for grits?

Polenta can be used interchangeably with grits. They are basically the same except for the type of corn they are made from – polenta is made from yellow corn while grits are made from white corn.

What is a substitute for masa harina in chili?

Regular flour or cornmeal can be used to substitute for masa harina in chili.

Is cornmeal the same as masa harina?

Cornmeal is not the same as masa harina. Cornmeal is simply dried corn with a coarse consistency. Masa harina is a dough made from nixtamalized corn (corn subjected to an alkaline solution).

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