A tortilla is a very diverse food that everyone loves. It’s the main ingredient not only for Mexican snacks but also in other cultures. However, to make a fresh tortilla, you have to use Masa Harina. While you can purchase ready-made tortilla from grocery stores, having homemade tortilla might be ideal for some since you will be able to control which ingredients to use and of course, the quality that you want it to have.
Aside from tortilla, Masa harina is also used to make tamales and pupusas. Its name means "dough flour" in Spanish, and it's a popular ingredient for a lot of Latin American Dishes. To make Masa Harina, you have to soak the flour made from maize, with calcium hydroxide. While you can use it interchangeably with cornmeal, it’s important to know that these two ingredients are different from each other. You can buy Masa Harina in Latin American sections of grocery stores.
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What if you don’t have one on hand?
Mexican cuisines are really enjoyable to eat and even more fun to make. However, it might be difficult for you to find ingredients like Masa Harina if you don’t live in Latin American areas. If you can’t find Masa harina in your local grocery store, there are still substitutes that you can try in your recipe. Here are some of them.
1. Fresh Masa Preparada
Getting a fresh masa preparada is one of the best ways to substitute your masa harina. Compared to masa harina, this ingredient is much easier and simpler to use. This is because masa preparada is a ready-made masa harina. It literally means “prepared dough” in Spanish.
So instead of buying a masa harina in powdered form, you can buy a masa preparada to make your cooking faster. If you have some leftover preparada in your kitchen, you can definitely use it as a substitute for masa harina because they are basically the same thing.
However, you have to be aware that masa preparada has a more limited shelf life compared to masa harina. So if you bought too much of this product, try to use it as soon as you can. Just like masa harina, masa preparada can be found in Latin American stores. You can also purchase it online; just make sure to order from reliable sellers.
There are two types of masa preparada that you can choose from. The first one is known for its smooth consistency, and it's the best kind for when you are planning to make corn tortillas. On the other hand, there are course textured masa preparadas that already have lard and seasonings. This kind of masa is used for tamales recipes.
Another essential thing to remember for when you are going to use masa preparada is to store it properly in your pantry. As much as possible, keep the smooth-ground masa preparada covered and at room temperature. But if you are going to buy a coarse-textured masa preparada, you can keep it in the refrigerator, and it can last for a week or up to three months.
2. Ground Tortillas
If you are fond of Mexican food, then you must still have some leftover corn tortillas in your kitchen. It’s the main ingredient for your burritos and tacos that’s why sometimes, it’s a lot easier to find compared to masa harina.
Since tortillas are already made out of masa harina, it’s also a great substitute that you can use when you are on a budget or when you are too lazy to go out and hunt for stores that sell masa harina. So if you have some corn tortillas that don’t have any molds, you’re lucky!
Now, if you’re a newbie in the kitchen, you might be wondering how a tortilla can be turned into flour form. The answer is so easy! You can simply use a food processor or a blender to grind the whole corn tortilla. Keep blending until you’ve achieved the right consistency of your masa.
When doing this process, you have to be careful because each recipe would require different levels of consistency from your masa. Do your research first about the recipe especially when you’re going to use corn tortillas as a substitute. For best results, add kosher salt and hot water to your grounded tortilla.
3. Ground Hominy
If you really can’t find a masa harina in your local grocery store, you can try looking for one of its main ingredients, which is Hominy. In simple words, hominy is made up of special corn kernels that went through the process of hulling. An alkali solution is used to soak the kernels so that the grain would puff up and have a larger size.
You can either purchase canned hominy or dried hominy from the grocery store. Both of these can be used as your masa harina substitute. If you have the hominy in dried form, you can cook it to be just like the ones you find in canned hominy products. But before you can use this ingredient as a masa harina substitute, you have to grind the corn using your food processor or grinder to achieve the kind of consistency that masa harina has.
Almost everyone is familiar with cornstarch it’s a common ingredient both in baking and non-baking recipes. You might have this in your kitchen because you cooked gravy last week or simply because you want to be ready just in case you want to try a recipe that needs cornstarch.
Cornstarch is probably the easiest masa harina substitute to find. Whether you’re from the U.S. or not, you would be able to find a box or pack of cornstarch powder in a nearby store. This ingredient is often used for soups and sauces. It gives a thick consistency to these recipes. Just like masa harina, it can serve as a thickening ingredient for your dish so that the size can be doubled.
Compared to masa harina, cornstarch has a smoother texture, and it has a finer powder. When using this substitute, use the same amount of water as the amount of the cornstarch. One pro tip that you should remember is to make the water and cornstarch mixture first before you put it in your recipe. If you put the cornstarch directly to the recipe, there will be uncooked cornstarch clumps in your food.
If you want to stock cornstarch at home, make sure to keep it in an air-tight container because cornstarch absorbs a lot of moisture. Avoid putting it in places where it’s exposed to extreme heat and humidity. As long as you store your cornstarch in a sealed container and cool, dry place, you would be able to preserve its quality and use it for future recipes.
5. Corn Taco Shells / Corn Tostadas / Corn Tortilla Chips
When you’re in the kitchen, you have to be creative to make your cooking experience fun. Looking for a masa harina substitute may not be that easy for some people who are still not familiar with Mexican cuisine. But hold on to your seats because everything just gets really exciting when you discover that you can use your corn tortilla chips, taco shells, and tostadas as a masa harina substitute!
Corn taco shells, tostadas, and tortilla chips are also made of masa harina. However, they may be different because of the form and the number of preservatives that is already added to the taco shells, tostadas, and chips. But even with this, you can still use your kitchen skills to make a good masa harina substitute out of these common snacks.
Simply get your food processor and put the taco shells, tortilla chips, and tostadas in. This is a great way of recycling these snacks as well once they already lose their freshness. Keep processing until you already have a powder consistency that suits your recipe. If you don't have a food processor, it's okay as well! Get a zipped bag and crush the ingredients using your rolling pin. You can crush them using your hands but that might take you a lot of time, and you could hurt yourself in the process.
Unlike most of the substitutes in this list, Polenta is not a traditional Mexican ingredient. In fact, this dish originated in northern Italy. It has a green color that makes it really difficult for people whether it’s porridge, grits, or polenta. There are various forms of polenta to choose from. The best type for a masa harina substitute is the finely ground polenta. You can easily use it the way you’re supposed to use masa harina for your recipe.
However, there might be times when such kind of polenta is not available. The next option for you would be polentas that are sold in tubes. These might not be as ideals as the finely grounded polenta, but you can still use it as a thickening agent for your dish such as soups.
7. Arrowroot Powder
If you have enough budget for your recipes, you can use arrowroot powder instead of masa harina. This substitute has fewer chemicals involved in processing, but it also comes in a higher price tag. Most people might not use this ingredient because of budget concerns. But if you want to have a healthier kind of diet, this one definitely a great substitute. However, please remember that you cannot mix arrowroot powder with any kind of dairy, or you have an unpleasing mixture.
You can also find a good masa harina substitute even when it's the winter season. Grit is a popular food during this season, but if ever you are craving for a recipe with masa harina, then you can use it as a substitute as well. It’s a great substitute because it’s also made of corn kernels that were milled.
Last but not the least is cornmeal. This is a flour that is made of corn as well. It has various textures and colors because it depends on the kind of corn that it was made of. It's pretty easy to find cornmeal because it's used in a lot of dishes as well. You may be able to find this in baking supply stores or even in your local grocery stores. Sometimes cornmeal is also sold as polenta, but you have to remember that this is the coarse type of cornmeal. The best kind to use as a masa harina substitute is the yellow cornmeal flour. However, since there is no nixtamalization process in making the cornmeal, keep in mind that the limewater flavor won’t be present when you use this as a substitute for your masa harina.
10. Make It On Your Own!
If you’re up for the challenge and you think you have enough time, then you can consider making your own masa harina from scratch. While this option might cost you more than the other substitutes, it’s going to be exciting and fulfilling because you will learn how to make a Mexican ingredient on your own.
Some people think that making your own ingredients like masa harina is difficult, but the reality is that the whole process is simple and easy to do in your kitchen. The first thing that you need to do is to get whole grain corn that was already dried. Getting corn that is already peeled, would be best for your recipe. After that, you must remember not to wash the corn. Using calcium hydroxide or powdered lime would be added to the water which would be used to soak the kernels.
The goal of this first step is to make the kernels loosen from their husk. Once you notice that all the kernels in your pot or container are already loosened, it’s now time to wash off the acidic taste using regular water. The next step is to use a food processor or a stone grinder to make the corn into powder. Let the maize dry up so that you’ll have a powder form masa harina. But if you want to make a dough, simply add some water.