Nixtamal, masa, tortillas and the Mesoamerican super-grain!

Nixtamal is an Aztec word used to describe corn that has been partially cooked and soaked with calcium hydroxide, otherwise referred to as cal or lime. Calcium hydroxide is simply the dust that results from scraping a limestone rock. The Aztec would grind corn against the limestone found in the riverbeds, and hence discovered the benefit of the interaction of this natural element with corn. The process of nixtamalization was first developed in Mesoamerica where maize was originally cultivated. There is no precise date for when the technology was developed, but the earliest evidence of nixtamalization is found in Guatemala’s southern coast, with equipment dating from 1200-1500BC. Nixtamal can be ground into masa (a corn dough) for making tortillas or similar patted disk (finely ground) or tamales (coarsely ground). It can be kept in its whole form to make pozole, otherwise known as hominy.

The primary nutritional benefits of nixtamal arise from this processing of dry corn with calcium hydroxide. The Aztec Indians learned this simply by paying attention to how their bodies responded when they used corn that had been ground on limestone blocks. They experienced non-problematic digestive processing e.g. no bloating, no pain, regularity and a generally better functioning inner body. By nixtamalizing corn the corn is essentially mineralized increasing the nutrient density and the process also dramatically reduces the amount of the anti-nutrient phytic acid present in all grains and legumes.

Science later discovered that the infusion of the alkali and corn converts corn's bound niacin (vitamin, B3) to be freed, making it available for absorption into the body. As a result, the niacin released from Nixtamal not only has been shown to reduce bad cholesterol and elevate good cholesterol, it contributes to the regulation of bodily processes. This includes general digestion, metabolism and cell repair. Niacin also appears to reduce triglyceride levels in the blood. The alkaline process that occurs for nixtamal also reduces the amount of the protein zein available to the body, which improves the balance among essential amino acids. Additionally, corn naturally contains thiamin (vitamin B1) which is used in the metabolism of carbohydrates, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) which helps with physiological functions. Corn is high in folate which helps the generation of new cells especially important before and during pregnancy. Corn is also high in fiber which helps lower cholesterol levels and benefits the gut biome.

Corn shares and interesting history with humanity and in its current form cannot grow without us shucking the ears and planting the seeds. As corn was exported from the Americas the process of Nixtamalization was sadly not taught to new farmers, this resulted in malnutrition where corn was eaten as a staple. By adding a legume to your tortilla and turning it into a taco you add two other amino acids lysine and tryptophan, turning it into a meal that provides all the essential amino acids your body needs.

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Saturday 08th August 2020

Is this advisable to eat and make at home? Where would one get the lime and what is the method to make this safely and correctly.

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