Masa Harina literally translates to mean “dough flour.” It is made from a specific variety of dried field corn that has been ground into a fine flour after being soaked in a lime and water solution. The lime solution loosens the corn hulls and softens the kernels.
The addition of lime to the corn acts to help niacin, one of the B vitamins, be absorbed in the digestive tract. Niacin is an important B vitamin that helps with proper nervous system functioning. Severe niacin deficiency, called Pellagra, can lead to death.
After the lime is applied, the corn is washed and ground into a fine dough, called masa. After the dough is allowed to dry, it is ground again into a fine powder which is called masa harina. Water is then added to the masa harina powder to make dough for tamales and tortillas.
You can find fresh masa in the refrigerated section of most markets, and masa harina is available with other flours and corn meal. Although you might be tempted to substitute traditional corn meal for masa marina, don’t. Traditional corn meal is made from a different variety of corn and processed in a different way, it will not yield a good result.
Below are a few good recipes using masa harina from around the web.