The main difference between masa and cornmeal is that masa has been soaked in a special alkaline solution while cornmeal has not been treated like this.
Both masa and cornmeal are made from field corn, but there is a difference between their processing. Masa has gone through a special soaking in a solution of lime, which gives it a distinct flavour. This is why tortillas or tamales made with cornmeal do not have the same flavour as those made with masa.
Key Areas Covered
1. What is Masa
– Definition, Production, Use
2. What is Cornmeal
– Definition, Types, Use
3. Relationship Between Masa and Cornmeal
– Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Masa and Cornmeal
– Comparison of Key Differences
Cornmeal, Masa, Maize
What is Masa
Masa, also called masa harina, is a traditional type of flour used to make Mexican food like tortillas and tamales. Masa harina literally means ‘dough flour’ in Spanish. To make masa, you have to first dry field corn or maize and then soak and cook it in a solution of lime (solution consisting calcium hydroxide, not lime juice). This solution is called slaked lime. In fact, the scientific name for this process is nixtamalization. Soaking the corn in this solution, infuses it with niacin and calcium, giving it a distinctive flavour. Moreover, slaked lime loosens the hulls from the kernels and softens the corn.
After soaking and cooking in slaked lime, the corn has to be washed and ground into a dough. This is what we call masa. Masa harina or corn masa flour you buy in stores is actually fresh masa that is dried and powdered. In fact, masa is popularly used in Mexican cuisine. Its most common use is corn tortillas, but you can also use it for Mexican dishes such as tamales, empanadas, pupusas, or cornbread.
What is Cornmeal
Cornmeal is meal made from field corn or maze. This basically refers to any ground, dried corn. Cornmeal is a common staple food and can be found in various consistencies such as fine, medium and coarse, but it is not as fine as wheat flour. Moreover, it is used all over the world in different regional cuisines; some popular recipes include cornmeal bread, porridge and polenta. It can also be used as a batter for fried food (fried fish, chicken, mozzarella sticks, etc.).
There are various types of cornmeal. Blue cornmeal, which originates from blue corn, has a sweet flavour. Furthermore, steel-ground yellow cornmeal, which is common in the US, has the husk and germ of the maize kernel almost completely removed. Stone-ground cornmeal, on the other hand, holds some amount of hull and germ, adding a little more flavour and nutrition. White cornmeal is another type of cornmeal. It is made from white corn and, is more common in Africa and the American South.
Relationship Between Masa and Cornmeal
- Maize or field corn is the basis of both masa and cornmeal.
Difference Between Masa and Cornmeal
Masa, also called masa harina, is a traditional type of flour used to make Mexican food while cornmeal is meal made from field corn or maze.
Masa has been soaked in slaked lime while cornmeal has not gone through this soaking process.
While masa is used for Mexican dishes like tortillas, tamales, empanadas, pupusas, or cornbread, cornmeal is used in many cuisines all over the world.
Maize or field corn is the basis of both masa and cornmeal, but there is a difference between masa and cornmeal based on their processing. Masa has gone through a special soaking in a solution of lime, which also gives it a distinct flavour. However, you cannot find this flavour in cornmeal as it does not go through this processing.
1. Mattison, Lindsay D. “What Is Masa Harina?” Taste of Home, Taste of Home, 20 Mar. 2019, Available here.
2. “Cornmeal.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 July 2020, Available here.
1. “5135234” (CC0) via Pixabay
2. “Polenta uncooked” By Popo le Chien – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
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