Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes about

    5 pounds


Appears in

Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico


By Bricia Lopez and Javier Cabral

Published 2019

  • About

Masa is the essence of Mexico. It is the foundation of Mexican cooking. In Oaxaca, a lot of families still make their own nixtamal at home to supply their daily masa consumption. Nixtamal is the process of treating dried corn with an alkaline solution to make it more nutritious. Slaking lime—also known as pickling lime, a naturally occurring mineral compound—has been used for thousands of years for this process. After a night of soaking, the nixtamalized corn is ground and transformed into masa. This technique has been passed from generation to generation, especially in Oaxaca. Every night before my mom goes to bed, she nixtamalizes a batch of corn so she can make fresh masa the next morning. It’s part of her nightly routine.

We make nixtamal daily at the restaurant for our masa use. I bring some of this masa home and I take this convenience for granted. Lately, many anti-carb diets have deemed tortillas “unhealthy,” but don’t let these fads deter you: homemade corn tortillas are among the world’s healthiest staple foods. They are a whole-grain product, easily digestible, filling, and satisfying. Try making masa as a weekend project. The trickiest part might be grinding it, and for that I recommend a tabletop wet stone mill or a hand-cranked wet grinder. I like Premier’s Small Wonder 1.5-liter tabletop wet grinder, available on Amazon.

Believe me, there is nothing more fulfilling than making your own masa at home.


  • ½ cup (56 g) pickling lime
  • 4.4 pounds (2 kg) white field corn


In the largest heavy-bottomed pot you have, dissolve the pickling lime in quarts (5 L) water. Once all the powder has dissolved, add the corn. The corn should be completely submerged in water. If not, add more water so there is at least 2 inches (5 cm) of water above the corn.

Place the pot over low-medium heat and gently simmer for 1 hour.

When the nixtamal changes from white to yellow and the corn easily peels away from its skin, turn off the heat. Let sit for at least 16 hours or more.

The next morning, dump the pot into a colander on top of your sink and discard the water. Rinse until the water comes out clear. You’ll know the corn is ready for masa when it is tender to the bite. It should be al dente like pasta.

If using a tabletop wet stone grinder, carefully add about ½ cup (120 ml) of water in batches to grind a pound (450 g) of cooked nixtamal. Smooth masa for tortillas takes about 40 minutes, and masa quebrajada for tamales and atole takes about half that time. Repeat until you’ve gone through all the masa. Make sure to follow the instructions and safety guidelines of your grinder.

Using your hands, work the masa until a dough forms. When all the dough has stuck together and a putty has formed, it is ready.


Masa quebrajada (also called quebrada) is a little chunkier and adds a rustic texture to atole, tortillas, and anything else you use it in.