Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Masa Flour: The Magic Miracle of Mayans

After I found that wheat flour was healthiest ground fresh, I figured maybe I'd make my own fresh corn tortillas, too. So I researched it, and, I don't think so. Would you do this? This is a really cool story that shows how modern Mayan women make their food out of corn (maiz, not to be confused with sweet corn) by soaking it with slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) overnight, sifting the soaked corn with their fingers so the hulls come off, taking it to the local mill to be ground into flour (and those that are very poor still grind nixtamalized corn by hand on a grinding stone; grinding stones are sold in the U.S., too, (surpirisingly) in Mexican grocery stores), and then buying more slaked lime in the city for the next day, cooking using fires, etc. Sounds like a hard life.

The resulting flour is called masa flour, from which corn tortillas, corn chips, sopapillas, etc., are made. Masa flour is available at any supermarket, made with lime-treated corn. The story behind this is amazing, and these are great two great articles to tell all about it:

Read Wisdom from the Past: Nixtamalization of Corn (the Nourishing Gourmet) andTortilla Reform

Basically, early Native Americans thousands of years ago somehow made the connection that if ashes from the fire were put in with the rock-hard kernels of corn in water, the hard outer hull would easily dissolve in the water, and the corn could then be ground and eaten. While they thought they were just making it grindable, they were also actually creating a chemical process that allows the nutrient vitamin B3, or niacin, to be released. This helped them stay healthy and thriving, and create some of the greatest civilizations of the Ancient World.
This process of soaking the corn in slaked lime is called "nixtamalization" and is still widely used today in South America as illustrated by this article, and in the U.S. for Maseca. Our bag of corn chips says "corn treated with lime" as the first ingredient.

When people came to the New World, with the terrible scheme of looting gold, etc., they returned home with the corn from this distant land. What they didn't take with them, though, were the primitive cooking practices of the Native Americans. They just ground the corn (as we do today in America, probably, to make corn meal and grits). The people in Europe and Africa ended up getting Pellegra! What's that? Diarrhea, dimentia, and death. Serves you right for spoiling all the Natives' goods. I believe people in the southern states still get pellegra today from eating lots of corn but not nixtamalizing it.Isn't it just amazing how these primitive people accidentally nourished themselves and were able to thrive? Its just a miracle. I marvel, and think of how God was so instrumental in the survival of these people.

Read more about Maseca or "Masa Flour".

Note: the corn used anciently in America was nothing like the corn we grow in Iowa (see King Corn). The corn in Iowa is genetically modified to be herbicide resistant, etc., and with a much lower protein content and larger endosperm, or starch value. It is processed using sulfuric acid, not calcium hydroxide ("lime"), to make high fructose corn syrup. Unwittingly killing ourselves again?...

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