Is harina flour gluten-free?

What is harina flour?

Harina flour, sometimes called masa harina or masa flour, is a flour made from dried corn that has been treated with limewater or limestone solution. This process, called nixtamalization, removes the hull and germ from the corn kernels and frees up the nutrients, making them more readily absorbable by the body. The treated corn is then dried and ground into a fine flour.

Harina flour has a rich corn flavor and is a staple ingredient in Latin American and Southwestern cuisines. It’s used to make staples like corn tortillas, tamales, pupusas, and arepas. When fresh corn is not available, harina flour provides a convenient substitute. You’ll often see it sold in Mexican markets labeled as “masa harina” or “masa de harina.”

Is harina flour gluten-free?

Yes, harina flour is gluten-free. Since it is made from corn, it does not contain gluten. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Corn is part of the grass family and does not contain gluten naturally.

The nixtamalization process used to make harina flour does not introduce any gluten. So masa harina remains a gluten-free flour option. This makes it a useful substitute for gluten-free bakers and those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity

For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten triggers an autoimmune reaction that damages the small intestine. This can cause unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms and other health issues if gluten remains in the diet.

Following a 100% gluten-free diet is the only current treatment for celiac disease and NCGS. This means reading labels carefully and avoiding products containing wheat, barley, and rye. Oats are sometimes contaminated too.

Fortunately, corn and its derivatives like harina flour are naturally gluten-free and safe for those avoiding gluten. Harina can be used to prepare gluten-free versions of traditionally glutenous foods like tortillas, tamales, empanadas, arepas, and pupusas.

Benefits of harina flour

In addition to being gluten-free, harina flour offers some health benefits:

  • High in fiber – A 2 tablespoon serving contains 3 grams of fiber, helping to support digestive health.
  • Contains essential minerals – Provides nutrients like iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
  • Rich in antioxidants – Contains beneficial plant compounds like anthocyanins, lowering inflammation and oxidative stress.
  • May support heart health – The fiber and antioxidants in harina can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

The niacin added during nixtamalization further boosts the nutritional value of masa harina.

Using harina flour

Harina flour has some unique properties that call for specific uses. Here are some tips for cooking and baking with harina flour:

  • Add hot water or broth – Harina needs moisture and heat to become pliable. Slowly add hot liquid and knead until a soft dough forms.
  • Don’t overmix – Too much mixing can make foods dense and tough. Handle the dough gently.
  • Rest the dough – Letting dough rest 5-10 minutes allows hydration and prevents overworking.
  • Add baking powder for lift – Harina is heavier than wheat flour. Adding baking powder can give some lift and fluff to baked goods.
  • Boost nutrition with beans – Refried beans, for example, provide an easy way to add protein and fiber to masa-based dishes.

Harina flour works best in recipes calling for a tender crumb and soft texture. It can have a gritty texture in some baked goods. Combining with other gluten-free flours like tapioca or rice flour can yield better results in baking.

4 gluten-free harina flour recipes

Here are 4 delicious recipes using gluten-free harina flour:

1. Gluten-Free Tamales

Tamales are a traditional Latin American dish made from masa dough wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and steam cooked. This gluten-free version substitutes masa harina for the usual cornmeal dough.


  • 1 cup harina flour
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable broth, heated
  • 4 tablespoons lard or butter, softened
  • Corn husks or banana leaves
  • Filling of your choice (e.g. shredded pork, beans, cheese, chili)


  1. In a bowl, whisk together the harina flour, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Stirring continuously, slowly pour in the hot broth and knead until a soft dough forms.
  3. Beat in the lard or butter until fully incorporated.
  4. Soak the corn husks in water to soften. Drain well and pat dry.
  5. Take about 2 tablespoons of dough and press into a rectangle on the corn husk. Place filling in the center and fold sides over to enclose filling completely.
  6. Wrap the tamale up using kitchen string or strips of corn husk to secure. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
  7. Place tamales seam-side down in a steamer basket or instant pot steamer. Steam for 50 minutes.
  8. Serve warm with desired sauces or toppings.

2. Arepas (Gluten-Free Cornmeal Cakes)

Arepas are thick cornmeal cakes from Colombia and Venezuela. They can be stuffed or served as bread. Harina flour makes them 100% gluten-free.


  • 1 1⁄2 cups harina flour
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1⁄4 cups warm water
  • Vegetable oil, for cooking


  1. In a bowl, mix together the harina flour and salt.
  2. Gradually stir in the warm water until a thick dough forms. Knead briefly until smooth.
  3. Divide into 8 equal pieces. Shape each into a flat, round patty about 1⁄2 inch thick, pressing with your hands to flatten.
  4. In a skillet, heat a thin layer of oil over medium heat. Working in batches, fry the arepas 3-4 minutes per side until golden brown.
  5. Slice open and stuff with your choice of toppings, or serve alongside meals.

3. Gluten-Free Empanadas

Empanadas are savory stuffed pastries popular across Latin America. The masa harina dough keeps them gluten-free.



  • 2 cups harina flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 pound ground beef or turkey
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Make the dough: Mix the harina flour and salt. Stir in the water and olive oil. Knead briefly until a smooth ball forms. Cover and rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Make the filling: Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion until soft, 5 minutes. Add ground meat and spices. Cook, breaking up meat, until browned through, 7-10 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  4. Roll out the dough into a circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Cut out rounds using a 3-inch biscuit cutter or glass.
  5. Place 1-2 tablespoons of filling into the center of each round. Fold over and crimp the edges shut with a fork to seal.
  6. Arrange the empanadas on the prepared baking sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

4. Harina Flour Tortillas

Homemade tortillas only call for masa harina, water, and a pinch of salt.


  • 2 cups harina flour
  • 1 1⁄4 cups warm water
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt


  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the harina flour and salt.
  2. Gradually pour in the warm water, stirring constantly. Knead with your hands until a soft, pliable dough forms.
  3. Cover the dough and let rest for 30 minutes.
  4. Divide into 8 equal balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll each into a thin circle using a rolling pin.
  5. Cook one at a time on a hot skillet over medium heat for 30 seconds per side until lightly browned. Keep warm in a towel until ready to serve.

Where to buy harina flour

Harina flour is easy to find in stores specializing in Latin foods or Mexican ingredients:

  • Mexican markets
  • Latin/international grocery stores
  • Large supermarkets with ethnic food aisles
  • Walmart or Target
  • Online retailers like Amazon

Look for bags labeled as “masa harina” or “masa de harina”. Both refer to the same fine corn flour. Popular brands include Maseca, Bob’s Red Mill, and Don Pancho.

If you don’t have a local Latin market, harina flour can also be found in many mainstream grocers in the baking aisle, often near other specialty flours. Make sure to check the label to verify the product is gluten-free.

Harina flour is affordable at usually $1-$3 a pound. Purchasing larger bags can provide even more value. With its versatility and many uses in Latin cuisine, masa harina is a handy staple flour to keep stocked in your gluten-free pantry.

Is masa harina the same as harina flour?

Yes, masa harina and harina flour refer to the same gluten-free corn flour product. The names are used interchangeably.

Both translate from Spanish simply as “dough flour”. Harina flour is made from hominy, or dried corn kernels that have been treated with limewater in the nixtamalization process.

This ancient technique both improves the nutritional value of the corn and makes the kernels easier to grind into a fine, smooth flour. So masa harina provides the base for making tortillas, tamales, pupusas, and other staples of Latin American cuisine.

Look for bags labeled as either “masa harina” or “masa de harina” in stores. Popular brands that make this gluten-free flour include Maseca, Bob’s Red Mill, and Don Pancho.

Is masarepa flour the same as harina flour?

Masarepa flour and harina flour are very similar, but they are not exactly the same product. Here is a quick look at how masarepa compares to masa harina:

  • Origin – Masarepa is Columbian while harina/masa harina is from Mexico.
  • Grind Size – Masarepa is more finely ground than harina flour.
  • Use – Both are used to make arepas and other dishes, but masarepa can create a lighter, fluffier texture.
  • Taste – Masarepa has a richer corn flavor compared to masa harina.
  • Gluten-free – Yes, both masarepa and masa harina are 100% gluten-free.

While they are made from the same treated corn, or hominy, the different grind sizes result in slightly different textures. Masarepa is ideal for arepas and yields a lighter crumb, while masa harina works well in tamales, tortillas, and empanadas.

Both gluten-free flours can be substituted for one another in recipes, but the results may vary. You can adjust the ratio of water to achieve the right dough consistency with each type of flour.

Is masa harina the same as cornmeal?

Masa harina and cornmeal are not the same. While both are made from corn, here are some key differences:

  • Grind – Masa harina is much more finely ground than cornmeal.
  • Treatment – Cornmeal is untreated, dried corn. Masa harina corn is nixtamalized.
  • Uses – Masa is used for tamales, tortillas, etc. Cornmeal is better for breading and baking.
  • Flavor – Masa harina has a richer, earthier corn taste.
  • Texture – Recipes with masa harina yield a soft, pliable texture. Cornmeal gives a grainier, crumbly texture.

While their uses overlap in some recipes, the differences mean they cannot typically be substituted equally for one another.

However, both masa harina and cornmeal are gluten-free. So cornmeal makes a suitable flavor-adjusted stand-in if you’re out of masa in a pinch.


Harina flour, or masa harina, offers a versatile gluten-free flour option for preparing traditional Latin dishes from empanadas to tamales. Its finely ground corn texture provides flexibility and binding, while retaining rich corn flavor.

As it is made from treated corn, harina flour naturally contains no gluten. This makes it an important staple for gluten-free and restricted diets. Harina can be used as a replacement for regular cornmeal in recipes, though some texture and flavor differences will be noticeable.

Thanks to its gluten-free properties and popularity in Hispanic cuisines, masa harina is easy to find in Latin food markets, mainstream grocers, and online stores. With proper handling, it can be used to create tender and delicious gluten-free baked goods and other homemade staples.

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