Yes, white masa harina is gluten-free. Masa harina is made from corn that has been nixtamalized, a process that removes gluten from the corn. So masa harina, including white masa harina, contains no gluten and is safe for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
What is Masa Harina?
Masa harina, sometimes called masa de harina, is a flour made from dried and ground corn kernels that have been treated with limewater in a process called nixtamalization. The nixtamalization process removes the hull and germ from the corn kernels and softens the starchy endosperm. This allows the corn to be ground into a fine, soft flour known as masa harina.
The nixtamalization process dates back to ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, including the Aztec and Mayan cultures. It was originally used to improve the nutritional value of corn by increasing availability of nutrients like niacin, calcium and iron. Today, nixtamalization is still used to produce masa harina for making tortillas, tamales, pupusas and other traditional foods.
Masa harina comes in white, yellow and blue varieties, depending on the color of the corn used:
– White masa harina is made from white corn and has a mild flavor. It is the most common type found in grocery stores.
– Yellow masa harina is made from yellow corn and has a richer corn flavor. It is popular in the Southwest United States.
– Blue masa harina is made from ancient blue/purple corn varieties. It has a sweet, nutty flavor.
Here are the nutrition facts for a 100 gram serving of white masa harina:
As you can see, masa harina is a good source of energy, fiber, calcium and iron compared to typical all-purpose wheat flour. The niacin content is also considerably higher due to the nixtamalization process.
Is Masa Harina Gluten-Free?
Yes, masa harina is gluten-free. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. Corn does not naturally contain gluten.
The nixtamalization process used to make masa harina removes all traces of gluten from the corn. During this process, the corn kernels are soaked and cooked in an alkaline limewater solution, which helps separate and wash away any gluten protein from the corn.
The soaked corn is then ground into masa harina. Because gluten has been removed in the nixtamalization process, the finished masa harina flour does not contain any gluten. This makes it safe for people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Major health organizations list masa harina as a gluten-free ingredient:
– The Celiac Disease Foundation states that masa harina is gluten-free.
– The Gluten Intolerance Group also lists masa harina as safe for a gluten-free diet.
– The Mayo Clinic includes masa harina in their list of gluten-free grains and starches.
Studies on Gluten Levels in Masa Harina
Several studies have tested different brands of masa harina and confirmed that gluten levels are below the international standard for gluten-free labeling:
|SCA Corporation (2016)
|Tested 5 masa harina samples; all tested below 5 ppm gluten
|Texas A&M (2014)
|Tested 38 masa harina samples; all contained less than 5 ppm gluten
|University of California, Davis (2012)
|Tested 12 masa harina samples; gluten levels ranged from 0-5 ppm
This extensive product testing confirms that masa harina inherently contains no detectable amounts of gluten.
Is all Masa Harina Gluten-Free?
While pure masa harina is gluten-free, there are some exceptions:
– Flour blends: Some masa harina flour blends may contain wheat flour or other gluten sources. Check the ingredient label to make sure the product does not contain added gluten ingredients.
– Cross-contamination: As with most grains, there is a small risk of cross-contamination during growing, harvesting or processing. Look for masa harina that is specifically labeled “gluten-free” if this is a concern.
As long as you choose pure masa harina from a reputable source, it can be considered gluten-free. Contact the manufacturer if you have any questions or concerns.
Uses for Masa Harina
Here are some of the most popular uses for gluten-free masa harina:
– Tortillas: Add water to masa harina to make fresh, homemade corn tortillas.
– Tamales: Use masa harina dough as the masa base for making tamales.
– Pupusas: Masa harina is the main ingredient in the stuffed corn cakes known as pupusas in Central American cuisine.
– Cornbread and muffins: Replace part of the wheat flour in cornbread and muffin recipes with masa harina.
– Empanadas: Masa harina makes a delicious empanada dough for baked or fried hand pies.
– Chilaquiles: Use masa harina to make crunchy tortilla chips for chilaquiles.
– Soup thickeners: Mix masa harina into soups and stews as a gluten-free thickening agent.
Masa harina adds great flavor and texture to many baked goods. Try using a 50/50 blend of masa harina and your favorite gluten-free flour mix. The options are endless!
Where to Buy Masa Harina
Masa harina can be found in the international or Latin American food aisles of most major grocery stores. Here are some top brands to look for:
|The most popular brand; made by Gruma Corporation
|Bob’s Red Mill
|Labeled gluten-free; available in white, yellow and blue corn varieties
|Authentic Mexican brand; certified gluten-free
|Mexican brand; labeled gluten-free
|Stone ground; non-GMO verified
Masa harina can also be found online from retailers like Amazon. Buying online gives you access to organic, non-GMO, and blue corn masa harina options.
Price of Masa Harina
A 2-pound bag of masa harina typically costs between $1.50-$3.50 in most grocery stores. The average price per pound is around $1-2.
Organic, non-GMO and specialty blue corn masa harina tends to cost more, ranging from $2-$5 per pound.
When bought in bulk sizes like 25-pound bags, masa harina is very affordable at $0.50-$1 per pound.
Considering that a 2-3 pound bag will make several dozen tortillas or a couple batches of tamales, masa harina is reasonably priced, especially when you account for the cost savings of making homemade masa foods versus purchasing them.
How to Store Masa Harina
To maintain freshness and shelf life, store masa harina:
– In an airtight container or resealable bag
– In a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and heat sources
– At room temperature or slightly cooled (65-70°F ideal)
Under proper storage conditions, the shelf life of masa harina is approximately 6-12 months past the printed expiration date.
To maximize freshness after opening, use masa harina within 3-4 months. Smell and taste it after long storage to make sure it has not become rancid or developed an off odor or flavor.
For occasional use, store masa harina in the refrigerator to extend shelf life. Allow refrigerated masa harina to come fully to room temperature before using to prevent clumping.
How to Make Fresh Masa for Tortillas
Making fresh masa dough from masa harina is easy and perfect for cooking authentic homemade tortillas.
– 2 cups masa harina
– 1 1/2 cups warm water
– 1/4 tsp salt
1. Mix the masa harina and salt together in a mixing bowl. Form a well in the center.
2. Pour in the warm water and stir together using a spoon until a shaggy dough forms.
3. Knead the dough with your hands for 2-3 minutes until it forms a smooth, firm ball. Add more water by the teaspoon if needed to reach the right consistency.
4. Cover the dough ball with plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes. This allows the dough to fully hydrate.
5. Pinch off golf ball-sized pieces of the rested dough. Use a tortilla press lined with plastic or wax paper to flatten into thin tortillas. Or roll out by hand using a rolling pin on a flour-dusted surface.
6. Cook the tortillas on a hot comal or skillet until lightly browned and puffed, about 1 minute per side. Keep tortillas wrapped in a clean towel to stay warm and soft until serving.
Tips for Best Results
– The exact amount of water needed can vary based on humidity levels. Start with 1 1/2 cups and add more as needed.
– Letting the dough rest develops the texture. Don’t skip this step!
– Heat your tortilla griddle or skillet to at least 400°F to get the tortillas perfectly toasted.
– Keep a close eye on cooking tortillas as they can burn quickly. Flip promptly when the bottom speckles and puffs.
– Stack cooked tortillas and wrap in a clean towel to steam and keep soft and pliable for serving.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about masa harina:
What does masa harina taste like?
Masa harina has a sweet, nutty corn flavor. It tastes like the essence of corn tortillas! The flavor can vary slightly depending on the brand and corn variety but generally has a richer, more complex taste than regular cornmeal.
Is masa harina the same as cornmeal?
No, masa harina and cornmeal are different products:
– Masa harina is made from corn treated with limewater (nixtamalized) and ground into a fine, starchy flour.
– Cornmeal is dried and ground corn kernels without any nixtamalization. It has a grittier texture.
While they are both made from corn, the processes used to make masa harina and cornmeal are completely different. They cannot be used interchangeably.
Can I make my own masa harina?
It is possible to make your own homemade masa harina using the nixtamalization process, but it requires significant time and effort compared to buying ready-made masa. The ingredients are also not readily available to most home cooks. Your best bet is purchasing high-quality masa harina from the store.
Is masa harina healthy?
Yes, masa harina has some good nutritional qualities. It is high in fiber, magnesium, potassium and other nutrients. The nixtamalization process increases the bioavailablity of certain B vitamins like niacin. Masa harina also has a lower glycemic index than many refined grains. Enjoy masa harina in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
The Bottom Line
Masa harina is a versatile gluten-free flour with many uses in Mexican and Central American cooking. The nixtamalization process ensures that masa harina is gluten-free and safe for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. When bought from a reputable source, different varieties of masa harina including white, yellow and blue corn can be enjoyed without concern over gluten content. With its delicious corn flavor and many culinary applications, masa harina is an excellent gluten-free ingredient for any kitchen.