Nixtamalization: Nutritional Benefits

ng_corn2

Yesterday, we looked at the history of nixtamalization and what a difference it can make particularly for those who depend on corn as a staple. Today, I wanted to look a a little more of what happens nutritionally when you nixtamalize corn. It’s exciting to read about!

Nixtamalization Releases B3

As discussed yesterday, vitamin B3 is necessary to prevent pellagra, which has many uncomfortable and even devastating symptoms. Health officials couldn’t figure out for a long time why poor Americans who depended on corn would develop this, while across the border, Hispanics wouldn’t.  We now know that it was because their corn was nixtamalized which released vitamin B3. This simple practice prevented pellagra.

I think that the reason that Italians who use corn a lot in the form of polenta haven’t had as many issues with pellagra (that I know of is) because they include many other nutrient dense foods that would help make up any deficiencies in their corn preparation.

Nixtamalization Significantly Increases Calcium and Protein Quality

The process also increases calcium, which is so important to our health, especially for those without access to dairy. It also increases the protein availability of the corn.  You can imagine what this could mean for someone who’s diet is high in corn, but also think of the benefit it would have for us all!

Nixtamalization Reduces Phytic Acid

The process of nixtamalization also significantly reduces phytic acid. Since phytic acid blocks your absorption of zinc, calcium and other important minerals, it’s important for this process to take place. If you soak in lime, and then, like you see in my soft polenta recipe, soak with an acidic addition, you will reduce the phytic acid a lot. By the way, researchers consider this so important, they are working on developing low-phytic acid corn.

Nixtamalization Reduces Toxins

We have high quality corn here in the US, but not everyone is so lucky. There is a toxin called  “mycotoxin “  that is present in a lot of corn around the world. They found that through the nixtamalization process, it was significantly reduced, even up to 90 percent!

Conclusion

This traditional practice really has a huge impact in the nutritional status of the humble corn.  Through it, we can take a very frugal food, and make it nutritionally superior.

And like I said in my soft polenta post, it tastes great when prepared this way!  It’s no sacrifice to eat it. The only difference I found in how Nourishing Traditions has you prepare it and my research is that it was always rinsed of the lime before using it in a recipe. This is important if you want to reduce the mycotoxin content of corn (though that’s hardly usually an issue in the US).  Other then that, check out my soft polenta post for step my step instructions on how to do this at home! I  hope to have some new recipes using nixtamalized corn soon.

What do you think? Would you be wiling to do an extra step for extra nutrition? Why, or why not?

Sources

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Nixtamalization

http://fst.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/8/2/81

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nixtamalization

KimiHarris

I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

Comments

  1. says

    Perhaps it’s because I’m in Texas and relatively near Mexico, but finding products made from corn soaked in lime is surprisingly easy. Almost all of them are! The truly difficult part comes in finding non-GMO corn. To be that, it has to be organic. And then it gets pricey. So, it would seem the only way I can afford to enjoy polenta or tortillas is to buy organic corn and mill it myself. I guess I should try!

    KH: Isn’t it terrible how much GMO corn we have now in the States? Oh well, one more reason to buy organic! Do you have Bob’s Red Mill products down there? They have masa harina that is organic and not to terribly expensive.

    • Nailgun says

      The majority of the commercially available limed corn/cornmeal is not soaked sufficiently long to get much nutritional benefit out of it — just enough to make it taste “mexican-y.” I’ve never heard of anything commercial that’s been soaked for more than just a few hours, which is much less time than many traditional cultures gave it.
      If you actually want the B3 et al your only option is to soak it yourself.

      • says

        What is “sufficiently” soaked. I can soak, so time is not the factor. What I _would_ like is some science on how long to soak. Like most things there is probably some sort of bell curve where there is a nutritional peak for soaking. THANKS. MJ

        • Rachel says

          Sufficiently soaked is at least 7 hours and up to 24 hours. Hope this helps, even though the reply is a year after your post! :-)

          • Lauree says

            Wow! To think i just cut corn out of my diet because we , humans, couldn’t process it. Always wondered how Mexicans could live on it. Such a simple fix.

  2. says

    We mill some of our homegrown corn, and I wish I had known about the nixtamalization process! We’ll have to try it again with our crop this year.

    We live in California, so like FoodRenegade said, we have much better access to masa, although the organic stuff is still pretty expensive [side note: I love how California has SUCH better access to organic, "healthy" food, but we certainly still pay the same "out-of-state" price for it! ;)]. But we use masa infrequently, so we don’t mind buying the good stuff when we’re out of our own.

    KH: That’s my attitude too. If we don’t have it all of the time, then it’s not such a big deal to buy the good stuff. And if it was main part of our diet, would I really want it to be GMO, low quality corn?

  3. says

    I would love information on purchasing organic corn for grinding at home. I almost expect someone to say that it’s simply what I buy and use as popcorn, but would love to know for sure. If that’s the case, I can buy organic popcorn for the same price as organic whole oat groats or organic rye berries (around $1.39/lb).

    Also, Kimi, you mentioned that in most resources other than NT they rinse the lime-soaked corn before adding other ingredients (I’m guessing that also means before soaking further in an acidic solution). Any suggestions for that? I have some cheese-draining cloth that I could use to line my colander… thoughts?

    KH: It is actually a different type of corn then popcorn. You can see an example of it at azure standard. It’s really not too expensive when bought in bulk. I think you just have to make sure that your grinder can handle grinding corn, because it can become quite rough on it.

    I am making Brown Bread today using lime soaked cornmeal (coarse), and I was able to rinse it in my fine sieve. It had gotten a little bigger since it absorbed some of the lime water, and I didn’t lose any of it. But it you didn’t have a fine sieve, or if you were using more finely ground corn, you could definitely use the cheesecloth. That’s a great idea.

  4. says

    I’m quite used to the idea of going extra steps to get the maximum nutrition from what we eat. It wasn’t long after I started baking my own bread that I learned the importance of freshly milled flour and invested in a home mill. It takes seconds to mill flour, but the effort is paid off in superior nutrition as well as flavor and end-product result.

    Recently I have learned the importance of soaking or sprouting grain before cooking with it and don’t mind an extra step there, either. It takes only seconds to stir together the lime water. It separates itself, then it takes seconds to add it to the cornmeal. It limes itself while I’m off doing other things. A few more seconds to add water and whey so the meal can soak while I sleep and in the morning the meal is ready to use. It takes more organization than time, and more forethought than effort. I don’t mind taking extra steps like those!

    KH: I agree! Each step only takes a minute or two. It’s not a big deal, you just have to plan. I am a terrible, terrible planner, but I have still gotten a bit of a system going so that I can line things up.

  5. says

    So, are you supposed to always soak it in the lime and then also in an acid? I often soak my corn in kefir for cornbread, but maybe that’s not enough?

  6. says

    I have bought organic dent (or “field”) corn online from Tropical Traditions. I soaked it in lime for a few days and made masa with it — it’s delicious!

    I really think it’s important to avoid all GMO crops — from what I’ve read, it’s truly terrible for our health. I only eat organic corn now.

  7. Misty says

    Thank you so much for sharing this information! I hadn’t read about this before, but have been feeling, for some time that my boys have a hard time digesting corn.
    I think this might be part of why! I assume I could soak any corn product (whole corn, grits, or corn meal) and then dry it and use as normal? I’ve tried Masa in cornbread and it was too fine, and didn’t do a good job making an edible bread. Great for tamales tho :-)
    In reading thru the other links, I don’t see the addition of vinegar or lemon juice soak after the lime. Can you give the reason for that?
    Also, this clearly applies to field corn, but what about sweet corn, corn on the cob, or pop-corn? I’m wondering what would happen if you soaked corn straight from the garden, still on ears in the lime water? Would it be still taste yummy off the cob, but be easier to break down in the system so my son could digest it as opposed to fermenting it in his colon?
    Thanks again for this post and information!

  8. says

    I nixtamalized some corn and then used Sue Gregg’s Blender Pancake method to “grind” into polenta. Since I’m adding water anyhow, it works in the blender, otherwise I’d have to dry it and then put it in the grain mill.

    This worked really well and I’ve linked to my post about the process.

  9. says

    I had heard, most likely from the documentary “The Future of Food,” that organic doesn’t necessarily mean no GMO. For instance, if a crop of otherwise organic corn is cross-pollinated with some Monsanto corn, then it can still qualify as organic. I would love to be wrong about this, so please tell me if I am because right now I’m scared of corn, LOL. Does anyone know an organic corn producer that tests for GMO?

    • Caesura says

      It can cross pollinate and become contaminated, but if it’s tested and found to be contaminated then it can’t be sold as organic. Actually, in those cases Monsanto is pretty aggressive about suing the organic farmer for “theft” of their patented genetic material. If as little as 1% of the crop is contaminated then Monsanto can take possession of the entire crop if the farmer doesn’t pay some very hefty fees. It’s very sad and unjust.

  10. Bethany says

    I just though I’d say that wikipedia has a pretty good description of this process for those of you interested. And I know I’m posting this waaay late :)

  11. Heather C says

    You can buy hominy grits from Arrowhead Mills off of Amazon.com. Is there a reason not to use pre-made hominy? I prefer milling my own grains but do find it hard to find organic whole yellow corn. And hopefully you see comments made nearly a year later….

  12. Marcella Rensi says

    Actually, Nothern Italy used to have a serious problem with pellagra. My father (now in his 70′s) grew up in Trentino, and remembers special hospital wards for people with pellagra.

  13. Sharon says

    Kimi, I recently started soaking and grinding corn to make tortillas. So far I’ve used a food processor to “grind” the nixtamal, and it works well, but someday I’d love to get a traditional hand-crank mill for it. I haven’t been able to find one online. Any idea of where I could get one? Other than Mexico? :)

    Thank you for sharing all of your knowledge and whole-food adventures! It has been very helpful and encouraging to me.

  14. Soccy says

    So to be clear, first you must soak the corn in lime, then before using you must soak in an acid solution as well? Also, what if I only have cornmeal? I have a 25 lb of organic cornmeal that I purchased for tortillas and breads. Is there any way to nixtamalize it? Thank you !!

  15. Waheed Kola Olalekan says

    Thanks Kimi, please can u explain to me how to produce Maize Tortilla? I will be more grateful.

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