First things first, what is masa harina? Loosely translated, masa harina means dough flour. It is a very common ingredient used in Mexican dishes.
Masa harina is made from corn flour. To make masa, they cook cornflour with slacked lime and water. Thereafter, they dry it.
The slacked lime gives masa harina a distinctive flavor. To use the masa, you need to mix it with oil and water so as to form the dough.
Alternatively, you can make masa harina by using a food processor to grind corn. Once the flour is fine, you add lime and a little bit of oil to it. Unfortunately, using this method gets rid of the nutrients.
People use masa harina to make tortillas, tamales, and several other Mexican dishes. It is a must have if you are a lover of Mexican dishes like I am.
Contrary to common belief, masa harina is actually a very versatile ingredient. You can use the masa harina to thicken sauces.
It actually works way better than cornmeal and regular flour because of its distinctive flavor. You can also use it to make cornbread and pasta.
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Making masa harina is such a difficult task, even for me. It requires so much time and attention to detail.
Luckily, there are several other things that can substitute masa harina. So just in case, you do not feel up to the task, you can opt to use the substitutes instead.
Cornmeal, fresh masa, cornstarch, ground corn tortillas, grits, masa preparada, polenta, ground arrowroot, ground corn taco shells, and ground corn tortilla chips are good substitutes for masa harina.
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Masa Harina Substitutes
Being able to substitute ingredients in dishes with something else is a blessing. Imagine living in a world where you can’t substitute one thing for another, tragic! I love masa harina, and my tortillas always test better with it.
Unfortunately, I may not always have in hand thus the need to substitute it with something else. There is no need to panic when you run out of masa harina yet you can easily substitute it with something else.
With substitutes, you need to be creative in order to achieve the flavor that you want. Below are a few good masa harina substitutes. I have personally tried them all and I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed.
Cornmeal is a great substitute for masa harina, and the best thing about it is that you can find it in any grocery store near you. Both white and yellow cornmeal makes for great substitutes. Cornmeal is made from corn and they have several similar characteristics apart from the texture.
Cornmeal and masa harina do not have the same texture. Masa harina has a fine texture whereas cornmeal has a coarse texture. To get the best results when using cornmeal as a substitute for masa harina, I recommend mixing it with flour.
If your recipe requires you to use 2 cups of masa harina, use one cup of cornmeal mixed with flour. Be sure to mix the cornmeal and flour in the ratio 2:1. You can also add a little bit of lime to your dish to achieve a flavor similar to that of masa harina.
- Fresh Masa
Masa is actually the dough used to make masa harina. That makes it a great substitute for masa harina. Fresh masa is not as readily available as the other substitutes.
If you manage to get it, then you are in luck. Most people allege that fresh masa makes better tortillas and tamales compared to masa harina.
Use the fine masa to make corn tortillas and the course masa to make tamales. It is actually easier to cook using fresh masa because it is already a dough. Therefore, all you need to do is roll it out and cook. Pretty convenient, right?
Fresh masa does not last for as long as masa harina does. So make sure it is still safe to use before using it. Your tamales and tortillas will never be the same when you use fresh masa. You’ll love how they’ll turn out.
Cornstarch is a must-have in every kitchen. I always have some on hand. Cornstarch is also a great substitute for masa harina. Cornstarch and masa harina do not have the same texture. Cornstarch is a little bit finer compared to masa harina.
Most people use cornstarch to thicken soups. For this reason, I recommend using cornstarch as a substitute when you want to thicken your soup using masa harina and you have none in hand.
When using cornstarch as a substitute, mix it with a cup of cold water. This way, your soup won’t have lumps in it. Next time you’re making Mexican soup and you do not have any masa harina in hand, use cornstarch instead.
Just like cornstarch, flour is a great substitute for masa harina. Being a common ingredient that is readily available makes it the go-to substitute when you do not have masa harina in hand.
However, it is important to note that flour does not have the same taste as masa harina. It may thicken your soup but the taste won’t be as amazing.
When using flour as a substitute, add it bit by bit to your soup until you achieve the thickness that you want.
- Ground corn tortillas
Yes, ground corn tortillas are a great substitute for masa harina.
All you need to do is pop some corn tortillas into your food processor and grind until they form a fine flour. The flour is a great alternative to masa harina.
I recommend using non-flavored tortillas because the flavored ones will definitely overpower your dish and you do not want that to happen.
Ground corn tortillas work best as a thickening agent because tortillas have some other ingredients in them.
Grits are my second go to substitute after fresh masa. Since grits are made from corn flour, they are a great substitute for masa harina.
Most companies use American corn to make grits so the taste may be a little bit different from that of masa harina. Grits also have a coarse texture which is different from that of masa harina.
However, you can still use it as a substitute and it would taste almost the same as masa harina.
To use grits as a substitute for masa harina, place them in a food processor and grind to make the texture a bit similar to that of masa harina.
- Masa preparada
Masa preparada is simply a better version of masa harina. And it is definitely easier to prepare compared to masa harina.
Although it is a great substitute, mesa preparada is expensive compared to all the other substitutes. However, it is worth every coin.
Just like grits, polenta is a great substitute when used as a thickening agent.
Polenta is made from cornmeal but it also has other ingredients like millet, chestnut, and farrow among others. It has a texture similar to that of masa harina and an amazing flavor as well.
You can buy polenta in any local grocery store near you. Some varieties are coarse while others are fine. It is really up to you to decide which one you like best.
- Ground arrowroot
Ground arrowroot is yet another great substitute for masa harina. It has a similar texture to masa harina but the flavor is a little bit different.
For this reason, be sure you like the flavor of the arrowroot before using it as a substitute.
Ground arrowroot works great as a soup thickener. I recommend adding it bit by bit to your soup until you achieve the thickness that you desire.
- Ground corn taco shells and ground corn tortilla chips
Corn taco shells and corn tortilla chips can make good substitutes for masa harina when you grind them. Since they are obviously made from corn, the flavor is quite similar to that of masa harina.
Some even have masa harina as one of the ingredients. Make sure you buy the ones that have masa harina listed as one of the ingredients.
Simply place your corn taco shells and corn tortilla chips into a food processor and grind them. You’ll end up with a fine mixture that is quite similar to masa harina.
You can use ground corn taco shells and ground corn tortilla chips as a flour ingredient where a recipe calls for masa harina or as a thickening agent in Mexican soups.
You may want to substitute masa harina with something else for various reasons.
Maybe you are on a budget and you need to use something less expensive, or your local grocery store does not have any in stock, or maybe you just want to experiment with something else.
Whatever the reason, these substitutes may just be exactly what you need. You may even end up deciding to use them instead of masa harina in the long run.
Try these substitutes and let me know how your dishes turn out. Crossing my fingers that you’ll like the outcome.