The World of Maíz

Maíz (Spanish), or maize (English) is another word for corn, from the ancient Taino word mahiz – and it is one of the world’s most widely planted crops. The consensus is that maíz originated in Mexico, with the mesoamericans using the selective breeding of teosinte, an ancient genetic ancestor of maíz.

With 59 distinct landraces grown throughout Mexico, maíz was a revered crop of the mayan, Olmec and Aztecs, and is still a staple food source today.

“Selection for better taste and texture, ease of preparation, specific colours, and ceremonial uses all played a role in the evolution of different landraces…”

Today, CIMMYT’s Maize Germplasm Bank contains over 28,000 unique collections of maize seed and related species from 88 countries.

Denise Costich, head of CIMMYT’s (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, known by its Spanish acronym, CIMMYT) maize germplasm bank & senior scientist.
Examples of some of the 59 native Mexican maize landraces. Photo from CIMMYT Maize Germplasm Bank

In today’s Mexico, the most popular form of maíz is found as fresh masa (fresh corn dough made from nixtamal), or masa harina (the fresh masa, dried into a corn flour). Not to be confused with corn meal – again, masa and masa harina are made from nixtamalized maíz, not simply whole, ground up corn.

The process of nixtamalization requires soaking kernels in a lime solution (as in calcium hydroxide, not the lime fruit), to soften and allow for the removal of the hard outer shell of the kernels, making the corn more digestible as well as increasing nutrients such as vitamin B3 (niacin) and calcium – making nixtamalized maíz a healthy, nutrient dense food source. Note: the maize used for nixtamal is ‘dent’ or ‘flint’, not ‘sweet corn’, the yellow corn that’s commonly eaten directly from the cob, or as loose kernels removed from the cob.

Whether you’re interested in making tamales, tortillas, gorditas or something else delicious, and are looking for fresh ground masa here on the island, you can purchase it from Salmo 23, at #495 Av. 65 across from Boxito, between Calle José María Morelos and Calle Miguel Hidalgo. They also make tortillas for sale.

If you’d like to use dried masa harina, Maseca (the most popular masa harina brand) is available at Chedraui and most other grocers. If you’d like to try something a little different, Maseca also has a blue corn option.

Masa harina can be used in many ways and is also popular in other cuisines, for more ideas on how to use masa harina in the kitchen, take a look at this article in the Washington Post.

Want to learn more about nixtamalization and see the process? Check out this video by

Buen Provecho!

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