Tacos, tlayudas, tamales—what do all of them have in widespread? It’s corn! Whereas extremely versatile as soon as cooked, corn (maize, or maíz in Spanish) in its uncooked kind isn’t digestible by the human body because of its excessive ranges of cellulose, a sort of insoluble fiber. That is the place la magia (the magic) of nixtamalization comes into play.
Nixtamalization is an historic Mesoamerican culinary technique1 that includes cooking uncooked corn kernels in alkalized water, turning them right into a digestible, gentle, flavorful corn dough. The method additionally unlocks a lot of corn’s important vitamins. Nixtamalization has performed a key position in Mexican delicacies for hundreds of years (Mesoamericans are stated to have discovered it in 1500 BC), however it’s each time-consuming and taxing to persistently execute at residence, and one of many explanation why this culinary method has been misplaced within the combine for a lot of in the previous couple of many years. However that is about to vary: Various new ready-to-eat shopper merchandise starring authentically made nixtamalized corn—from tortillas and tortilla chips to dehydrated masa flour—shall be cropping (!) up on retailer cabinets in 2024 to make its many perks simply and conveniently accessible to shoppers nationwide.
A fast primer on the science of nixtamalization: The method begins by cooking whole-kernel corn in an alkaline (pH better than seven) resolution fabricated from water plus calcium hydroxide, wooden ash, or culinary limestone powder (often called “cal”) for a minimum of six to 12 hours. This course of removes the outermost layer of corn and modifications the chemistry of the inside flesh, leading to corn dough that’s softer, extra nutrient-dense, and richer in taste; it may also be dehydrated and was flour. “Nixtamalization enhances corn’s earthy, subtly candy notes and yields a extra malleable masa that’s smoother and extra palatable,” says Julio Chavez, govt chef at La Marea at Viceroy Riviera Maya, noting why the restaurant goes to nice lengths to heart a lot of its recipes round nixtamalized corn-based dishes.
Nixtamalization is a key discovery in human historical past for securing wealthy and dense diet in individuals’s diets; the method was possible important for sustaining civilizations during the pre-Columbian era, as corn was—and nonetheless is—the muse of a nutritious weight-reduction plan for a lot of. “Nutritionally, nixtamalization enhances the bioavailability of niacin2, vitamin B3, serving to to forestall pellagra [a disease caused by a severe deficiency of niacin]. It additionally will increase the calcium content material, which is helpful for bone health, and promotes the provision of sure amino acids, like tryptophan,” says Dalina Soto, MA, RD, LDN, registered dietitian and founding father of Your Latina Nutritionist.
But, the disadvantage has all the time been clear: Nixtamalization is an arduous, prolonged course of to execute. And in Mexican tradition, it’s a job that’s typically absorbed by the matriarch of the household, notably the abuelita (grandmother), says Sarah Portnoy, PhD, a professor within the Latinx Meals Research and Meals Justice Division of Latin American and Iberian Cultures on the College of Southern California and producer of the documentary, Abuelita’s Kitchen: Mexican Food Stories. Whereas some cooks in Mexico are nonetheless making nixtamalized masa at residence, the observe hasn’t been as prevalent because it as soon as was because of the industrialization of the tortilla-making industry that started within the Eighties. Within the years following, many nixtamalized corn-based merchandise had been changed with products made primarily from corn flour (or ground, whole corn kernels that haven’t been cooked in cal). Whereas corn flour lacks a number of the diet and depth of taste nixtamalized flour affords, it’s certainly simpler to provide.
Demographic shifts have led to a shift in style, permitting for the return of nixtamalized corn.
“Because the world obtained busier and as modernization began to occur, [Mexican consumers] began to transition away from nixtamalization, and unexpectedly we had been shopping for [non-nixtamalized] tortillas from the grocery retailer,” says Hector Saldivar, the CEO and founding father of Tia Lupita, a Mexican-founded meals model that launched nixtamalized corn merchandise to its lineup in 2020. And as corn tortillas and different Mexican meals staples grew to become extra accessible stateside, demand for them continued to develop, too—proper alongside the population of Mexican-Americans living in the U.S. At present, the American tortilla industry is valued at $6.4 billion, and in line with Future Market Insights, the corn flour market is predicted to achieve a valuation of $34.5 billion by 2033, up from $19.3 billion in 2023.
Demographic shifts have led to a shift in style, permitting for the return of nixtamalized corn. “With Latines making up almost 20 percent of the U.S. population, and greater than $3 trillion in purchasing power, our [Mexican] tastes have quickly grow to be mainstream, and masa isn’t any exception inside this shift,” says Jorge Gaviria, the founding father of heritage masa model Masienda and the James Beard Award-nominated creator of Masa. As such, a number of meals manufacturers—particularly these with Mexican roots and deep cultural ties to nixtamalization—at the moment are that includes nixtamalized corn as a essential ingredient of their merchandise regardless of the additional effort concerned in making ready it.
Surprisingly, nixtamalization is “very scalable,” says Andrés Figueroa, vice-president of culinary, innovation & high quality at Siete Foods, a Mexican-American meals model based in 2014 that began promoting nixtamalized corn chips (aka totopos) earlier this yr. As an alternative of cooking and steeping corn in pots, for instance, he says Siete makes use of giant tanks; grinding stones are machine-powered to undergo hundreds of kilos of corn per hour. “This methodology nonetheless yields the identical pliable, heat dough that one would receive via handbook grinding with a metate—the OG flat mortar and pestle stone software used at hand grind the nixtamalized corn,” Figueroa says. “It takes much more time, extra eyes on the method, and extra effort to organize our chips this fashion versus mixing corn flour with water, however we see it as value the fee and definitely worth the effort—as we really feel it yields a extra flavorful, extra genuine totopo.”
The additional labor and time, plus the particular take care of ingredient sourcing, has had some implications for Masienda’s ambition to scale its nixtamalized merchandise, says Gaviria. “The actual problem in scaling to bigger markets comes a lot sooner than the nixtamal course of. It begins with the corn. No different producer of masa harina is utilizing heirloom corn from Mexico, so we needed to primarily construct a provide chain the place there wasn’t one, and we did it one farmer at a time,” he says. Since Masienda’s farming companions develop very specialised, non-standardized (aka non-hybridized, non-GMO) product, this can lead to decrease yields (which in flip drives up costs). That greater than something could make the tip product costlier: Masienda’s Heirloom White Corn Masa Harina is $12 per 2.2-pound bag, whereas different manufacturers’ white corn masa typically promote for $4 to $6 per bag.
“Industrializing nixtamalization is definitely the simple half from a value perspective; nonetheless, discovering high quality corn that’s natural and non-GMO is what drives the prices up,” agrees Tia Lupita’s Saldivar.
However Gaviria argues that the improved taste and authenticity of nixtamalized merchandise make the fee distinction nicely value it. “There may be intrinsically extra labor that goes into cultivating and caring from the plant from seed to cob, however that additionally equates to extra taste, extra genetic and biodiversity safety, and extra impression,” he says. “We’re taking that labor on so different individuals can have entry to a extra readily-usable product that’s extra nutritious—because of the means we course of it—with higher sourcing and manufacturing.”
The founders of those manufacturers finally agree the advantages of retaining this culinary custom alive, maximizing corn’s potential well being advantages, and showcasing the ingredient’s fullest style outweigh any of the manufacturing hurdles they could encounter.
The founders of those manufacturers finally agree the advantages of retaining this culinary custom alive, maximizing corn’s potential health benefits, and showcasing the ingredient’s fullest style outweigh any of the manufacturing hurdles they could encounter. And, evidently, these concerted efforts are paying off—world nixtamalized corn flour gross sales are on monitor for a $3.2 million valuation this yr, and are projected to achieve $5.3 million over the next decade.
A bushel of nixtamalized corn-based meals have already made headway available in the market, with manufacturers like Tia Lupita, Masienda, Siete Meals, and Vista Hermosa main the cost. In 2020, Tia Lupita launched its Cactus Corn Masa Tortillas, a mixture of high-fiber nopales (cactus) and nixtamalized corn made into ready-to-eat tortillas. In October 2023, the model closed a $2.6 million seed round, fully raised by two main Mexican traders within the meals and beverage sector, Santatera Capital and GBM Ventures. “Having the help of my very own nation is the last word validation of authenticity and signal of approval that what we’re doing is exhibiting Mexico, our tradition, and our meals within the highest regard,” Saldivar says.
Tia Lupita scored extra stateside help after receiving a $500,000 funding from Kevin O’Leary on the television series Shark Tank earlier this yr. Saldivar notes that the model’s tortilla enterprise is up 3 % year-to-date (YTD), and the workforce is projecting even greater revenues in 2024 as Tia Lupita expands into new markets. “Distribution via a serious retailer, Walmart, is projected to extend Tia Lupita’s progress exponentially within the coming yr. The workforce is worked up to have the ability to carry genuine tortillas to the lots,” he says.
In the meantime, Masienda has grown into a number one eight-figure nixtamalized corn firm within the U.S. since its 2014 launch. The model focuses on masa harina, heirloom corn, single-origin elements, and cookware (like tortilla presses and molcajetes), all sourced from Mexico. Masienda’s enlargement is substantial: The corporate launched a line of long-anticipated Heirloom Blue and White Corn Masa Harina merchandise nationwide in Complete Meals this September, and Gaviria notes that this marks just the start of the corporate’s progress in retail shops nationwide. “There are lots of brick-and-mortar retailers which can be coming to observe [our expansion into Whole Foods Markets], which is a very massive deal for us,” Gaviria says.
To that finish, in Masienda’s 2022 Sourcing Report, the corporate outlined its dedication to supporting native Mexican suppliers amid rising shopper demand. “We’ve got grown our partnerships with farming communities, artisans, and suppliers throughout Mexico, in addition to devoted ourselves to deepening and strengthening the present relationships which have enabled our progress to this point,” Gaviria says. At present, Masienda focuses on shopping for solely surplus stock from Mexican heirloom corn suppliers with the intention to maintain native markets—and the communities that rely upon them—secure. “Our position is to not dictate what’s grown, however moderately to open up market alternatives for many who would in any other case lack choices for his or her accessible surplus.” Final yr alone, Masienda put $1.2 million worth of its investment funding towards help for small-scale agriculture and family-owned companies in Mexico.
Siete Meals launched its first-ever nixtamalized corn product line February: Maíz Totopos, three scrumptious kinds of nixtamalized corn chips. “We created Siete Maíz Totopos to focus on a heritage ingredient, corn, and honor the method of nixtamalization, an historic method that has been a part of our Mexican tradition for generations,” says Veronica Garza, co-founder, president, and chief innovation officer of Siete Meals. “We’re so proud to share this a part of our historical past and convey much more individuals to the desk with better-for-you corn tortilla chips.” Miguel Garza, co-founder and CEO of Siete Meals provides that customers can’t get sufficient: “The response has been extremely encouraging and we stay up for introducing extra heritage-inspired merchandise within the months to come back,” Garza says.
“We created Siete Maíz Totopos to focus on a heritage ingredient, corn, and honor the method of nixtamalization, an historic method that has been a part of our Mexican tradition for generations.”
Veronica Garza, co-founder, president, and chief innovation officer, Siete Meals
Vista Hermosa, the offshoot CPG model of the favored East Coast-based taco chain Tacombi that launched in 2015, sells freshly-made Nixtamalized Organic Corn Tortillas and Nixtamalized Totopos that relaunched with new-and-improved flavors in September. Trying forward, Tacombi plans to open 75 new locations across the U.S. in the next five years, guaranteeing that extra restaurant-goers across the nation get a style of genuine nixtamalization. In the meantime, Vista Hermosa doubled its enterprise in 2022 and is now accessible in more than 2,000 retail stores across the nation.
Though these ready-to-eat corn merchandise aren’t by any means a alternative for making nixtamalized corn flour or different meals at residence—which is, with out query, probably the most authentically scrumptious technique to do it—they’re a means for people to get a style of the true deal, particularly when distant from residence, within the type of ready-to-eat merchandise that do not require hours of labor to organize for the patron. “There are lots of Mexican meals that haven’t made it throughout the border [into the U.S.] but, and we, at Tia Lupita, wish to be the conduit to introduce individuals to a few of these meals,” says Saldivar. “It’s important to supply a nixtamalized corn product within the U.S. with the intention to maintain our traditions alive and present our authenticity.” As such, Saldivar acknowledges the additional effort and assets this culinary method calls are past worthwhile and assist him obtain his final purpose to protect and convey nixtamalization to the lots.
In 2024, nixtamalized corn merchandise will proceed to pop in varied kinds in varied kinds past simply tortillas and flour. Gaviria says that Masienda has an array of thrilling retail grocery launches on faucet that “characterize the expansion the model—and your entire nixtamalized corn market—is poised for.” Simply launched in October: Masienda’s Tamal Kit (a bundle that yields roughly 50 tamales to provide you a leg up on planning a tamalada, or tamale-making occasion), in addition to a Champurrado Mix, a heat, chocolate-y, masa-based Mexican beverage; simply in time for this vacation season. Over at Tia Lupita’s, Saldivar says plans are within the works to include its nixtamalized masa into extra of its merchandise within the upcoming yr. Vista Hermosa additionally plans on constructing upon its present lineup of genuine tortillas, totopos, and frozen burritos “with an thrilling new line extension,” says Dario Wolos, the CEO and founding father of Vista Hermosa and Tacombi. “In 2024, we’ll even be rising retailer distribution throughout the nation, to make sure extra households have entry to our Mexican pantry staples,” Wolos says.
The speedy progress of recent nixtamalized merchandise hitting the market subsequent yr marks the end result of innovation, custom, and comfort for a lot of Mexican-American culinary consultants. “I believe that [homemade versus not-homemade nixtamalized products] each have a spot in at this time’s world. We do not have to select one over the opposite. If you may make your individual masa, do it. If it’s a must to purchase it pre-made, try this. There isn’t any hierarchy,” Soto says.
Be ready to be a-maize-d by the massive strides the nixtamalized corn market is poised to make subsequent yr. From ready-to-eat tortillas to dehydrated corn masa for making DIY tamales and sopes, this historic method shall be retaining our pantries and fridges fully-stalked (pun supposed) for hundreds of years to come back.
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- Serna-Saldivar, Sergio O. Corn Chemistry and Know-how. 1st ed., Woodhead Publishing and AACC Worldwide Press, 2019. pp. 469-500.
- Acosta-Estrada, Beatriz A et al. “Dietary evaluation of nixtamalized maize tortillas produced from dry masa flour, landraces, and excessive yield hybrids and varieties.” Frontiers in diet vol. 10 1183935. 6 Jul. 2023, doi:10.3389/fnut.2023.1183935