Before the industrialization of our food system, corn was considered a revered and sacred food and was used throughout the America's. However, corn on the cob or cream of corn was not the go-to method of consuming this starchy ingredient. Instead, corn underwent a process called nixtamalization, where the corn kernels are soaked in a solution of limestone or wood ash, and water. This process freed up vitamin B3 and made it a more usable product.
This article shares some good insights about the results of omitting traditional processing required for corn based diets.
"The indigenous people showed the settlers how to prepare the corn before turning it into a dough by first soaking it in lime water (North American Indians used wood ash water) – then rinsing the corn before grinding it into corn mash. This process came to be known as Nixtamalization. However, for the Europeans the process of Nixtamalization seemed unnecessary. After all what good did it do? Nixtamalization was probably just another superstition of those uncivilized people. Or was it?
What happened next is one of those untold tragedies in history. Corn became a sample diet for many people in parts of Europe, Africa, India, and China, but without first undergoing the process of nixtamalization. The result was the development, on-mass, of a life threatening disease called pellagra, caused by a chronic lack of niacin (vitamin B) in the diet. A deficiency of the amino acid lysine in the body can lead to a deficiency of niacin, thus leading to pellagra causing extreme suffering and even death. This is the risk one takes when eating a corn-based diet that has not been nixtamixed."
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While this may be considered "yet another time consuming process" to add to an already busy schedule, getting the most nutrition out of your food should be something we always strive for. By soaking the corn overnight, we can bring out more flavor, aromas, improve the nutritional profile, as well as reduce mycotoxins that can be present in ingredients such as corn, coffee, and peanuts.
This simple process first require making a batch of lime water, then soaking corn kernels or cornmeal in the solution overnight. I use this method before making cornbread, polenta, or grits. Interestingly, we corn is still a staple in many American's diet, but in processed form like high fructose corn syrup and other hidden corn products that flood our supermarket shelves.
How to Make Lime Water
Spring water, or the best option available to you
Pickling Lime (Get it here)
- Place about a 1/2 cup of the pickling lime into a 1 quart Mason jar, which should be about a inch tall in the jar.
- Top with water, screw on the lid, then shake. Let the jar stand on the counter for a few hours until the lime settles, leaving you with a mildly cloudy liquid.
- You can now use the liquid and reserve any extra at room temperature for weeks to months as there is basically an unlimited shelf life.
Soaking the Corn
Hominy is made by soaking whole corn kernels. Combine 1 pound of kernels with 1 ½ quarts of prepared lime water. Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer for 12-15 minutes. Allow the mixture to stand at room temperature for up t0 8 hours or overnight in the fridge. Grind and add water to make fresh tortillas, or stir the kernels into soups or stews.
The corn should then be washed in a colander while being rubbed in between your hands to remove the hull and expose the kernel inside.
If soaking cornmeal, use 1 cup of the liquid for every 2 cups of cornmeal. Allow the mixture to stand at room temperature for 12 hours then proceed as needed for your desired recipe.