The short answer to ‘What is a good substitute for masa harina?’ is cornmeal. In fact, masa harina is a special type of cornmeal that is used to make the dough for tortillas, tamales, and other dishes from both Mexican and South American cuisines.
The difference between regular cornmeal and masa harina is the process in which it is made. Masa harina is made by a process called nixtamalization which involves cooking dried corn kernels with lime and then grinding the kernels in a mill creating a rough dough, which is known as “masa”. This masa is then dried and turned into powder.
But, cornmeal is not the only substitute for masa harina. If you find yourself craving some homemade tortillas or tamales but you don’t have any masa harina at hand, here is a list of possible ingredients you could use as a substitution for masa harina:
- Corn meal – also made from corn, cornmeal is probably the best substitute for masa harina, however it is not typically as finely ground as masa harina so, if you’re going to substitute with cornmeal, then you might want to blend or process it for a few seconds to try to make it finer.
- Grits – grits are another good substitute as they are also made from corn. The major difference here though is that grits are typically made using American corn and not the traditional Mexican grown corn of masa harina. This can give a different taste or texture to your final product.
- Flour – yes, you could potentially try to use regular plain flour as a substitute for masa harina. Of course flour is made from wheat, not from corn, so you can expect a difference in taste and texture but, depending on what you are cooking, you could give it a try at a pinch.
- Corn starch – corn starch (also known as cornflour) could also possibly be used as a substitute for masa harina. It is made from corn, however the texture of cornstarch is a lot finer than the texture of masa harina so the resulting taste and texture might be affected. Corn starch is better suited as a thickening agent to thicken up soups, stews and chili.
- Arrowroot powder – commonly used as a thickener for people with gluten intolerances, arrowroot powder has a similar texture to masa harina, it does, however, have a different taste so you might want to do a test batch of whatever you are making before committing to using it for a large amount of food.
- Polenta – similar to grits, polenta is an Italian dish that is usually made from corn meal, although it can include other ingredients. It typically looks like coarsely ground corn and is usually easy to find in supermarkets, making it a handy substitute.
- Ground Up Corn Tortillas/Taco Shells – OK, this might sound weird but, hear me out, if you need a substitute for masa harina and you have some corn tortillas or taco shells or corn chips in the house, then you can effectively recycle them back into the powder from which they were made! Just break up your chips or tortillas and process them in a blender or food processor until they become a fine powder again. Then, you’ve got a product somewhat similar to masa harina.
While any of these listed ingredients could be used as a substitute for masa harina, none of them will give you that truly authentic taste and texture you might be looking for in your Mexican food so, maybe the best option would be to order in some authentic Mexican take out and order some masa harina from amazon.
With their super fast shipping it will be with you in a day or two and, in the meantime, you can enjoy your take-out!