Comments on: Mesoamerican Miracle Megapost: Tortillas and Nixtamalization The International Culinary Center's Tech 'N Stuff Blog Thu, 09 Jan 2014 18:17:16 +0000 hourly 1 By: » A Culinary Season Food Post Ink Tue, 06 Sep 2011 14:45:38 +0000 [...] based on a clarification technique using agar.   There was also a sampling of  tortilla chips  nixtamalized, an ancient Mesoamerican process revisited and revised by [...]

By: Sage Hill Sat, 03 Sep 2011 03:00:48 +0000 Shelley,
Did you try the Champion Juicer to grind teh masa? Did it work?

By: davearnold Wed, 10 Aug 2011 14:10:16 +0000 You bet Giuseppe, see you there.

By: davearnold Wed, 10 Aug 2011 13:25:24 +0000 Howdy Kevin,
I never measured the concentration, but it is small. CaOH is only weakly soluble in water. The easiest way to get a constant dosage would be to make lime water (by saturating CaOH in water and letting the residue settle). Lime water is stable and easy to store, then you can add that to cooking water. Much easier is to add CaOH straigt to the pot. Start with a couple of grams per liter and see how it goes.
With number 2, I think you’d have to soak or pre-water blanch before the oil to get the CaOH to the veggies. Please try it and let me know what happens.
Now that I think of it –the first time you do the tests, swamp the water with CaOH (like 10 grams per liter, which is way too much). This way, you know the effect is working. Then scale way back, and make sure the effect is the same. If it isn’t, dial up the concentration slowly.

By: Kevin Wed, 10 Aug 2011 00:40:33 +0000 Hi Dave,

Two quick questions about using a basic substance when cooking green veggies.

1. what concentrations?
2. do you think this would work with oil-blanching? I was thinking about doing Chinese green beans but trying to keep them crazy green while still boiling off a good amount of internal water.


By: davearnold Mon, 08 Aug 2011 16:09:54 +0000 David, Sorry for the tardiness of this reply,
I had always considered the cooking necessary for the pre-gelatinization of the starches, not so much for the destruction of the seed coat.
I haven’t tested my nejayote, but my understanding is that the commercial ones are still alkaline when they are done (don’t quote me). I’d be curious to see how rapidy the pH changes in your tests. I also think the aroma is formed more when using CaOH, although I don’t remember why I believe that (I’d have to go back and re-read all the papers). Several minutes after you start simmering corn, or rye, the “Cal” smell comes out and you know you will have the tortilla aromas. Those aromas are intensified when the tortilla is cooked.
Interesting about the wheat color. Perhaps your variety is low on xanthophyll and flavones (the stuff that makes it yellow).
Since your comment is from a while ago, please update me on your current tests.

By: Giuseppe Mon, 01 Aug 2011 18:05:07 +0000 You will now try sans nixtamalization masa and carimañolas here in Bogota, ill make sure. Great wine and food festival.

By: David Levi Mon, 11 Jul 2011 14:05:55 +0000 Hi Dave,

I am staging at Noma right now and experimenting with nixtamalizing Danish grains using lye I’ve been making from the combined ash of juniper (probably not the ideal wood, but it’s what I have) and fucus seaweed I foraged here in Copenhagen. The strongest solution I got was about pH 12.8… much better than I was expecting, and I think pretty clear evidence that the combined ash produced NaOH and/or KOH, as hoped. I presented to the other chefs on Saturday night and got a great response. Now, it looks like I will be extending the project (and my blissful time at the Nordic Food Lab) for another week. I’ve relied heavily on your article thus far, and commend you for your incredible work. Now I’m wondering if I can pick your brain on a few issues.

Did you test the pH of your used nejayote? I was surprised to see even my strongest stuff neutral or even slightly acidic at the end. I considered this a positive sign, as some chemical reaction was obviously taking place. But I was reluctant to use loads of my hard-won lye to see how much I would need to go through the whole process and still have alkaline nejayote (which would, to me, suggest that the nixtamalization process was complete). One test I ran suggested that pre-soaking in normal water meant I could get away with using less (or less strong) nejayote, though I consider that far from established. But I wonder why that would be.

Did you always get clear tortilla aromas from your nixtamalized grain? Because, I must say, despite the strong chemical reaction, the difference in flavor and aroma between my nixtamalized rye, barley, oats, and wheat and the boiled controls is so subtle that I hardly know if it exists at all.

I have now heard from both you and my friend Esteban, who is from Chile, that nixtamalizing wheat turns it yellow. This did not happen with my wheat. But I was using nejayote with an initial pH of 12, which is, from what I can tell, very much on the strong side. Is it possible that the yellowing comes from something other than the alkalinity? If so, what?

Is cooking necessary for nixtamalization? With one round of my testing on rye, I was unable to get on the range after putting the rye in nejayote (initial pH of 12), due to a long meeting between Rene and the chefs on staff in the test kitchen. When I came in the next morning, the pH of the nejayote had fallen to 6. I strained the rye and put it in new pH 12 nejayote and cooked it. This, too, was neutral at the end. The rye was good, but not tortilla-like. Anyhow, the dramatic chemical reaction that took place during the overnight soak makes me wonder if cooking is actually essential to the nixtamalization process.

I don’t suppose you would know if there are nutritional benefits to nixtamalizing grains other than maize, though if you have come across any such information, I’d love to know of it.

Many thanks,


By: davearnold Sun, 26 Jun 2011 00:21:44 +0000 Cool Chris,
I had not heard of using it with rice. Did you think it made the rice firmer? I don’t know why the rice would go yellow. Wheat goes yellow in basic conditions due to the modification of flavonoids (apigenin-c-glycosides according to my cursory research) at high pH. Rice bran does contain apigenin, but I don’t know if rice does.

By: Chris Fri, 24 Jun 2011 18:56:47 +0000 This article rules, I love tortillas. I’ve been looking for hominy in the northwest with no luck, so now I’m excited to make my own too!

I have experience using lime paste in the Thai restaurant where I work. We use it to make batters, and blanch vegetables like you mentioned, but also to cook rice. Both jasmine rice and Thai sticky (aka glutinous) rice get rinsed in lime paste water, rinsed more in fresh water, then cooked in fresh water. The explanation I was given is that this makes the water harder, like it is in Thailand, and firms up the outside of the rice grain.

It is important not to use too much lime paste, however, because it causes the rice to turn yellow.

Have you heard of this usage? Can you explain why this happens?