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Masa Harina Substitute: 7 Options For Authentic Latin American Cuisine

Not sure what to use as a masa harina substitute? I have some ideas that won’t sacrifice the delicious flavor of your Mexican food.

I love Mexican recipes, therefore I know masa harina is essential. It’s a type of corn flour used for corn tortillas, tamales, and pupusas.

Masa harina is sometimes unavailable. Then I’ve got to get inventive and locate a last-minute alternative.

These masa harina replacements work well for me. Let’s see what you think of them!

Masa Harina Substitutes featured image | Girl Meets Food

What is masa harina?

Masa harina is flour prepared from dried corn kernels treated with limewater-treated (calcium hydroxide). Nixtamalization softens maize and releases its nutrients. After that, masa harina is made by finely grinding softened corn.

It’s a versatile and tasty ingredient for classic Mexican cuisine and innovative creations. The somewhat sweet, earthy taste and soft, doughy texture set it apart from other flours.

It’s also gluten-free and rich in fiber, calcium, potassium, and iron!

Most supermarket shops sell masa harina in the ethnic foods aisle or baking materials section. You can also order it online.

Best masa harina substitute ideas

A plate full of masa harina with tablespoon in it  stands on a wooden surface | Girl Meets Food
  • Cornmeal

Cornmeal and masa harina have a similar corn flavor since they’re both ground corn. To make cornmeal taste and feel more like masa harina, add lime juice or baking soda.

To approximate the taste, you can also add a little cornstarch. Try 1 tablespoon of cornstarch per cup of cornmeal and adjust to taste.

If you’re wondering if cornmeal can replace regular flour, check out my article where I dive deeper into this question!

  • Masa harina mix

If you have masa harina mix but no masa, you’re in luck. Masa harina mix contains flour, baking powder, and salt. 

Since it already has salt, use less salt in your recipe. Masa harina mix may also absorb more liquid, so adjust that as well.

  • Cornstarch and all-purpose flour

Masa harina can be made using all-purpose flour and cornstarch if you don’t have cornmeal. 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup cornstarch form the closest substitute.

This alternative won’t taste or feel the same as masa harina, so adapt your recipe appropriately.

Instead of masa harina, I used tamale dough flour with cornstarch and all-purpose flour. The tamales were denser and less soft but had a distinctive flavor.

  • Polenta

Polenta is another corn-based masa harina replacement made from ground corn. It’s a coarser version than cornmeal, therefore it may need to be ground to resemble masa harina. To make polenta taste like masa harina, add lime juice or baking soda.

I used polenta as a masa substitute to make fresh tortillas, which had a wonderful, somewhat sweet flavor. Unfortunately, they were more brittle and cracked, making them tougher to deal with.

If you want authentic corn tortillas, masa harina is still the best choice.

  • Instant masa flour

Instant masa flour can replace masa harina quickly. Like masa harina, this is lime-treated pre-cooked maize flour. It tastes and feels like masa harina, making it a good alternative.

The only drawback is that instant masa flour can be tougher to locate than alternative dry ingredients.

  • Masa preparada

Masa preparada is pre-cooked corn dough made from freshly ground hominy. So it’s the most convenient substitute for masa harina. It tastes and feels like masa harina, although it may have a slightly different flavor than freshly ground corn.

Fresh masa dough does contain preservatives and salt, so check the label to decide if that works with your recipe.

  • Corn flour

Masa harina can be substituted with corn flour. This finely ground cornmeal is a staple ingredient in gluten-free baking.

It’s not masa harina, but it works in a pinch. Lime juice or baking soda may be needed to replicate masa harina’s taste and texture.

If you’re looking for similar gluten-free ingredients, these corn flour substitutes are worth trying!

How to make masa harina?

Masa harina is made in a few easy steps. Let’s look at a quick guide:

  1. Soak dried maize kernels in water with a little slaked lime or baking soda. Nixtamalization softens and hulls corn.

  2. Drain and rinse the maize to remove lime or baking soda after soaking it overnight.

  3. Grind the maize in a metate, molino, or grain mill. The resulting dough should be smooth and somewhat grainy.

  4. Put the nixtamal dough on a flat surface to dry overnight.

  5. A grain mill or food processor can finely grind dry nixtamal dough.

  6. Sieve the masa harina through a fine mesh sieve to remove big or gritty particles.

  7. After making masa harina, you can keep it in an airtight container and use it for your favorite Mexican dishes.

Masa flour substitute FAQs

A person is making some pancakes from a masa dough | Girl Meets Food
Can I use flour instead of masa harina?

Yes, you can use flour instead of masa harina. Add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch per cup of flour for masa harina flavor.

Can I use masa instead of flour?

Yes, you can use masa instead of regular flour. The flavor and texture will be slightly different though.

Is masa harina the same as cornstarch?

No, masa harina isn’t the same as cornstarch. Masa harina is formed from crushed, dried kernels of corn and lime-treated pre-cooked maize flour. Cornstarch is a fine white powdered starch manufactured from a specific variety of maize. It’s mostly used as a thickener.

Can I make my own masa harina?

Yes, you can make your own masa harina. I’ve described the quick process above.

Is masa harina just corn flour?

No, masa harina isn’t just corn flour. Masa harina is made from nixtamalized maize kernels that have been soaked in lime or baking soda, ground, and dried.

Can I turn cornmeal into masa harina?

No, you can’t turn cornmeal into masa harina. The nixtamalization procedure (soaking corn in lime water) makes masa harina more digestible and gives it a distinct flavor and texture. Cornmeal cannot become masa harina without this step.

What’s the best masa harina substitute for pupusas?

Instant masa flour is one of the best masa harina substitutes for pupusas. A combination of all-purpose flour and cornstarch can also work.

Where to buy masa harina?

Masa harina is sold at most supermarkets, grocery shops and online. If you want masa harina with a more genuine taste, visit a Mexican grocery store or tortilleria.

What are the health benefits of masa harina?

Due to its high fiber and vitamin and mineral content, masa harina has several health advantages. Magnesium, zinc, iron, and other nutrients are abundant in it. Lime-treated maize flour balances acidity and facilitates digestion. It’s also naturally gluten-free and may aid celiac disease patients.

BOTTOM LINE: Masa harina is a rare ingredient, although there are various substitutes. Each substitute – cornmeal, masa harina mix, all-purpose flour and cornstarch, almond flour, or polenta – has its own flavor and texture, so you may need to tweak your recipe.

These substitutions are a fun way to add new notes to authentic foods. Feel free to share your favorite masa harina recipes in the comments!

If you like baking, some of my earlier posts on flour substitutes might be useful. I’ve covered topics like alternatives to buckwheat flour, sorghum flour replacements and options to use in place of chickpea flour.