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Chef-Grade Cal

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Cal (Calcium Hydroxide/Culinary Lime)

the key to nixtamalization

 

A daunting word for a simple process, nixtamalization is the ancient Mesoamerican practice of steeping whole-kernel corn in an alkaline solution, usually water and calcium hydroxide (also known as cal). This process imparts calcium and activates the essential amino acids and B3 not available in untreated corn. It also improves the texture, flavor, aroma and structure of the kernel, and softens it in preparation for masa dough. Nixtamalization transforms corn into a nutritionally complete superfood. Easily one of the greatest human discoveries – right up there with fermentation and fire. 

 

The role of calcium hydroxide in making masa. For the visual folks.

 

So what happens if you don’t soak your kernels in cal? Well, let’s explore what happened to Christopher Columbus after he “discovered” corn.

When Christopher Columbus brought back corn from the New World, he forgot to bring the nixtamalization technique home with him. The rural European communities who subsisted on this new crop developed a terrible disease called pellagra. Pellagra is caused by a niacin (vitamin B3)  deficiency from the consumption of untreated corn, which results in rather unpleasant symptoms like scaly, inflamed skin rashes, hair loss, mouth sores, and even dementia. Not fun.

So in the end, we can safely say corn is nothing without its good friend Cal.

As a general rule, we suggest beginning with a 1% ratio of cal to the total weight of corn (e.g. 100 lbs of corn would require 1 lb of cal). Check out our friends at Masienda for the full process.

Chef-Grade Cal

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