Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Nixtamalization or Making Hominy

    I've watched a number of You Tube videos over the past week on the process of nixtamalization or in other words, the making of hominy.  This is a process of treating corn with lime water or wood ashes, used by the Aztecs and North American Indians to make their corn more nutritious.  Corn has a significant amount of niacin, but not in a form that humans can digest.  The process of nixtamalization converts the niacin to a more digestible form, thus making it a more nutritious staple.  When Columbus came to the New World, he took corn back to Europe with him. However, he didn't take nixtamalization with him. Because corn is more productive than many other grains, the poorer classes of people made corn a significant part of their diet. After a while they began to suffer from malnutrition in the form of Pelagra, a disease caused by a niacin deficient diet.  I'm not sure how the indians stumbled on the process of nixtamalization or came to understand its value. Maybe they just thought it made the corn taste better. Corn eaten with beans is also more nutritious as the beans have lots of niacin and make up for the corn's lack.
One Quart of Dry Dent Corn
    I started with a quart jar of dry dent corn. I added this to a half gallon of water, then stirred in a table spoon of calcium oxide dissolved in a cup of water.  It is very important to use a non reactive pot like stainless, enameled.  If this were to be done using an aluminum pot it would end very badly. I brought the water to boil and then let the corn boil for 20 minutes.  When I turned the heat off, the corn had swollen significantly and already smelled like corn nuts.  After soaking in the lime water for 24 hours, I rinsed the corn until the water was clean and rubbed the skins or pericarp off the corn kernels. Lime water, being caustic, isn't particularly good for your skin.  It is very important to rinse the hominy well before handling it and it wouldn't hurt to wear rubber gloves.  Once the skins have been removed, the hominy is finished.
Cooked and Limed, Ready for a 24 Hour Soak

     In Mexican cuisine hominy is used whole in soups like Pozole or ground using a meat grinder to make the masa harina used in tamales or tortillas.  Ground hominy can also be cooked to make grits.  In one You Tube video I watched the hominy was deep fat fried to make corn nuts.  One cup of hominy  went into Linda's taco soup. I liked the flavor very much, but they needed to be cooked a bit longer than the other ingredients. They were tasty but a little chewy. We made the rest into corn nuts.  I deep fat fried one batch. The major difficulty with that was the lack of the proper tool to retrieve the corn nuts from the hot oil when they were done. As a consequence, the removal process took longer than it should have and some of the corn nuts were a bit over done.  Linda tried baking some instead. They turned out very tasty, but a tad harder than the ones I fried.  We're going to try doing some in the popcorn popper next time. Now all we need to do is experiment a bit with seasonings.

The finished hominy, rinsed, rubbed and drained
Home made corn nuts

   I don't know about our Missouri and Iowa ancestors, but I know the ones from Arkansas made and ate hominy.  My mother remembers burning her mouth trying to eat an unfinished piece of hominy when she was a little kid living in Arkansas.  She didn't recall any details as to the process her mother used. Her parents and grandparents didn't grind the hominy to make grits. They fried the hominy in butter instead and served it as a vegetable.  Indians in North America used wood ashes to make hominy. Wood ashes mixed with water will produce Potassium Hydroxide rather than Calcium Hydroxide.  I watched several videos where wood ashes were used to make the hominy. Mom doesn't remember what her mother used to make hominy. She just remembers getting a blister on her lip trying to eat a piece of hominy before it was rinsed. As mom remembers it, our Arkansas ancestors mainly ground their corn for corn bread, corn meal mush, and to feed their animals. Her grandpa occasionally loaded corn into a wagon and took it somewhere to be ground. The person who ground the corn kept a portion of the corn meal as payment.


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