I am looking at the lake
A piece of Reddit poetry, inspired by the process of nixtamalization.
And a discussion, inspired by the poem:
The words “nixtamalization” and “lye” have always struck me as suspiciously chemical. It never felt like a process for the home or for bare hands, which is ironic considering its roots in the ancient communities of Mesoamerica. Nixtamalization has endured for thousands of years, and is necessary to make masa, in turn necessary to make corn tortillas...which are... necessary in and of themselves.
Throughout Central America they often rely on slaked lime for this, which is distilled from limestone after heating. Various methods are used to achieve alkilinity in different regions, like potash, wood ash and lye.
metate e mano, traditionally used for grinding nixtamal
The process eliminates much of the kernel’s tough shell (the pericarp), which was certainly a relief back in the day, when it was all done by hand with a metate e mano (a flat stone platform and rolling pin of sorts, a kind of nuanced mortar and pestle). How they happened upon this trick of science is, as with so many bits of ancient alchemy, a mystery.
Not only does nixtamalization ease up the most strenuous part of grinding the corn (a task traditionally relegated to the women- but of course!), it releases a host of nutritional benefits and aromatic flavors (as our poem above notes).
If you can get your hands on some lime, corn, and a food processor or hand grinder, it’s worth tasting the difference between homemade and store bought tortillas (and maseca will do in a pinch). I will leave you with this immensely thorough exploration of the topic at hand, by Dave Arnold.