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All About the Different Kinds of Maize

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2010

I’ve seen recipes calling for masa, masa harina, and masarepa. What are the differences among the three products?

Masa and masa harina are both made from hominy, which is dried corn that has been soaked or cooked in an alkaline solution of water and calcium hydroxide to remove the germ and hull. This process, called nixtamalization, imparts a distinctive flavor that differentiates masa-based products from other forms of dried corn like polenta and cornmeal.

Masa is a moist dough made from finely ground hominy. It can be flattened into thin rounds to make corn tortillas or enriched with other ingredients to make tamales (small, moist corn cakes wrapped in corn husks) and pupusas (thick tortillas filled with cheese or meat). Highly perishable fresh masa is difficult to find outside Mexico and the Southwest.

More commonly available masa harina is made by drying fresh masa and processing it into a flour. It can be cooked with water and used in place of fresh masa to make tortillas, tamales, or pupusas, but has a less intense corn flavor.

Unlike masa and masa harina, masarepa, a form of instant precooked corn flour, has not been treated with calcium hydroxide. In the test kitchen, we found that it had the weakest flavor of the three products. Masarepa is typically mixed with cold water to make arepas, corn cakes that are split and filled like a sandwich, then grilled, fried, or baked.