Masa harina is a versatile ingredient as it adds an exciting flavor and texture to a variety of dishes. Traditionally a key component in Mexican cuisine, masa harina is often used for tamales, tortillas, and other Mexican dishes.
However, making dough from masa harina can be a pain to prepare since you would need to get its flour from dried masa, which is also dough made from specially treated corn.
Below is the list of best masa harina substitutes for baking if you’re looking for alternatives for an easier variation of masa harina, or you would just like to experiment with other ingredients.
- Regular Flour
- Arrowroot Powder
- Corn Grits
- Corn Tortillas
- Fresh Masa
- Corn Tostadas Or Taco Shells
- Corn Meal
- Corn Starch
- Masa Preparada
Read on if you are still unable to find the above mentioned alternatives and will want the full comprehensive list of masa harina substitute below.
14 Best Substitute For Masa Harina
Masa harina is a Spanish word that translates to dough flour. Essentially, masa harina is dough flour made from corn flour and undergoes alkalinization in lime water before turning it into what is known as masa flour.
Undergoing this process would break down the kernel that makes the texture of masa harina. The limewater also helps in creating a unique and authentic flavor that is used in a variety of Mexican and Latin American dishes such as corn tortillas, taco shells, and tamales.
If you are using masa harina as a thickening agent for soups and sauces, cornstarch or wheat flour are among some of the best substitutes for Masa Harina.
If you can’t find both, you can also try out the following alternatives.
Regular flour is a bit different as it does not have the same taste and texture as masa harina. It is also best used as a thickening agent for sauces or soups.
However, if you are confident and experienced enough, a little experimenting won’t be bad! Just keep in mind that every type of flour has a different consistency and absorption rate.
You would want to use the kind of flour you are familiar with, as well as choose what goes best with your chosen recipe. If all goes well, then keep using the flour!
But if it goes south, you might want to try other substitutes stated in the list or try tweaking the recipe.
Arrowroot is a rare ingredient to find, though it is considered a good substitute in place of masa harina. Arrowroot powder came from a tropical plant of the same name, and its starch-like texture is used as a thickening agent for soups, sauces, and the like.
Although it has the same texture as masa harina, arrowroot powder has an entirely different flavor.
If you are confident enough to try a new flavor, it is best to experiment with small batches first, following a 1:1 ratio.
In addition, since arrowroot powder has a very fine texture, it is recommended to use arrowroot powder for small quantities such as soups as it cannot hold itself as dough for large quantities.
Grits would be a good substitute for masa harina as it is made from hominy or milled corn. However, the main difference is that hominy grits taste similar to masa harina, while milled corn grits taste more like cornmeal.
In addition, most grits are also made from American corn, hence they would not have the same Mexican flavor as masa harina and Mexican corn.
Nevertheless, the two still share the same taste and characteristics as masa harina. Hence, if you want to use grits in place of masa harina, use the 1:1 ratio and prepare a food processor at hand, especially for dry ones, to achieve a finer texture.
Using corn tortillas in place of masa harina would give you the closest experience to an authentic taste and texture of a Mexican dish. Why? Because when you grind corn tortillas to a fine flour in a food processor, it will look and almost have the same flavor as masa harina. Corn tortillas that are ground are considered ‘recycled masa harina’ due to this reason.
Just make sure that you are not using flavored tortillas as this could leave an overwhelming taste in your recipe. In addition, keep in mind that the mixture for ground corn tortillas will not be the same as masa harina.
Hence, it is best to only use ground corn tortillas as a thickening agent using the 1:1 ratio.
Fresh masa is considered the best and closest substitute for masa harina. This is because fresh masa is masa harina before it was dried and ground to a corn flour-like texture in a food processor.
Having the same characteristics as masa harina itself and other ingredients such as corn tortillas, tostadas, and taco shells, using fresh masa will also guarantee you an authentic Mexican taste and experience, depending on your chosen recipe.
This is especially suitable for making tamales and other recipes alike, making fresh masa a better ingredient as a substitute in place of masa harina.
Corn Tostadas Or Taco Shells
Similar to corn tortillas, corn tostadas and corn taco shells can also be ground in a food processor to have the same texture as masa harina.
Likewise, corn tostadas and corn taco shells are also sometimes made from masa harina. However, be wary of the ingredients before buying them in your local grocery stores as you would need to purchase corn tostadas and corn taco shells that are made from masa harina or preparada already.
It is also important to remember that using corn tostadas and taco shells are best used as a thickening agent as compared to flour. Hence, you would need to check if this substitute is appropriate for your recipe at hand.
Cornmeal is considered one of the best substitutes as it is made from milled corn, which is also used to make the dough for masa harina.
Cornmeal also shares the same characteristics with masa harina in terms of texture. However, cornmeal has a more grainy texture than masa harina, although it is observably finer than cornflour.
In addition, cornmeal did not go through the process of kernel alkalinization in limewater. Hence, using cornmeal will not guarantee you an exact substitute in terms of flavor.
Nevertheless, the grainy texture of cornmeal will provide you with an easy-to-measure 1:1 ratio if you want to use it to make dough in place of masa harina.
Corn starch is made from corn kernels and has a finer texture than masa harina. It is also used as a substitute for other ingredients and as a thickening agent for soups and other dishes.
Additionally, just like corn flour, corn starch is also made from milled corn. Although corn starch did not go through the process of kernel alkalinization in limewater.
Corn starch may not be the exact substitute for masa harina in terms of flavor. However, if you’re cooking Mexican soup, corn starch would be useful as it has a similar taste to masa harina.
So if you’re using cornstarch as a thickening agent for soups, make sure to mix it in equal parts with water first, then see how it thickens to a slurry.
Cornstarch also has a milder flavor than masa harina and should not leave an overwhelming taste in your soup.
Masa preparada, on the other hand, is a leveled-up version of masa harina. Why? Because masa preparada is easier to prepare than masa harina because it is already prepared when you buy it in the refrigerator section of your local Latin-American grocery stores.
However, masa preparada may not be the most affordable substitute since it is more expensive than the others stated in the list.
But if you have the budget and would like to spend time in the kitchen, you can use masa preparada to skip dough-making in recipes such as tamales and tortillas. Simply add the fillings, bake, and enjoy your treat!
Polenta is known as an Italian dish and shares similar characteristics with grits, and dried and canned hominy. In addition, polenta can be made from cornmeal, chestnut, and a variety of ingredients as well.
With this, polenta can easily be bought in your local grocery stores, which is already prepared and usually located in the refrigerator section mixed with water.
Using polenta will not be any different from masa harina since they almost have the same texture, except that polenta can come in finer varieties.
Hence, if you are confident enough, you can use the 1:1 ratio to make dough for tamales. Keep in mind that you would need less water since polenta already has water in it.
Nevertheless, you can still use lots of water if you would like to experiment with recipes.
Hominy is masa harina before it is grounded into a finer texture. More specifically, hominy is also hulled corn, which means that its kernel was alkalinized with limewater to remove husk from its kernel.
And since they both come from whole kernels, dried hominy can be used as a substitute for masa harina in many Latin American dishes as well.
To turn it into masa harina, put the dried whole hominy kernels into a food processor and grind them into a finer texture. A 1:1 ratio is also used to utilize dried hominy for any recipe that requires masa harina in their dish.
Sharing similar characteristics with dried hominy, the main difference is that canned hominy has its kernels preserved in water and has the consistency of canned beans. However, it is still hominy.
You can use a food processor to grind canned hominy into finer pieces to make masa harina. Keep in mind that the end product will be similar to dough, instead of the flour-like texture of dried hominy.
Still using the same ratio as dried hominy, you can use a 1:1 ratio to substitute canned hominy to recipes that require masa harina. Do note that for tamales or tortillas, use less water than what is needed to gauge the right consistency of the product.
Commonly seen in multigrain bread, flaxseeds can also be a substitute for masa harina too. Keep in mind that the taste can be quite bitter since it lacks the citrusy characteristic of masa harina alkalinized in limewater.
However, since flaxseed provides numerous nutritional benefits, it can still replace masa harina for many recipes. It has antioxidants and Omega-3s, known for fighting cancer cells.
Flaxseed also aids in digestion due to its high amounts of fiber.
To use flaxseeds as a substitute for masa harina, simply mix ½ tablespoon of ground flaxseeds with 2 tablespoons of water.
Homemade Masa Harina
If you are feeling confident to make your ingredients from scratch, then you can definitely create your own homemade masa harina. But first, you will need clean, whole grain dried corn, and it is much more convenient if it is already peeled. Then, check for any rotten kernels and throw them away.
- For the alkalinization process, put all the kernels in a non-reactive pot and add 7-8 cups of water.
- Put in one tablespoon of calcium hydroxide or powdered lime
- For 30 minutes, boil the pot and let it simmer.
- Afterwards, let the kernels sit overnight for at least 6-8 hours at room temperature.
After leaving it for hours, it is now time to remove the husks from the kernels using tap water. Then, you may finally use a food processor or your simple grinder to ground the kernels into a doughy masa harina.
Masa Harina Substitute Related FAQs
What does masa harina taste like?
Masa harina tastes like corn as it is essentially made from corn flour. Regardless of how the recipe is prepared (griddle-heated, fried, or baked), masa harina brings a slightly nutty, buttery, and tarty flavor to spicy and savory
Mexican and Latin American cuisines, and is even considered to be the perfect base for such dishes because of how its subtle flavor can bring out the flavors of other ingredients as well,
Nevertheless, masa harina is best prepared by putting corn tortillas beside it on a hot griddle. As dough, masa harina is best suited for recipes that require elastic dough such as tamales and empanadas, and as a thickening agent for Mexican soups.
If you love masa cakes, you can also get them freshly prepped here.
Where can you find masa harina?
Masa harina is readily available in your local grocery stores, which are usually located in the refrigerator section
However, if you’re looking for an authentic experience, going to a Latin American grocery store is your best option to find this subtle yet versatile ingredient.
Don’t have a Latin American grocery store nearby? Don’t fret since masa harina is becoming more and more mainstream as the days go by.
Local grocery stores are always looking to diversify and put various imported products, hence, yours could have one these days. But if you need masa harina immediately, you can still order masa harina from online stores such as Masienda or freshly