Masa Harina Substitutes

Just as me, do you consider yourself a Mexican food lover too or are you just the kind of eater who loves food in general? Either way, this post will talk about the primary ingredient of snacks and dishes that you can’t keep yourself from. It includes the Tacos, an appetizer of fillings wrapped around a tortilla which these fillings could be a mix of meat, vegetables and a cheesy sauce. Another dish in the list is the Tamales. It is quite the same with the Taco but the difference is that it is steamed dough stuffed similarly with vegies, meat, and cheese inside a banana leaf on which this banana leaf can be used as a plate while eating.

These delectable Mexican goodies are outfitted not just to the Mexican or Latin-American palate but to everyone’s taste even the Asians love this! Every snack time, I would always take my time before a class and eat my favorite Tacos.

Yes you might know and have eaten these Mexican dishes but do you know its primary ingredient?

It is the masa harina. A masa harina is used for a variety of purposes such as a thickener for a better consistency of soups, to sauces for them to be more coagulated and viscous, and to make gravies dense to achieve the recommended texture perfect to dip your favorite chicken with.

This flour can be bought in Mexican convenience stores but they may be rare to extinct in particular locations. That is why I have written down substitutes that will enable you to prepare the same dishes even without the masa harina. Now there’s nothing that can prevent you from relishing you favorite Tacos and Tamales!

How to make Masaha Harina

But before presenting the substitutes, I would like to list first the steps that are attributed to the processes involved in making the masa harina, in case you find yourself wanting to make it manually than buying or substituting it or if you simply want to know the procedures.

1. First thing that one needs and have to do is to gather and collect in one place field corn. You can purchase this field corn from corn suppliers which could be a taxing task to do. This is the type of corn that has just been harvested and has not undergone any processes yet. This is different from sweet corn and has hard hulls which lead us to the next steps.

2. Dry them and soak in a solution that will soften the hulls of the corns’ kernels. This specific solution is the slaked lime that helps to remove the hard covering of the corn (hull).

3. Afterwards, the corn should be ready now for grinding. Grind it until the solid corns are pulverized.  This is then blended to dough. Mix until well blended.

4. Dry it and after it has become solid enough, pound again until it becomes powdered.

5. This powder is now considered the masa.

6. You are ready to start using this now as flour for making tortillas for your beloved tacos!

But just like me, there is a high probability after knowing the process, that you find it is too tiring to be doing all these yourself. But what can you do when you don’t have a Mexican store nearby. Don’t lament over such a problem and read all throughout the text for substitutes that one can easily learn, understand and put into cooking.

1. Cornstarch

If the purpose of you wanting to have that masa harina is to create a saucy texture for a dish then a cornstarch is a great substitute. If you are the type of individual who likes to always have that gravy at the sides so you could feel the flavor more as the food goes down from your taste buds, the masa harina will be out of sight in most cases if you are not lucky enough, so one good product to substitute masa harina will be this.

It is the same as this masa harina which is a good thickening agent. A thickening agent cannot get out of stock because it is a valuable ingredient to make the liquid particles to begin to congeal in the pan. This will then produce the sought after viscosity that creates the totality of the palatability of a certain dish.

One can purchase cornstarch from stores in one’s neighborhood or in convenience stores within one’s area. Or you might be keeping one in your refrigerator already. You are good to start the cooking.

2. Taco Shells

Yes, if you really need a masa harina but not for a taco recipe purpose, then a taco shell can be of use. But, why should you substitute a masa harina when you already have a taco shell in the first place? Well there are lots of Mexican delicacies you can enjoy aside from Tacos and Tamales of which the flavor, texture and taste that masa harina gives much fits the dish that you are cooking. Then an available shell of tacos can be used to replace through a simple procedure that is needed and must be taken in order that it may provide the same functionality. Wonder what? It is grounding it. If you don’t have taco shells, you can simply buy them at Walmart from a price as low as $5 depends on the quantity you need.

Substituting masa harina is easier with this because it is made out from it and it is readily available from stocks in stores while the masa harina is not. It is important to remember as well as a recommendation that the uncooked or not yet baked ones are preferred for a preserved freshness and no further additions of seasoning were done which is favorable if you have chosen a particular taste on which you want to arrive at. This allows the flour to not go against your desires.

3. Polenta

Another substitute that is found just as anywhere would be the polenta. It might be your first time to hear this name and you could be wondering what this is if you are not the cook type. A polenta is just a cornmeal widely used in Italy for soups or it can also be made into loaves that anyone can bake or cook it fried. But there is more to just being used in soups, this polenta is a great substitute of masa harina too. While taco shells provide almost the same flavor and texture as masa harina, this polenta is definitely not inferior when it comes to that. It gives just as the same. You wouldn’t even know that while eating the finished product, it was cooked out from polenta rather than from masa harina.

While this is a decent substitute of masa harina, you shouldn’t discount the fact that you have to look for the finest polenta in the market. Well if not the finest then at least maintain average fine particles to be used. Then you are definitely going to make same quality in your cooking with polenta.

4. Tortilla Chips

What? Chips, you mean the one we munch on while watching some movies? Yes you are definitely not just seeing anything, you’re right. These chips are made either out from masa harina or cornmeal. If you have remaining tortilla chips in your fridge, you can grind it with mortar and pestle or by also using your hands to do so. But wait something is still pestering your mind and keeps you confused on how this tortilla chips can be a legitimate substitute of masa harina. That would be, how can I use it when it has been baked or fried already?

Although just as what is mentioned for taco shells, that is advisable that the substitute not be baked and fried, it does not prevent tortilla chips from being used. One thing you just have to make sure is the taste of the product you are trying to arrive and the flavor of your tortilla chips. After pounding for seconds, yes as short as seconds since it is chips we are talking about, then you can add water and salt depending on how much you want to in adjusting its smack. Now you can actually make the savor that masa harina contributes to a platter, just blend and mash this with the dough.

5. Masa Preparada

This is a much better substitute for masa harina because it actually helps you to make your job faster. Why? Because a masa preparada , from its name, is a prepared dough that you can buy in stores or it can also be purchased online however one must make sure of the trustworthiness of the seller and the quality that they can give. That is attributed to the reason that it easily spoils and you might end up having a stomachache if you are not so familiar with regards to determining if a product has passed its shelf life.

This is a ready made dough such that one does not need to do the beating and mashing of masa harina until it has become a dough  the right texture. It is bought set to be cooked. Thus, if you don’t have much time and you do not want to exert that much effort, skipping steps with masa preparada is an ideal choice. What needs to be worried about is only its shelf life which is shorter than other substitutes due to its nature however if you plan to cook immediately, then that wouldn’t be an issue for you.

6. Hominy

It is composed of kernels of corns of which its hulls have been removed from the procedures that I have highlighted above. Considering the steps outlined, you can observe that hominy is a product from unfinished procedures involved in the making of masa harina. This stage is achieved after soaking it in slaked lime which will allow the shells to be smoothly removed.

You will find it a hard time to consider at first because you’ll have to do the grounding yourself which is another grueling task. Equipment such as a grinder will be of great use in this. What’s nice about it is that hominy is available at supermarkets in packages. Be sure to make the favored particle-size out from it and you are good to go.

Now you might begin to ask, how the heck are hominy and cornmeal different when they are just the same pounded corn? Yes they are both derived from corn but there are actually distinctions between the two which makes difference in cooking. That includes cornmeal is just a dried corn that has only undergone no other processes except for being ground through a milling machine.  It can be used for a variety of purposes from soups, to desserts. It can also be soaked in lime which will then transform one technically into hominy. These hominy grits which is widely used for preparing dishes in United States’ southern part, is a corn that has gone under soaking to soften the shells or hulls. After which, one has the choice to ground it further finer or coarser. To make a good substitute for masa harina then one must choose to make finer particles for better consistency.

Benefits of Knowing the Substitutes of Masa Harina

1. Access

Access can be a matter of location or of budget. You cannot access something if it’s not within your place or you cannot also arrive to it if you are low on budget and you want to make the product out from what is available at your individual homes. Knowing the substitutes of masa harina will guide you to keep your budget favorable for your own good or access the similar ingredient that gives at least the most minimal difference for its final product, even when such (the masa harina) cannot be found in your vicinity.

2. Health

The Masa Harina that is packaged at stores could contain chemicals that are not favorable for health, if you try to use substitutes; especially from hominy, you are not hidden from what is truly added in the product. For manufacturers or preparers, they get to name the ingredients on the packaging but as an innocent buyer who does not so much know more than basic terms that are used; you will not put emphasis on scrutinizing and research for the “usually” scientific terms listed on it. It is partly one’s fault then to be innocent. However if one uses the hominy, grounding it up to mixing with dough, this will allow you to know more of what was mixed in the masa harina. Now you have less to worry. You can also add ingredients that provides more nutrients for a favorable masa harina.

3. Flexibility

Even when masa harina is available in your locality, you might not always be in a situation where it gives you the time to buy it. When one is in a hurry and has to make the dish as soon as possible, it is not wise then to do the commuting, and all that will take much of your precious time. If so, you have the choice to use its substitutes. Choose among these and hurry up, you got to make the goody in no time!


All of these masa harina substitutes bring a lot of advantages not just to “homies” and chefs but also to the eaters.  Are you hungry for Mexican dishes that involve the use of masa harina but can’t find a store that has one, then definitely check all the information presented and be able to remember the processes involved which more likely will only include grinding. What is that clever cook in you waiting for?!

Similar Posts