Maize and other cereal grains are botanically called “caryopsis”. A caryopis is a grain with the pericarp (fruit wall) and testa (seed coat) tightly fused to the seed so they are very difficult to separate.
Nixtamalization is the process whereby a mature dried cereal grain like maize (corn) is cooked and soaked in an alkaline solution. The alkaline solution loosens the the pericarp and testa (hull) from the seed and softens the maize. The maize grain is then washed and hulled, before drying or grinding. The alkaline solution is made of Calcium hydroxide or wood ash and water.
The processed maize (corn kernel) can be left whole or ground into varying sizes from coarse, gritty to fine.
The Advantage of Nixtamalization Process
- During nixtamalization chemical and physical changes occur in the seed which make the nutrients more readily available and hence nutritional value is increased.
- The flavour and aroma is also improved and any mycotoxins that might have been present are reduced.
- The physical and chemical changes make the ground maize form a more pliable dough (masa).