How To Make Hominy: Nixtamalization

Posted by Tracey Vowell on

We added whole kernel white corn to the list a month or so ago. Since then a few people have asked about hominy, so, let’s take an adventure into nixtamalization (making hominy).  

This process is simple, but not for the faint of heart. The equipment required is specific, as this is a caustic cooking method. Also, among the oldest chemical culinary process, converting raw corn first into masa, and then hominy, has sustained many in the New World when other food sources were scarce.

Equipment needed:

  • Large, nonreactive stockpot. Enamel or stainless steel. No aluminum, teflon, cast iron, etc.
  • Stainless steel, long handled cooking spoon
  • large stainless steel ladle
  • Large stainless steel colander 
  • Heavy rubber kitchen gloves



Lye (Sodium Hydroxide or Caustic Soda) is a caustic base. When mixed with water  an exothermic reaction occurs that can cause moderate to severe chemical burns. Even just the moisture present on the surface of your skin is enough to trigger this reaction. You should always wear protective gloves and eyewear when working with lye.

It is a common misconception that one should use vinegar to neutralize lye if it comes in contact with the skin. If you end up with lye on your skin, immediately brush it off with a dry cloth and flush the effected area with cool running water for 15 minutes.

That said, nixtamalization is a safe process that takes place without incident in kitchens across the world every day. As long as you respect the process and follow best practices you will be just fine!

Fill your nonreactive pot with the cool water. Wearing protective gloves, gently and slowly add the lye to the water.  

Mix well with the long handled spoon, add the corn kernels, and place on the stove over medium high heat.  

Heat to just short of boiling. Reduce and gently simmer, about an hour until the liquid is no longer clear, and hopefully bits of the skin of the kernel are becoming visible and floating around the surface.  

Set the colander in the sink, put on the gloves and carefully spoon out a few kernels. Rinse in the colander, under running water. If the skin slips easily away from the kernel, the process is done. If not, return to the pot, and continue cooking 15-30 minutes more, until the skin can be easily washed away from the kernel.

Using the utmost care, bring the pot to the sink, and LADLE most of the liquid into the strainer, and then the corn, to minimize splashing. I am not joking when I say this can cause chemical burns, and it can permanently change the surface of things like floors and countertops.  Once all of the corn is in the colander, rinse it thoroughly with warm water, and, wearing the gloves, mix the kernels around to encourage the departure of all of the pericarp, or skin of the corn kernels.

Seems like a simple process, removing that skin, but far more is happening here. Corn, whole or milled of not of very much nutritional value at all.  Once it has been nixtimalized, that changes. Protein value is much higher, as well as other nutrients, not present, or available to us, before this process. Really take the time to make sure everything is rinsed off, rubbing the corn around in the colander, and all water running out below, is clear.

Now, you have some decisions to make. If you grind this corn, you will have masa for things like tortillas, tamales, and an almost endless list of other options.  If you leave it whole, clean the pot, return the corn to the stove with a liberal amount of water, and gently boil until tender, you have hominy.  Lastly, if you dry the now nixtimalized corn, and grind it coarsely, you have hominy grits, a dish less known these days, but very important in the southeast.

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