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Best Substitutes for Masa Harina

Lisa Price
Last Updated on
by Lisa Price

Masa harina is a corn dough used in many Mexican dishes such as corn tortillas and tamales. Although it is a wonderful ingredient that can give a lot of flavor to dishes, there are alternatives if you need a masa harina substitute.

Here you will find everything you need to know about substituting masa harina in your next recipe. 

What Is Masa Harina Made Of?

 Masa Harina
Masa Harina

With a translation of “dough flour,” masa harina is exactly that: a dough flour. This flour is made from dried out corn kernels, cooked, and soaked in a solution. This solution is made of calcium hydroxide, which then makes hominy. Hominy provides that mild tart flavor in tortillas.

Once the corn is soaked, it is rinsed, dried, and ground down to resemble a fine powder. My Food Data reports that masa harina is high in protein, fiber, and calcium.

What Does Masa Harina Taste Like?

Whether you heat it on a griddle, fry, or steam masa harina, when heated, there is a nutty corn flavor brought out. Most people add other ingredients and spices to enhance the flavor. Chile peppers and paprika are both excellent spices to bring out the flavor of masa harina.

If you can’t find paprika, see recommended paprika substitutes.

Masa Dough

Masa dough is the product of mixing masa harina with water. This corn dough has a thick texture used to make tortillas and tamales.

Using Masa Harina

The most common uses of masa harina are dough, dough balls, or as a thickener in other dishes.

  • Dough: If you are making dough, add water to the cornflour to make a dough. Add more water until you get the right consistency of the dough. Pat the dough down and form the shape you desire. Make it thin if you are filling it with another ingredient.
  • Balls: Make masa balls by mixing masa, water, and salt and form small balls. Add the masa balls to your favorite soup.
  • Thickener: Add masa harina to soup during the last few minutes of cooking to act as a thickener. Stir often to make sure lumps do not form.

If you require a substitute for masa harina, the top five alternatives are:

  • Cornflour
  • Cornmeal
  • Cornstarch
  • Ground tortillas
  • Flour 

Why Would Someone Want to Use a Masa Harina Substitute?

Since corn is the main ingredient of masa harina, if someone has an allergy or a sensitivity to corn, they may need to find a substitute. Someone with a corn or maize allergy can swell or get hives when they eat food containing corn. 

You may also need a masa harina substitute if you run out at home and need to work with what you have in the kitchen or if you are unable to locate it at your local store.

Whatever your reason, here are some substitutes that you can use when masa harina is not an option.

1. Corn flour

Corn flour is often regarded as the best masa harina substitute
Corn Flour

Corn flour is the closest substitute to masa harina. Derived from corn grain, the flour is ground down and used as a thickener. The difference in flavor comes from soaking the masa harina in the solution to get the tart flavor. Corn flour is a great masa harina substitute in chili. This ingredient helps thicken chili without losing the corn flavor.

Masa harina also contains iron, potassium, sodium, magnesium, and zinc. This savory ingredient is gluten-free because it’s made from corn.

While corn flour and masa harina may sound similar, they are distinct ingredients. Both consist of dried and ground corn; however, they differ in the degree of the grind. Masa harina is coarser while corn flour is a fine, almost smooth grind.

As an ingredient, corn flour is very diverse. You can use it in waffles, bread, and even custard. Thicken your sauce using cornflour. Use cornflour in tortillas, tamales, cakes, and cookies.\

Can’t find corn flour? See recommended corn flour substitutes.

2. Cornmeal

Cornmeal is another great substitute for masa harina

Another ingredient used by grinding dried corn, cornmeal is available in a fine, medium, and coarse consistency. Like all corn, it is high in starch, which can be used to thicken dishes. With a more coarse grind than masa harina, cornmeal makes recipes hearty without the tart flavor.  

Both masa harina and cornmeal ingredients are made from corn, but it is the consistency that divides them. Cornmeal is much more coarse in comparison to masa harina. Polenta is the most popular dish made from boiled cornmeal. Popular dishes using cornmeal also include bread, muffins, cookies, and cakes. 

Wondering how cornmeal differs from cornstarch? See our excellent cornmeal vs corn flour comparison.

3. Cornstarch

Corn Starch

Another possible substitute close to masa harina is cornstarch. While corn flour and cornmeal are often the main ingredient in many dishes, cornstarch is added simply as a thickener.

This ingredient is also used as an adhesive due to its strong thickening properties. Cornstarch is higher in carbohydrates in comparison to masa harina but has less protein, fiber, and minerals.

The most popular dishes that use cornstarch include sauces, soups, and gravies.

4. Ground Tortillas

Ground Tortillas
Ground Tortillas

A quick and easy way to substitute masa harina is to use stale tortillas and place them in your blender or food processor. You can then grind them down to a fine powder. This is an excellent substitute since masa harina is already an ingredient in your tortillas. If you are missing masa harina but have some old tortillas, this is a great opportunity to be resourceful.

A tortilla has between 30 to 60 calories and limited fat. Better still, tortillas are higher in fiber than masa harina. You can use ground tortillas in any dish that you would use masa harina, cornmeal, or cornflour. Why not recycle and use stale tortillas to make new tortillas? Empanadas, tamales, and gorditas can also be used with this ingredient. 

5. Flour

In general, flour is known to be the best masa harina substitute

Flour, in general, is an excellent substitute for masa harina, especially if you or someone you’re cooking for has a sensitivity to corn. Flour is made from ground grains, seeds, nuts, beans, or roots and is a staple product in many foods.

If you choose to use flour as a substitute, remember that flour is very fine. It is lighter than corn substitutes and does not have as much flavor as masa harina.

Rice Flour

Rice flour is finely ground and most commonly used for noodles, soups, and desserts. As it does not contain wheat, it is naturally gluten-free. Two tablespoons of rice flour replace one tablespoon of masa harina. If you want a healthier option, brown rice flour is less refined and a good choice.

Learn how to substitute rice flour.

Wheat Flour

If you are replacing masa harina with regular wheat flour, you need to use two tablespoons to every one called for in recipes. Wheat flour is made from finely ground wheat and makes a great substitute thickener.

Potato Flour

Potato flour is a possible substitute that is made from crushed potato. Although it is a bit higher in carbohydrates and fat, potato flour is gluten-free and is great in soups and stews.

It is much thicker, so be cautious as you add this ingredient. Unlike other flours, substitute one tablespoon of potato flour for one tablespoon of masa harina.

Can’t find potato flour? See top 5 potato flour substitutes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do substitutes for masa harina still provide the sour flavor?

Ultimately, no, substitutes rarely provide the same sour flavor, but they do provide the same consistency. It depends on what type of substitute you use to achieve similar results. Add spices and additional ingredients to your dish to get the flavor you are looking for.

What spices can I use to get the same flavor of masa harina?

Hot madras masala, nalli nihari masala, and chat masala all add savory flavors to your dishes that are similar to masa harina.

What popular dishes use masa harina?

Tortillas are the most common dish using masa harina. However, tamales, gorditas, pupusas, sopes, and empanadas also use masa harina.

1. Tamale: A traditional Mesoamerican dish that is made from masa dough that is filled with meat, cheese, vegetables or fruits, and steamed in a banana leaf.
2. Gordita: A popular Mexican dish made from masa into a bun and stuffed with cheese, meat, and other fillings. Gorditas are deep-fried and served with sauce.
3. Pupusa: A pupusa is a thick, flat griddle or cake stuffed with cheese, vegetables, or beans and commonly accompanied with salsa. This delicious food is eaten by hand. 
4. Sopes: This fried masa base is flattened and topped with a variety of different toppings such as; vegetables, meat, and cheese. This dish is common in Mexico.
5. Empanada: This dough is baked or fried and filled with a variety of ingredients such as; meat, cheese, tomato, and corn. It is popular in Southern Europe and Latin America. 

About Lisa Price
Lisa Price
Lisa is Food Champ's resident fitness enthusiast and nutrition expert. She holds a nutrition degree in her home state of Florida and works for a large health system to ensure sound nutrition and dietetics information is passed on to all members.
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