Corn flour comes from the corn grain, which has been cultivated for around 9,000 years. Also called maize, corn originated in Southern Mexico and evolved in South America over the millennia to become the versatile staple food that we know today.
Authentic corn flour is made by milling whole corn kernels until they reach a fine texture similar to that of whole wheat flour. In other words, it is merely a very fine cornmeal. If the kernels are soaked and cooked in limewater (or another alkaline solution) before being milled, the corn flour is referred to as masa harina or masa for short. The processing of the corn kernels removes the pericarp or outer husk of the corn. As a result, masa can be made into a dough. It is not possible to form regular corn flour into a dough.
The benefits of processing corn with an alkaline solution include improved nutrition. The process for doing it was developed in Central America by the Aztec and Mayan civilizations. The oldest archeological evidence the process comes from the southern coast of Guatemala and is most likely from between 1500 BCE and 1200 BCE.
Europeans first encountered corn in the 1500s via Christopher Columbus’s visit to the New World. The Spaniards took it back to Spain, and from there it was introduced to other parts of Europe.
Corn became a staple grain among the early American colonists, and corn meal featured heavily among their daily foods.
It is important to note that the product called corn flour in the United States is different from cornflour (one word) in the United Kingdom. In the U.K., the product that Americans call corn starch is often called cornflour. The distinction can be important if you are in the U.S. and using U.K. recipes and vice versa.
Corn flour flavor profile
Corn flour has the same flavor as cornmeal, which is sweet and nutty with notes of hay. The property that sets corn flour apart is its fine texture, which allows it to work in a variety of batters and doughs without making them gritty.
Health benefits of corn flour
The corn used to make corn flour has been an essential crop for much of human history because of nutrients like:
- Vitamins: Corn flour is a good source of B vitamins and can provide a significant amount of thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin per serving. It also contains a small amount of vitamin A. If you are using masa, the nutritional profile will be very different. You will get considerably more of the B vitamins, including more than three times the thiamin and riboflavin, and more than two times the niacin.
- Minerals: You can also get a considerable portion of your daily requirement of essential minerals from a single serving of corn flour. Iron, magnesium, and selenium are all contained in high concentrations. Masa contains even higher levels of these minerals as well as calcium, which is low in regular corn flour.
With corn flour in your diet, you will be able to prevent or treat health problems like:
- Niacin deficiency: Being deficient in niacin causes the condition known as pellagra, which has symptoms like diarrhea and dementia.
- Iron deficiency: Anemia is the condition that results from being deficient in iron and results in symptoms like fatigue and shortness of breath.
Corn flour is a common ingredient in parts of the American south, where it is used for breading on fried foods and in doughs. Corn flour is also a common addition to batters for pancakes and can be used to make tortillas if treated with limewater.