Hominy has played a big role in the food of Central America for thousands of years and if there is one thing I know about ancient ingredients, good examples rarely come from cans. We went on a search for authentic hominy and, just like heirloom beans, it lead us down a path of indigenous food ways and far away from supermarket shelves.
Earthy, nutty, and chewy, hominy is most associated with pozole, but this naturally gluten-free food is a game changer in everything from salads to Mac and Cheese. It can be added to thicken textures while soaking up the surrounding flavors, making it an excellent way to create a filling and nutritious meal. Canned hominy is readily available in Latin markets, but dry hominy will give you much better flavor and texture and it’s as easy to prepare as dry beans. Now you can learn how to prepare dry hominy yourself in your own kitchen to boost your health while eating delicious meals!
Hominy is whole kernels of maize (dried field corn) that has undergone nixtamalization, an ancient process that improves the corn’s nutritional content while preventing it from sprouting while it’s stored. Once you’ve discovered how these puffy and chewy kernels deliver aroma and flavor, you’ll want to use them in everything.
Turning corn kernals into hominy involves cooking and steeping them in an alkaline solution such as water and calcium hydroxide, better known as lime (the food-grade kind). Once this has happened, it is drained and rinsed and the pericarp, the outer kernel cover, is removed. Corn that has been Nixtamalized is called Nixtamal. At this point the it can be dried, cooked and canned or turned into masa by milling the hominy into a ground cornmeal.
The nixtamalization changes the texture of the corn, puffing it up and making it softer which is why it results in smooth, creamy grits. It's also why masa holds a dough form, something you can’t do with cornmeal. But more than just texture, nixtamalizationchanges the kernel’s structure and chemical composition, improving everything from aroma to nutritional value.
The process increases the bioavailability of vitamin B3, iron, and calcium intake while providing a source of dietary fiber. Additionally, it drastically reduces mycotoxins, a naturally-occurring fungi that can cause illness or even death. As such, this process of nixtamalization control microbiological activity, prolonging the shelf life of hominy and any food that you create with it.
Of course 3,500 years ago ancient Mesoamericans didn’t have calcium hydroxide. According to Sean Sherman in his book, The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen, the process of creating Nixtamal with wood ash was created in what is now Central and South American and moved north with the corn culture. Corn was a pillar of indigenous food ways as well as their traditionsfor thousands of years before Europeans arrived, and without Nixtamalization it would not have been nutritious enough to sustain life.
Scientists are still trying to determine the actual date of the oldest corn. According to Lois Ellen Frank in her book, Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations, “Evidence from San Marcos Cave in the Tehuacan Valley of southern Puebla in New Mexico suggests it was first cultivated 5,000 to 7,000 years ago.”
Perhaps the best way to discover the authentic Native American taste of hominy is to open a bag of Becky Blanca from Corn Mafia. Mohawk chef and founder, Chef Dave Smoke McCluskey crafts his hardwood ash-washed hominy in small batches from heirloom, non-GMO corn. He then mills it to make his famed longhouse hominy grits. The texture and flavors of both are absolutely transformative.
Chef Dave closed his restaurant to pursue his passion for the most important of all indigenous ingredients, corn. He fire roasts his hominy after washing it to give it a signature taste of the past, evoking the smoky atmosphere of the Longhouses his ancestors lived in.
Canned hominy certainly offers you the convenience of simply pouring it out of the can. It’s already cooked and ready to add to recipes but it has a gummy texture and lacks the flavor of hominy that has been prepared from dry.
With dried hominy, you need to treat it like dried beans. That means rinsing it, then soaking it overnight before you then simmer it over low heat. The trade off in convenience gives you a more tender texture and and better flavor. You also have the benefit of knowing the corn that it’s sourced from. That canned corn is going to be a cheaper GMO commodity corn. Dried hominy on the other hand is often sourced from heirloom varieties. The Becky Blanca is sourced from a landrace corn variety from Mexico known as Cacahuazintle, THE choice of Pozolero’s everywhere.
Treat hominy as you would sweet corn, experiment with substituting it for fresh or frozen corn in your favorite recipes. It will deliver new flavor and texture to everything.
1 cup of dry hominy will yeild 4 cups of cooked hominy.To cook dry hominy you simply need to treat them similar to dried beans by rinsing, soaking them overnight, and then cooking for an hour on the stovetop. Alternatively, you can use your pressure cooker, though the kernels won’t be quite as pretty. They’ll have a more popped look to them but will taste delicious.