How to Make Homemade Masa & Corn Tortillas

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how to make homemade masa and corn tortillasThis is the second half of my two-part series addressing the trend in survival circles of grinding popcorn for cornmeal and nutritional concerns about cornmeal, in general. In part one, I outlined how corn must be processed before eating in order to to free up the nutrients. Skipping this step can result in a terrible vitamin deficiency known as pellagra.

If you’ve stocked up on popcorn, planning to grind it, skip the grinding. Just go ahead and pop it. Eat it lightly salted, and relish the joy that comes from knowing that you are eating popcorn the way it was meant to be eaten.

But popcorn is only part of the story. It’s not the only whole grain corn available on the open market. Honeyville Grain, for example, sells yellow, white, and blue corn in bulk. From this, you can make homemade masa, the key ingredient of many tasty food items, such as tortillas, tamales, and pupusas.

Corn was developed by the ancient American peoples to make specific foods unique to their culture. Corn was a staple in the Americas long before the Europeans arrived on the scene, but they never contracted pellagra. However, the Europeans using the same became quite ill. They were using this new grain to make foods that they were already used to eating, namely bread (cornbread) and porridge (grits/ polenta). In other words, they were using a New World ingredient to make Old World food, and it didn’t entirely translate. They were missing something crucial: nixtamal! To get out of corn everything that it has to offer, you can’t use it in a European way. You have to use it in a Native American way.

Homemade Masa and Corn Tortillas

Disclaimer: this takes a lot more preparation and effort than merely grinding it in your Nutrimill. However, I’m confident that once you try real, homemade tortillas from real, homemade masa, you will never want to go back.


2 cups whole dent corn
2 Tbsp calcium hydroxide (also called cal, or pickling lime – sometimes found in the canning aisle at the supermarket)
6 cups water
1 tsp salt


Food processor
Tortilla press
Plastic wrap


Rinse your corn and put it in a saucepan over medium heat with the calcium hydroxide/pickling lime and water. Slowly bring it to a boil over a period of 20 minutes or so. Let it continue to boil for 10-15 minutes, then remove from heat. Let it sit undisturbed overnight or for at least 8 hours. This is when the magic happens — the chemical reaction that changes the nutrients in the corn so that they can be absorbed by the human digestive tract.

When the allotted time has past, the pericarp, the outside bit of the corn, will have loosened considerably. Put the corn in a colander and rinse with cool running water as you rub the corn with your hands. Keep rubbing and rinsing the corn until all traces of lime and pericarp are washed away.

Place the corn, now technically nixtamal,  in the food processor with the salt. Process on High until the corn is at the proper consistency – it should be chopped up finely enough that it can be formed into balls. Sometimes I have to add as much as 3-4 tablespoons of additional water to get it the proper consistency.

Ta-da! You have made masa. This can be used for humble corn tortillas, tamales, and also pupusas, which are a kind of stuffed tortilla.

homemade blue masa
Homemade blue masa

Here’s a picture of some masa I made. You may notice it is blue. No food coloring was added. That is the real, actual, non-photoshopped color. That is because I have a lot of blue corn in my food storage. I chose blue corn for two reasons:

1) Why bother with boring yellow corn when it can be blue?

2) Blue corn is higher in protein.

Also, there does not currently exist any GMO blue corn on the market. You can be guaranteed a non-GMO product when purchasing blue corn, if that is something that is important to you.

Making homemade corn tortillas

To turn your masa into tortillas, first line your tortilla press with plastic wrap to keep the masa from sticking. Place a small portion (about 2-3 tablespoons worth) in the tortilla press. Cook about 1 minute on each side on a HOT griddle or skillet.

I adore homemade masa and corn tortillas, and I love making them from scratch. They are immensely popular with my family, including the picky toddler.

I hope you will look at corn a little differently from now on. It is an extremely versatile food and full of nutrition when prepared correctly. Grinding unpopped popcorn into cornmeal, while it might sound like a good idea, is not an efficient use of food resources, but that doesn’t mean you should forget about corn as a food storage item. Popcorn can be popped, and dent corn can be made into masa to make tortillas. If you haven’t already included corn in your emergency preparedness, do so today!

how to make homemade masa and corn tortillas


18 thoughts on “How to Make Homemade Masa & Corn Tortillas”

  1. Pingback: Prepper News Watch for May 21, 2015 | The Preparedness Podcast

    1. I did try an alternate method a couple times: Instead of putting the nixtamal in my food processor, I let it dry out for several days, then put it through my hand-powered grain mill. This produced “masa harina” which is what is commonly sold in stores. It’s a little more work, but also effective. Back in the day, the method of choice was “matate y mano,” hand grinding the nixtamal with a stone. That was a LOT more work.

  2. I’ve made corn tortillas with masa harina several times and they’re tasty but definitely not like the ones you get a the store. I’m wondering how you manage to get them flat and round in the blasted tortilla press? I haven’t been able to wrangle a decent shaped tortilla out of that thing yet! When I was in Guatemala I tried patting them out in my hands but the senoras just laughed at me! Is it just practice or are you born with innate tortilla pressing genes?

    1. Traci –

      I have never had any trouble getting my tortillas round and flat when using a tortilla press. It is important to line the press with some plastic wrap or a cut ziploc bag, though, otherwise the masa will stick.

  3. Where exactly did the Aztecs and other original Americans get their pickling lime, not at Safeway? Otherwise, where or what did the calcium hydroxide come from, like a special rock or herb?


    1. Good question, Molly!

      They actually used wood ashes. In the “olde days” people would run water through wood ash to make lye, which is highly alkaline. It’s the ph that causes the chemical reaction.

  4. Hi Beth,

    I have purchased non GMO popcorn which I grind into meal to make cornbread. Are you saying that it not safe to use this way? We don’t eat cornbread on a daily basis, only maybe for or five times a month. Our normal diet includes soaked whole wheat bread made from flour that I grind myself. I bought the popcorn to grind because I was trying to avoid GMO products. ???

  5. I read somewhere online from an early chronicler of Native American customs (said to be written by some missionary in the 18th century) that the Natives preferred blue maize/corn to make nocake (a European bastardization of the Indian word noonkik -Google it) which is nixtamalized maize that is then parched son coals and subsequently ground into a fine flour like powder. It is said that one pound of this would last a man a month with no other food. The Natives would put a tablespoon in their mouth and then drink water with it. Apparently its highly nutritious and expands nicely in the stomach. They’d also boil it to make a corn mush. Sometimes they added cinnamon or sugary fruits which made it taste like a very sweet dessert. It was used by Lewis and Clark, Davy Crockett, Bowie and many frontier woodsmen of that time. Some still do, and in Mexico its called Pinole (Pee-no-lay). I digress, the point was, Natives preferred blue corn, because it was sweeter and nutritionally better suited for the purposes of emergency survival food they could carry in case they didn’t catch or kill for meat in their travels. Plus I bet they liked it because hey, its blue food lol.

  6. Sorry the Native American word is nookhik and you can google that. Nocake is even in MWebster dictionary.
    Also, the Guatemalan ancestors, the Mayans have been scientifically accredited as the inventors of nixtamil/mass/hominy around 1500bc. So people have been eating this for over 3,500 years!

  7. Pingback: How to Make Homemade Masa & Corn Tortillas – Survival Mom – Wolfdancer's Den

  8. I love this article! I have been wanting to make homemade tortillas in the U.S. for a while now but coluda’t figure out which corn to get. I live in Wisconsin and can’t seem to find whole dented corn, do you have any suggestions on where to buy it online? Thank you!

  9. Just one question, do you use fresh or dried corn for this recipe? I grew my own and found out later it has to be masa to make tortillas?

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