Hominy is a fantastic food derived from corn kernels that has long been a staple of Mexican cuisine. It’s perhaps most famous for complementing pork belly in the traditional Mexican stew pozole (recipe here), but it’s far more versatile than cooks outside of Central America tend to give it credit for. In fact, many things we know to be made from corn actually require the corn to be made into hominy first.
And so, in honour of National Cereal Day, let’s take a closer look at hominy, its varieties and uses, and why you need to start introducing it into your cooking.
The difference between corn and hominy
Hominy corn is essentially just field corn – more commonly known as maize – that has been processed to give it a puffy, more meaty texture.
To be made into hominy, corn kernels have to go through a process called nixtamalization. But don’t worry, it isn’t as scary as it sounds. It simply comes from the Nahuatl (or Mexicano) word for hominy: nextamalli.
Nixtamalization involves soaking whole corn kernels in an alkali solution, usually made from lime (but sometimes lye, which makes a type of hominy specifically referred to as lye hominy). This softens the tough outer hull of the corn so that they can be washed away with the excess solution, and often also the corn germ.
The result can end up looking quite different from corn, but the taste is very much corn cranked up to 11. By removing the toughest and most tasteless part of the corn kernel through nixtamalization, what’s left is simply a nugget of chewy, earthy and flavourful corn goodness. But, perhaps more importantly, removing that tough outer hull also makes the corn kernels suitable for processing into other foods.
Hominy can be enjoyed as it is in much the same way you might add corn or beans to a dish. In fact, dried hominy is prepared in exactly the same way as dried beans. As an example, its slightly meaty texture and subtle earthy flavour make it a great addition to vegetarian or vegan chillis.
Once released from the tough outer hull of untreated corn kernels, hominy becomes an incredibly versatile ingredient. Nixtamalization, for instance, is an essential part of turning corn into corn flakes.
It’s also necessary for making masa, which is essentially corn flour made with hominy. This gives it a different flavour from standard cornmeal that’s generally preferred in Latin American cooking for corn tortillas, tamales, and other foods.
The alkali-induced chemical changes in masa make it more suitable for dough formation than normal corn flour. The Maya discovered that adding bacteria to masa would create something we’d recognise today as a type of sourdough. (Fun fact: The Maya also used to ferment hominy to make beer.)
All of this means that if you’re cooking Latin American food but struggling to achieve the desired results with cornmeal, the answer may simply be to switch to masa. But you can also use hominy instead of regular corn kernels to elevate your homemade grits or samp.
Hominy varieties, nutrition and benefits
If you’re not making it yourself from scratch, hominy generally comes dried or in cans. It is most commonly available in white or golden (yellow) varieties, with golden hominy being the sweeter of the two. You can also buy purple hominy.
Hominy is generally quite good for you. It contains roughly just 119 calories and 1.5 grams of fat per cup, but also about 24 grams of carbohydrate, which is fairly high. It’s also a good source of fibre and iron.
Maize is high in niacin (vitamin B3) that the body usually isn’t able to exploit. Interestingly, however, nixtamalization frees up the niacin to be absorbed by the digestive tract, ultimately making hominy a bit better for you than regular maize. (Bear in mind, however, that the nutritional value of both is largely identical in every other way.)
Hominy is a pretty good source of many vitamins and minerals, but the exact amounts differ depending on the variety of hominy and the exact method of nixtamalization. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but can be higher in some nutrients and lower in others. For instance, white hominy generally contains slightly more calcium and copper, while yellow hominy is usually a bit higher in vitamin A.
National Cereal Day
Sunday 7 March 2021 was National Cereal Day in the United States, but there’s no reason why you in the rest of the world can’t join in the fun too.
Of course, you could celebrate by simply pouring yourself a bowl of your favourite breakfast cereal in the morning (or afternoon, or evening – we don’t judge). But why not go the extra mile by taking on a different challenge? Why not celebrate a new favourite cereal – hominy – by learning to cook pozole?
Pozole Three ways
Hailing from central Mexico, pozole – or posole – is a rich and comforting stew that’s traditionally slow-cooked with pork, hominy and chillis. It’s one of the best (and most delicious) ways to start experimenting with hominy for the first time, as it does a grand job showcasing the grain’s flavour, texture, and possibilities.
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