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Making Masa

Gabriela Cámara

Lesson time 16:36 min

It’s hard to overstate the historical, cultural, and nutritional importance of corn in Mexico. Gabriela gives an overview of this staple ingredient, its heirloom varietals, and the processes for nixtamalization and grinding to produce masa.

Gabriela Cámara
Teaches Mexican Cooking
Celebrated chef Gabriela Cámara shares her approach to making Mexican food that brings people together: simple ingredients, exceptional care.
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[MUSIC PLAYING] SPEAKER: In Mexico, corn has a sacred aspect. It's the sustain of the population of this part of the world, frankly, the most important ingredient in food. And in America, it's just a large crop. And it's mostly one variety. You know, when you got corn on the cob, it's this yellow, sweet, delicious. And you have organic varieties which are more delicious than others. But you don't have this process of drying the corn and then grinding it, making a dough from which you make tortillas or tamales or atole or all these other things that come from the process of cooking dry corn. Drying the corn is the only way to actually keep the corn. So we have a tradition of saving the best seeds, planting them before the rainy season, preparing the land, planting them, and then harvesting them in fall and the early fall so that you have, again, your crop for the next year. We have, I think, cataloged around 60 varieties of heirloom corn. And they keep on discovering new species and new families. So here we have a few varieties of Mexican heirloom corns. And as you can see, we have different colors, and it's very varied-- very, very. Different parts of the country produce different types of corn. For example, this is a type of black and white corn. This is the type of blue corn. This is type of red corn. We do see this really beautiful diversity of colors, diversity of forms. You know, it's a round end. And these are a pointy end. You have maíz cónico, which finishes in like a little cone shape. And then you have the bolita, which ends up being round. And these are sort of colloquial names. But then you have all your scientific names. But I do want you to notice how different all the colors are. Like, these corns came from mixing other corns-- you know, the white, the red. You have this sort of tie dyed corn, which isn't tie dyed, is just like mixed. This is a more transparent rounder type of corn, which is not as common, because, of course, what farmers usually want is a really long and thick corn so that they can get more yield from it. And it's easy to peel. And what you do is you-- you peel it. And you get all the green. This is what you do when you want to get all your seeds. And you have starchier corns that will make for a more fluffy masa, if you will. And it's really fascinating when you go to communities. And people use three or four different varieties of corn and maybe even one special meal. Like, they use one for the atole which is a drink. And then they use another one for the tortillas. And then they use another one for a pazole. And then they use another one for making a different-- you could have a different preparation. You can have a tlacoyo. You can have . You can have-- these are all shapes of things that you make tortillas with fillings and little packages to eat. I will show you some of these things also. Mostly, it's become very hard to have heirloom corn be cultivated by the communi...

Savor every moment

A “star of modern Mexican cuisine,” Gabriela Cámara brings her local, sustainable twist to time-honored traditions. Now the chef of Contramar shares the richness of her culture through the art of food. Learn step-by-step recipes—for dishes of her own design, like tuna tostadas, and staples like tacos al pastor, salsa, and tortillas—and delight loved ones with your own delicious renditions of Mexican favorites.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

now i need to find these utensils and ingredients haha

I learned many things about the Mexican culture I was not aware of, and all the different ways of cooking a dish that vary from region to region. Gracias, Gabriela.

Loved everything and excited to make it all. The one thing that I wished that she would have made is enchiladas and mole. Two of my favorites.

Gracias por todo el conocimiento ofrecido acerca de estos choclos. increible. Fernanda.


A fellow student

Not interested. This is America! All your recipes are in grams or ML....Come on now!


Where do you find whole grain dried corn without it being a 25 pound bag? :( If anyone knows, I would appreciate it. Also, I've seen people use a food processor for this. Thoughts on that?

Gerri G.

The nixtamalizing process is similar to the Cherokee people's process of "lyeing" the corn with hickory ashes and water. It removes the outer hull of the corn so it can be pounded into meal. This was really cool to hear from Gabriela as it somewhat bridges the two cultures.

Melody W.

Excellent information. I prepared corn this way once at a workshop and the flavor difference was a revelation well worth the effort. I would add that the Workbook lists rare seeds as a source. As a professional grower of heirloom varieties, I would recommend Native Seed Search over Rare Seeds any day.

TheActive D.

hi, thanks for the tortilla's making lesson. I want to keep it out for long time how do I store it. I don't want to freeze it any idea?


Peel and de-vein shrimp? Yes. Pit Cherries? Sure. Peel Grapes? Uh, you're the chef. Peel Corn? I'm being trolled. I'm drawing the line.

Laura L.

beautifully spoken, Seeds represent the rich heritage of every country and are important repositories of ancestral and cultural knowledge, we are before a seed crisis because our food security has been compromised due to the patented seeds that huge corporations are pushing and promoting to use instead of following the tradition of decades and decades that consist in saving After each harvest, the best seeds from their crop . The companies like monsanto call the planting of saved seed piracy, as if the knowledge of the indigenous communties could be patented and called their own, these practices have been applied even before theses companies existed, and there is a huge need to protect theses knowings before they are forgotten.

Jacquelyn L.

I'm absolutely going to try this. I have been reading about nixtamalizing corn, but it always seemed overwhelming to me.


Interesting Both culturally and environmentally but not so practical for home use.

Margaret E.

It is so interesting to see the process from the start is. In our area I'm doubtful that I can find even good Masa, but it'll give me something to hunt for.