7 Best Substitute For Masa Harina

Masa Harina Substitute

Masa Harina is an extraordinary flour that serves as the cornerstone of numerous delectable dishes within Mexican and Central American cuisine. It is uniquely produced through a process known as nixtamalization, which involves treating maize with an alkaline solution, then grinding it to create a flavorful and nutrient-rich flour. The result is a foundation for foods like tortillas, tamales, and pupusas, infusing them with a distinctive taste and texture that is hard to replicate.

Yet, even the best culinary plans can be disrupted by an unexpected absence of key ingredients like Masa Harina. Fortunately, several substitutes come to the rescue, offering intriguing alternatives that can beautifully blend into your recipe. These alternatives, which include cornmeal, corn flour, ground hominy, polenta, grits, flour tortillas, and rice flour, might not precisely match Masa Harina, but they each bring their unique charm and character to dishes. So, when your pantry runs dry of Masa Harina, don’t abandon your cooking adventure. Instead, turn to these capable stand-ins to save your dish, and discover new flavors in the process.

What is Masa Harina?

Masa Harina, also known as “dough flour,” is a unique flour integral to Mexican and Central American cuisines. It’s made by a process known as nixtamalization, where maize is cooked in an alkaline solution, then ground into a fine, flavorful flour. This process enhances the nutritional profile of the flour, enriching it with niacin, a crucial B vitamin. It’s the foundation of several dishes like tortillas, tamales, pupusas, and arepas, lending them their distinctive taste and texture.

Substitutes For Masa Harina

In your culinary adventures, you may find yourself without Masa Harina on your pantry shelf. In such moments, these substitutes come to the rescue:

  • Cornmeal
  • Corn Flour
  • Ground Hominy
  • Polenta
  • Grits
  • Flour Tortillas
  • Rice Flour

Let’s delve deeper into the nature of these substitutes, their uses, and their relationship to Masa Harina.

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Best Substitutes For Masa Harina

Each substitute for Masa Harina has a unique characteristic that makes it an excellent stand-in. Here, we will explore these in detail, elaborating on their uses, advantages, and what sets them apart.


Cornmeal, one of the closest alternatives to Masa Harina, is made by grinding dried corn kernels. Its texture is slightly coarser than Masa Harina, but it brings a similar earthy, corn flavor to dishes. It’s ideal for recipes that require a more grainy texture, like cornbread, muffins, or certain types of pancakes.

In recipes, you can substitute Cornmeal for Masa Harina in a 1:1 ratio. However, be aware that Cornmeal lacks the unique flavor imparted by the nixtamalization process that Masa Harina undergoes. Adding a bit of lime juice to your recipe can help bridge this flavor gap, adding a slight tanginess reminiscent of Masa Harina.

The beauty of using Cornmeal as a substitute lies in its widespread availability. It’s readily accessible in most grocery stores, making it a convenient alternative. Moreover, its storage life is impressive. Stored in a cool, dry place, Cornmeal can keep for up to a year.

Corn Flour

Often confused with Cornmeal, Corn Flour is another viable substitute for Masa Harina. It’s made from whole corn kernels, but it’s more finely ground than Cornmeal, resulting in a smooth, light texture. It’s a suitable alternative for recipes that require a less grainy consistency, such as tortilla dough or arepas.

When substituting, use the same amount of Corn Flour as you would Masa Harina. However, like Cornmeal, Corn Flour lacks the unique flavor profile of nixtamalized Masa Harina. To mimic that flavor, consider adding lime or lemon juice to your recipe.

Corn Flour is commonly available in most supermarkets, usually situated next to the other baking ingredients. Just ensure you’re purchasing Corn Flour and not Cornstarch, which, despite similar names, are distinctly different products.

Ground Hominy

Ground Hominy provides a closer match to the flavor of Masa Harina than either Cornmeal or Corn Flour because it undergoes the same nixtamalization process. Hominy is corn that has been treated with an alkali solution, much like Masa Harina, enhancing its nutritional value and taste.

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Using Ground Hominy as a substitute can provide a taste and texture very similar to Masa Harina. When making tortillas or tamales, you can substitute it in a 1:1 ratio. The nutritional profile of Ground Hominy also closely matches that of Masa Harina, making it a robust alternative.

Availability might be the only challenge with Ground Hominy, as it isn’t as widely found in stores as Cornmeal or Corn Flour. You might have more luck finding it in health food stores, Latin American markets, or online.


Polenta, an Italian dish made from coarsely ground cornmeal, can also serve as a substitute for Masa Harina in some instances. However, the grain used to make Polenta is different from that used for Masa Harina, which can impact the flavor.

It’s an acceptable substitute in recipes that require a coarser texture, but it isn’t suitable for making doughs for tortillas or tamales. When used in a 1:1 ratio with Masa Harina, it can lend a unique taste and texture to your dish.

Finding Polenta is usually straightforward, as it’s available in many grocery stores or Italian specialty shops.


Grits, a staple of Southern American cuisine, is another potential substitute for Masa Harina. However, Grits are made from a type of corn known as dent corn, which yields a coarser texture and a different flavor profile compared to Masa Harina.

You can substitute Grits for Masa Harina in recipes requiring a coarser texture, such as casseroles, but it won’t work well for dough-based dishes like tortillas or tamales. Using Grits in a 1:1 ratio with Masa Harina can impart a unique Southern touch to your recipe.

As a popular ingredient in Southern cooking, Grits can be found in most grocery stores, particularly in the Southern U.S.

Flour Tortillas

In a pinch, you can use Flour Tortillas as a replacement for Masa Harina, particularly when making dishes like enchiladas or tacos. Simply fill the Flour Tortillas with your chosen ingredients and proceed with the recipe. However, this won’t work for dishes where Masa Harina is a primary ingredient, like tamales or tortillas.

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The texture and flavor of Flour Tortillas differ significantly from Masa Harina-based products. The former are softer and have a neutral flavor, while the latter has a distinct corn taste and a firmer texture. However, for recipes where the fillings are the star, Flour Tortillas can work beautifully.

Flour Tortillas are available in almost every grocery store, making them a highly accessible substitute.

Rice Flour

Rice Flour, made by grinding rice into a fine powder, is an excellent gluten-free alternative to Masa Harina. It has a neutral flavor, making it a versatile substitute in a variety of dishes. However, the texture of Rice Flour is much finer, and it doesn’t provide the same distinctive taste as Masa Harina.

When using Rice Flour as a substitute, consider the type of dish you’re preparing. It can work well in recipes that don’t rely heavily on the flavor of Masa Harina. You can use Rice Flour in a 1:1 ratio with Masa Harina, but bear in mind that the taste and texture of your final dish will be different.

You can find Rice Flour in most grocery stores, particularly in the baking or gluten-free sections.

Substitutes for Masa Harina: Nutritional Profile

The following table provides an overview of the nutritional values of the mentioned Masa Harina substitutes per ¼ cup:

Corn FlourYes1201g28g3g2g
Ground HominyYes1101g24g4g2g
Flour TortillasYes1002g20g1g3g
Rice FlourNo1500g34g1g2g


While Masa Harina may be a hallmark of Mexican and Central American cuisines, its absence in your pantry doesn’t have to curtail your culinary creativity. These seven substitutes – Cornmeal, Corn Flour, Ground Hominy, Polenta, Grits, Flour Tortillas, and Rice Flour – offer excellent alternatives, each adding their unique flavor and texture to your dishes. It’s about experimenting and finding what suits your taste and the recipe you’re preparing. Remember, good cooking isn’t just about following recipes to the letter but also about adapting, improvising, and above all, enjoying the process. Happy cooking!

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