Homemade Corn Tortillas – Part One: How to Soak Corn for Masa

by Ann Marie Michaels on August 3, 2008

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Field corn

I’ve been wanting to make homemade corn tortillas for a long time. I grew up in Texas and I love the taste of homemade tortillas. Storebought tortillas just don’t cut it. It’s like eating Wonder Bread compared to homemade sourdough.

I also want to be able to make my own corn chips, since there are no chips on the market fried in healthy traditional fats like lard.

The easiest way to make homemade tortillas is to use masa harina, which is a corn tortilla flour. However, most brands (Maseca is the most popular) are made with genetically modified corn.

I was able to find organic masa harina at an online store. But I called them and they said they only cook the corn with lime for 40 minutes. They do not soak it in the lime water. While it’s better than eating Maseca, I don’t think that’s good enough. In traditional cultures, the corn was soaked in lime water for 1-2 weeks.

Besides, corn tortillas made with masa harina are vastly inferior to tortillas made from freshly made masa. And as we know, with whole grains, it is important that they be very fresh in order to retain nutrients and flavor. Most storebought flours (including masa harina) are rancid.

It turns out that making your own masa, and your own tortillas, is not very difficult. And it’s not expensive either. However, like most traditional recipes, it cannot be done all in one day.

So I’ve broken this post up into 3 posts. The first step is to cook and then soak the corn in lime water. Then the mixture is washed and ground. Then it is shaped into tortillas and fried.

Today we’ll start with the initial cooking and soaking.

How to Soak Corn for Masa


Stock pot or saucepan


Mrs. Wage’s Pickling Lime
Organic field (or dent) corn (available online)
Filtered water

Field corn and pickling lime


1. Rinse 1 1/2 pounds corn in a colander.
2. Add 2 quarts of filtered water to a stock pot or saucepan.
3. Mix in 1 1/2 tablespoons pickling lime and turn heat on high.
4. Pour the rinsed corn in. Remove any kernels that float to the surface.

Cooking corn with lime

5. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer. Let it cook for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool.
6. At this point, you can transfer it to a glass mixing bowl and cover it with a dish cloth to let it soak (you could also use an enamelware Dutch oven with a lid). It’s best to soak in glass or enamelware. I am not sure if it’s a good idea to ferment in stainless steel.
7. Mix well, cover, and let the corn soak for a minimum of 24-36 hours. Preferably longer, up to 2 weeks. The longer you soak, the more digestible and more nutritious the corn will be.

Soaking corn in lime

More to come in Part Two, when we’ll wash and then grind our nixtamal (the soaked corn) into masa dough. In Part Three, I’ll show you how to make the tortillas.

Other posts in this series:

Homemade Corn Tortillas – Part Two: How to Make Masa

Homemade Corn Tortillas – Part Three: How to Make Tortillas

Disclosure: cmp.ly/4 and cmp.ly/5

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Travis November 11, 2015 at 6:30 PM

I am excited to try this method. I’ve been making my own nixtamal but have yet to let it soak as you describe. First time I’ve heard anyone say that the longer it soaks the more digestible/nutritious it is. Makes sense. Do you happen to have any other sources that would back up that statement? Your links to parts 2 and 3 seem to be broken. I’d love to see those as well if you could hook me up…


Sergio Valadez February 8, 2016 at 8:00 PM

For years now I’ve read a ton of your posts and really appreciate your work. If I remember correctly, in the comments for this post a while back (before your account was hacked and comments deleted) you said that you learned to ferment the corn for 1-2 weeks from a Guatemalan friend whose family prepared corn tortillas traditionally. Did you happen to ask about the conditions in which the nixtamal was fermented? What kind of container was used, was a culture added (or did the container in which it was fermented have some bacteria already present (such as banana or corn leaves or something along the lines of that), temperature, etc. In particular I am a bit concerned with fermenting something that has been cooked (during Nixtamalization process) and has thus no bacteria on it. I would think that some kind of culture would be added (or perhaps the same container used repeatedly) in order to achieve a succesful ferment.

Thank you so much ahead of time for your help, I really look forward to see your answer (even if you didn’t ask her and no longer can)

Sergio Valadez


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