Cooking with maize and nixtamalisation

Maize is used to describe varieties of corn that are dried and ground. We have several different varieties of maize in our collection including Kaanga Ma, Bloody Butcher, Manaia Maize, Hokianga Red/Yellow and Blue Hopi. Information can be found in our heritage corn selector chart

Maize has been cultivated for centuries in the Americas and a method of preparation developed there that releases the full nutritional value of the maize. This is called nixtamalisation.

Nixtamalisation essentially involves soaking and cooking the maize in an alkaline solution. Cooking lime can be used but we prefer to use wood ash. When wood ash is mixed and soaked in water and then the maize is soaked and then cooked in that ash water it softens the corn, making it easier to digest and to process. Even more significantly a reaction occurs that frees up essential amino acids and niacin that would otherwise be locked in the maize.

Using maize as a staple crop without the process of nixtamalisation results in deficiences and diseases such as pellagra and this happened in countries where maize began to be used without the cultural history and knowledge of how to process it.

Learning to cook with maize can seem a bit daunting at first as it really is slow food. Really though its just about understanding the process and planning ahead.


Take 2 cups of corn, 2 cups of ash from untreated timber (sieved to remove any large bits) and 2 cups of water.

Put in a large stainless steel pan, mix and bring to the boil.

Simmer for 1 – 2hrs, topping up the water as required t keep the level above the corn.

Remove from the heat or put the pot on very low heat at the back of a woodstove Leave to soak overnight.

Bring to the boil again, adding water if necessary.

Simmer until the corn kernels fluff up and open.

Drain and rinse well in several changes of water to remove all of the ash.

As you rinse the corn, rub it between your hands to remove the skin from the kernels.

The cleaned kernels can then be ground to make a thick paste that can be used in bread, corn fritters, can be made into tortillas (best if the mix is ground twice), made into porridge or can be dried for use later.