What The Heck is Hominy, Anyway?

Hominy is dried corn that has been soaked in a high-pH (alkaline) mineral bath (generally containing either lime, lye or wood ash). The process, called nixtamalization (what a mouthful!) loosens the hull from the corn kernel and softens the kernel as well. It often causes the kernel to double in size, which is why hominy looks so swollen.

If you’ve ever had a corn tortilla (and we sure hope you have!), you’ve had something a lot like hominy. The chemical change that the calcium in the mineral bath cause in the corn is what makes masa flour (the primary ingredient of tortillas) possible. Hominy is also used to make Southern-style grits, among other things.

Hominy is an ancient food. Archaeologists in Central America have found signs of it in ruins dating back to about 1500 BCE. Nixtamalization was useful to ancient peoples because it preserved the corn and prevented the kernels from ever sprouting… it also made the corn softer and tastier, and it had the side benefit of actually increasing the nutritional value of the corn – you can imagine how important that would be to a society where corn was the primary staple!

While it seems like soaking food in a weird-sounding chemical bath would make it toxic, in hominy’s case it transforms the corn by making it both delicious and healthier in most aspects. For instance, the niacin (vitamin B3) in corn can’t usually be digested by humans. Nixtamalization solves this problem. In populations where corn is the primary grain people eat, this prevents potentially deadly niacin deficiency — a condition called pellegra. It also releases tryptophan and lysine amino acids, increases calcium and amino acid availability, and reduces corn’s phytic acid content (phytic acid blocks uptake of several other important minerals like zinc and calcium). Furthermore, it reduces mycotoxins (toxins from fungi) that may be present in the corn.

Corn itself is a great source of heart-healthy antioxidants called polyphenols, which are present in all whole grains.

Like regular corn, hominy is more of a grain than a true vegetable. It’s high in starchy carbs, fairly low in sugar, high in fiber considering its calorie load, and very low in fat. Nixtamalization does remove some of the fiber in the corn, but most is retained. Some people report that hominy doesn’t spike their blood sugar like regular sweet corn does, but there is no scientific evidence for this as yet.

Pozole uses whole hominy, which is readily available in the Mexican section of practically any grocery store in the area. While you can buy it dry and cook it much like beans, canned hominy is what we used since it only needs to be drained and rinsed.

If you’ve never tried hominy, be aware that it is chewier than regular corn, and unsurprisingly has a taste that mirrors corn tortillas. It also has a tendency to soak up flavor – making it awesome in stews like pozole. Now that you know what it is, try it in our Pozole Verde recipe!


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