Nixtamalized - Our Ancient (Not So) Secret to Awesome Tortillas

Nixtamalized in Vermont, our process to a healthy and organic corn tortilla

Nixtamalized - Our Ancient (Not So) Secret to Awesome Tortillas
Organic yellow corn steeping overnight in an alkaline solution to make our nixtamal

If you look at the top of our pack of tortillas, you'll notice it says "Nixtamalized." What does that mean? The term nixtamal (pronounced neex-tah-mal) comes from the Náhuatl words nextli, meaning “ashes,” and tamalli, meaning “cooked corn dough.” Nixtamal refers to corn that has been cooked in an alkaline solution, making it more digestible and nutritious.

Nixtamal is important because it makes the nutrients in corn easier for our bodies to use. This traditional Mesoamerican method increases niacin (vitamin B3), which prevents pellagra. Pellagra is a disease caused by a lack of niacin in the diet, common in places where corn was eaten but not properly processed. Corn naturally lacks bioavailable niacin and tryptophan, which our bodies need. Nixtamalization makes these nutrients more available, preventing pellagra.

In the early 20th century, pellagra was a big health problem in Europe where corn had become a main food. Corn was not nixtamalized like it was in Mesoamerican cultures, so people didn’t get enough niacin. This caused pellagra, which includes symptoms like skin rashes, diarrhea, and mental problems, and can be deadly if untreated. This showed how important nixtamalization is for making corn healthier.

Nixtamal didn't become popular in the Northeast USA mainly because of different cultures and farming practices. European settlers in the Northeast grew and ate wheat, barley, and rye, not corn. The cooler climate also made it harder to grow corn there. As a result, people in the Northeast stuck to their traditional grains and cooking methods, so corn and nixtamal were not as common.

Nixtamalization also improves the protein quality of corn by increasing essential amino acids like lysine and tryptophan. It also adds more calcium and other minerals, making nixtamal a more balanced and nutritious food.