What The Hell Is Hominy, Anyway?

We have hominy to thank for tamales.

If you're a fan of hominy and already know all about it, you've just earned major life points from HuffPost Taste. But if the word hominy makes you stop and say, "Huh?" read on.

Even if you've never heard of hominy before today, chances are you've eaten quite a lot of it. Hominy is a very special ingredient in so many of our favorite Mexican foods, and in a few recipes closer to home, too. You've all passed by a can of hominy at the grocery store, whether you noticed it or not; some of you may have even been adventurous enough to buy it, though most of you probably let it sit in your cupboard forever. Maybe you've even knowingly eaten hominy, like as a side of hominy grits, but never stopped to think about what it was.

Don't feel bad, you're not alone. It's pretty common for us to eat things having no idea what they are, like saffron or capers. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't find out. So here it is -- hominy, explained (for all of you who never knew you wanted to know).

Hominy is basically dried corn that has been soaked in a mineral lime bath.
Flickr: Edsel Little
This alkali process, known as nixtamalization, loosens the hulls from the kernels and softens the kernels themselves. The process can cause the kernels to double in size, which is why hominy can look a little scary. Sometimes the lime is replaced with lye or wood ash for processing.
Without hominy, you'd have no tortillas.
Carlos S. Pereyra via Getty Images
Think about it, guys -- no tacos! Or tamales. Or arepas. The calcium in the lime creates a chemical change in the corn, which makes it possible to make masa out of corn kernels. Masa is the dough used to make corn tortillas (among other things). It would be impossible to make masa out of regular cornmeal.
Ground hominy has so many uses.
Flickr: brian fey
In Mexico it's mixed with water and milk to make the beverage atole, which is sometimes flavored with chocolate. Closer to home, it's used to make grits. And, as we previously mentioned, it makes masa.
Hominy is also awesome eaten whole.
Flickr: Rebekah
It's puffy and chewy and has a very special flavor thanks to its processing technique. You can eat it with nothing more than butter, salt and pepper. Or you can add it to stews. It's an important ingredient in the popular Mexican stew, posole.
You can buy hominy in a can at your local grocery store.
Flickr: francesg29
You can also find it dried. To rehydrate hominy, just cook them up like a pot of beans. Or, if you're really brave, you can make it yourself from scratch using dried corn kernels.
Aside from giving us great food, hominy has additional benefits.
Brian Yarvin via Getty Images
For one, the alkaline process corn undergoes to become hominy means it won't sprout when stored. This was very important in ancient times. Two, the process of making hominy makes it so that the nutrient niacin, found in corn, can be assimilated by the digestive tract rendering it more nutritious.
Hominy is REALLY old.
Flickr: Steve Grundy
There are signs of hominy being produced in mesoamerica circa 1500 BC.

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