Hominy is a food made from kernels of corn that have undergone a special chemical process to make the grain more available for use in cooking and eating. The kernels are soaked in an alkali solution that removes the hull and germ of the corn, causing the grain to puff up to about twice its normal size, giving it the appearance of giant corn. Hominy has become a staple of Mexican cooking, traditionally used in soups, stews, and casseroles.
Most common cuisine: Mexican
Most common preparation: soups such as pozole
Distinct flavor and aroma: corn
What Is Hominy Corn?
Hominy is made from maize, which is also called field corn and can be white or yellow. This type of corn is used in making cornmeal, corn flakes, and other grain products. It's different from sweet corn, which can be eaten on the cob. Hominy is the essential ingredient in grits and corn tortillas.
It is created through a process called nixtamalization, a word derived from the Nahuatl language spoken by the pre-Columbian people of Mesoamerica who invented this process of soaking corn in an alkaline solution of calcium hydroxide made from slaked lime, lye, or wood ash. While nixtamalization can be done at home, it can be quite time-consuming and the ingredients aren't all friendly to work with. It's not something the average person should undertake as a kitchen project.
This process produces a number of changes in the corn, but the most significant one involves changing the structure of the proteins and carbohydrates in such a way that the ground grain can stick together when combined with water. It removes the husks of the corn, making it easier to grind. The resulting very finely ground dough, or masa, is what tortillas are made of.
Without nixtamalization, the ground corn would not form a dough and thus tortillas (and tortilla chips, and tamales, and taquerias) would not exist. The dough can be combined to form new flavor compounds as well as shapes, which is why grits often have a more complex taste than polenta.
Hominy Corn Uses
Hominy is available in dried and canned form. The latter has already been cooked and is ready to use, although the texture will be slightly different. It's good just like that with some butter and salt and pepper—just as you might eat sweet corn. The starch in the kernels of the corn swells and takes on a uniquely gelatinous texture, which is most prominent when the hominy is eaten whole instead of ground.
Preparing dried hominy is much like cooking dried beans; rinse and soak them first before simmering. Dried and ground up nixtamalized hominy can be cooked to make grits (also called hominy grits). Alternately, the processed hominy can be cooked until soft and then used as a thickening agent in soups, stews, and casseroles such as posole, a traditional Mexican soup made with hominy. It's versatile!
What Does It Taste Like?
Hominy tastes like a more complex sweet corn—it's a bit more earthy.
Hominy Corn Recipes
When cooking with hominy, note if the recipe calls for dried or canned hominy since soaking dried hominy requires up to 12 hours to prepare, between the soaking and simmering.
Much like corn, hominy can work in either sweet or savory recipes. Try it as a breakfast porridge with butter and syrup, or cook it in broth, like you would polenta, as a side dish. Or, the cooked corn can be ground in the food processor to make homemade masa, which can be used to prepare tamales, arepas, empanadas, and pupusas. Hominy corn flour, aka masa, is a key ingredient in atole—a rich, creamy Mexican beverage mixed with milk and/or water, cinnamon, vanilla, and sometimes chocolate. It's served hot as a warming beverage during cold weather or as a breakfast drink.
This ingredient is widely available in grocery stores and Latin American or Mexican food stores. Dried hominy corn can be cooked whole, ground into cornmeal (hominy grits), or can be ground more coarsely into cracked hominy corn (maíz trillado). It's available canned or dried, and either version stores well for long term use.
Once you've cooked dried hominy, you can store it in the fridge for up to a week covered. It reheats well in the microwave. It can also be frozen for up to three months.