Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I make hominy and masa harina using lime. A collaborator makes them with plain old wood ashes (a source of lye). Lye and lime have similar chemical properties in that they are very strong bases. Masons are careful when working with lime to not get it onto their skin, because strong bases dissolve protein, so their skin would fall off if exposed to a strong base for a long time. The effect and rate of action is very much time and concentration dependent. Someone can touch lime mortar momentarily and get only a mild drying of the skin. Touching it all day long can lead to severe injury. Putting wet hands in a bag of lime can lead to rapid injury.
Chemically, lye is more reactive than lime thus making lime safer to handle. I bet that wood ashes would fall in between.
The drying of the skin from short exposure to lime is similar to the drying from spilling gasoline on my hands. Not something I'd choose to do intentionally, but a temporary exposure to my hands won't put me in the hospital or incapacitate me.
I know that lime is dangerous. I keep the storage container away from the grandkids. I measure it carefully into the cooking pot, and use caution to not splash while stirring or by boiling too fast. I rinse my hands immediately if necessary. I don't let the spoon drip around the kitchen.
I use a colander and dump the cooking water down the drain and rinse the corn kernels before using my hands to massage the skins from the kernels if any of them are still hanging around. I haven't had a problem with my skin falling off, or the inside of my mouth dissolving.
Never use an aluminum pot with a strong base, because strong bases dissolve aluminum and release highly flammable hydrogen gas. Strong bases would dissolve the seasoning from cast iron skillets. I use stainless steel pots, spoons, and colander.
Edit to add... I love the taste of nixtamalized corn!!
Joseph Lofthouse wrote:My collaborator was taught by a traditional Mohawk Indian. She uses 1:1 Ash:corn. With ashes fresh from the stove he uses 1:2 and says that seems too strong. Cooking times are heavily dependent on the variety of corn.
After I've rinsed the corn briefly in a colander I haven't noticed the skin on my hands drying out from handling fresh hominy.
Bases are neutralized by acids... Hominy is often served in a tomato/vinegar based soup which would neutralize any residual base. The stomach is acidic, which would also neutralize any residual base, and thus protect the stomach and intestines from being eaten away... Not so much for the throat!!! NO TASTING THE COOKING WATER... The key to safety is to rinse the hominy well before eating...
Dried masa harina or hominy is not of concern, because any residual hydroxide in it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and thus becomes inert.
Joseph Lofthouse wrote:As soon as the fire cools down, the lye in the ashes starts absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and loosing potency. Getting the ashes into an airtight container as soon as they cool would retain the most potency.
For thousands of years, people have been nixtamalizing corn and eating it immediately after rinsing. Three to Five rinses with water is sufficient to thoroughly remove the lime/lye. Hydroxides are highly attracted to water and only a little attracted to corn.
Mmm. Mmm. Mmm. I just got some nixtamalized frozen tortilla dough out of the freezer. Very nice! Yum.
Alder Burns wrote:I've also played around with homemade hominy using ashes. A couple of pointers:
---the variety of corn is important. Ordinary modern field corn won't do. It needs to be, I think, what's called a flour corn; usually white. "Hickory King" is an old heirloom that I found did well. Other varieties will swell up on cooking, but the skin won't slip off easily.
--The corn and ash need to be vigorously boiled for several hours. A solar cooker, as sustainable as it is, just won't do it. Again, the skins won't separate easily, which is part of the reason for the process....
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