Letter Re: Optimized Corn

The recent SurvivalBlog article recommending Painted Mountain Corn as a valuable addition to survival gardens, as well as the stirring article at Rocky Mountain Corn by “New Ordinance” entitled “The Secret Weapon,” encouraged me to purchase this amazing variety for planting this spring.

I already raise the usual potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, squash, beans and a smattering of other vegetables and fruits, and wanted to add robust, non-GMO corn to help protect against crop failures and diversify the nutrition of my hobby-farm crops. For most of my life I’ve only eaten whole corn as boiled ears (with butter, y-e-s!) and the occasional frozen or canned corn (not-so-yes). And of course lots of corn processed into chips, tortillas, etc.

Now however, I want to raise corn in bulk that can be preserved by drying and prepared by grinding into flour. I have a grinder specifically designed to crack grains for chicken feed, and a separate grinder for making flours. However, in researching this topic I’ve run across something interesting that SurvivalBlog readers who are raising flour corn should probably consider.

Chris A. from Maryland hinted at it, and R.J.’s article “Healthy Food Storage” hit it on the head with the million dollar word “nixtamalization”: “Corn has spread all over the world but the proper preparation has not.  Nixtamalization [nista’ mal ization] is the process that enhances the nutritional quality of corn.  This process helps make the amino acids more like a complete protein and making niacin more easily absorbed.” Not only that, but according to Wikipedia, the process also “significantly reduces (by 90-94%) mycotoxins produced by Fusarium verticillioides and Fusarium proliferatum, molds that commonly infect maize and the toxins of which are putative carcinogens.” The article “Nixtamalization: Nutritional Benefits” at Nourishing Traditions states, “This traditional practice really has a huge impact in the nutritional status of the humble corn.  Through it, we can take a very frugal food, and make it nutritionally superior.

According to http://corn.askdefine.com/  “When maize was first introduced outside of the Americas it was generally welcomed with enthusiasm by farmers everywhere for its productivity. However, a widespread problem of malnutrition soon arose wherever maize was introduced… Since maize had been introduced into the diet of non-indigenous Americans [settlers] without the necessary cultural knowledge acquired over thousands of years [by native Americans], the reliance on maize elsewhere was often tragic. In the late 19th century pellagra reached endemic proportions in parts of the deep southern U.S.” (According to The Nourishing Gourmet, Pellagra causes “sore skin and mouths, makes you thin, listless and could cause depression, hallucinations, irritability” and more.)

And that’s why you’ll see modern Masa flour and corn tortilla packaging (for example) specifically mention that the corn in their products has been treated with lime (not the fruit, but food grade saturated calcium hydroxide, also known as “cal”).

It is important to mention that the lime used to treat corn for nixtamalization is not garden or agricultural lime (if you bought it in a hardware store, don’t cook with it!), it’s most often marketed in grocery stores as “pickling lime” and is safe to use in food (Native Americans used wood ash as their source for alkalizing the corn solution).

The process is simple, but it does take time to properly treat the corn. Dave Arnold at Cooking Issues waxes poetic about the process and the flavorful (and nutritious) results. Significantly condensed (but nowhere near as entertaining) variations of the directions can also be found here and here.

If you’re going to make corn a significant portion of your survival rations and gardening plan you’ll quickly appreciate the convenience of what we can still purchase pre-treated in stores. Nixtamalization is labor-intensive and time-consuming, but well worth the nutritional advantages. Get the most nutritional “bang for your buck” and nixtamalize that corn!
Trust God. Be Prepared. The time is now! – ShepherdFarmerGeek