Friday, January 27, 2006

What is This Thing Called Hominy?

According to The Angelica Home Kitchen by Leslie McEachern, hominy, or posole, is:

Corn treated with an alkaline substance such as wood ash or limestone, to remove the hull and germ. . . . This . . .makes the corn more nutritious because it makes more niacin available.

It’s sort of counter-intuitive that a partial grain is more nutritious than a whole grain. In fact, the corn does lose some nutrients in the alkalizing process, or nixtamalization, but the grain is effectively more nutritious because the process lowers the ratio of an amino acid called “leucine” which prevents absorption of niacin. This is explained in great detail in the article Traditional Maize Processing techniques in the New World, which I found in the notes to America’s First Cuisines by Sophie Coe.

I recommend this book, and all of Coe’s books, with great enthusiasm. Her writing is fresh, fierce, unimpeachably informed and, perhaps not surprisingly, very funny. Here’s Coe on hominy:

It was not enough, however, merely to domesticate maize. It was another discovery that made it a truly superior foodstuff, and that discovery was of the process of nixtamalization. . . .So superior is nixtamalized maize to the unprocessed kind that it is tempting to see the rise of mesoamerican civilization as a consequence of this invention, without which the peoples of Mexico and their southern neighbors would have remained forever on the village level.

And here’s a bit about pineapple:

The pineapple grows best in hot humid climates, as it was originally from Brazil and Paraguay. . . . It is hard to think of a less plausible plant to cajole into fruiting under English conditions, but that is what the competitive gardeners of the British nobility succeeded in doing in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. It was an abstruse and expensive business, calling for specialized buildings named pineries, which were built alongside the vineries, where grew the grapes which would also not mature under sullen Northern European skies.

Cajole into fruiting”! I will be using that phrase at every apropos moment.

Coe insists that for the sake of precision, the plant zea mays, even in the kind that pops, be referred to in English as “maize.” This is awkward, but it would solve one problem for Yiddish speakers and Jewish bakers. Many folks are confused by the fact that rye bread in Jewish bakeries is sometimes called “corn bread” or “corn rye” This bread is not made from a combination of corn and rye flours like “anadama bread” or “rye ‘n’ injun bread”; it’s just rye bread, so called because the Yiddish word for “rye” is “korn,” pronounced just like “corn.”

Postscript to first hominy missive: My hominy was really quite well-done after a mere eleven hours on the “low” setting of my “crock-pot” I think the low settings on the new pots are higher than they used to be.

Coe, Sophie D. America's First Cuisines. 1st ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

Katz, S. H., M. l. Hediger, and L. A. Valleroy. "Traditional Maize Processing Techniques in the New World." Science 184, no. 4138 (1974): 765-73.

McEachern, Leslie. The Angelica Home Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Rabble Rousings from an Organic Vegan Restaurant. 1st ed. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press., 2003.


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