Nixtamal is an Aztec word to describe corn that has been partially cooked and soaked with calcium hydroxide, otherwise referred to as cal or lime. Calcium hydroxide is simply the dust that results from scraping a limestone rock. The Aztec would grind corn against the limestone found in the riverbeds, and hence discovered the benefit of the interaction of this natural element with corn. The process of nixtamalization was first developed in Mesoamerica where maize was originally cultivated. There is no precise date for when the technology was developed, but the earliest evidence of nixtamalization is found in Guatamala’s southern coast, with equipment dating from 1200-1500BCE.
Nixtamal can be ground into masa (a corn dough) for making tortillas or similar patted disk (finely ground) or tamales (coarsely ground), or can be kept in its whole form to make pozole, otherwise known as hominy.