The Best Masa Harina Substitute: 8 Great Alternatives


Looking for a masa harina substitute? This post will discuss some of the best alternatives to this delicious Mexican ingredient. Check out the items below if you’re out of masa harina or simply want to experiment on other flavors and textures!

Mexican food is a staple in my house. The whole family always looks forward to having our taco nights! This is why I always make sure to have masa harina—the ingredient that I use when I make tortillas from scratch—in my pantry.

What does one do when masa harina runs out? Read on! Below are some of the alternatives that you can use. 


Masa Harina Substitute Ingredients: 8 of  The Best Alternatives

A staple in Mexican kitchens, masa harina is literally translated “dough” <masa> and “flour” <harina>. It’s made by drying corn <maize> and then treated slaked lime <calcium hydroxide, not to be confused with the fruit> lime water solution.

This ingredient is used in a lot of different Mexican dishes such as tortillas and tamales. In case you run out of masa harina, you can use 8 ingredients below to replace it:

1. Ground Corn Tortillas


Don’t throw away your leftover corn tortillas—you can use these as a great masa harina substitute. Corn tortillas are made with masa harina, so you’re basically just turning them again into flour!

All you need for this alternative are some tortillas that have been sitting in the fridge for a few days and a food processor. Stale tortillas work better and you will need a certain hardness in order to crush them nicely.

Simply treat the ground corn tortillas as flour. You can either turn them into tortillas or corn cakes, or simply as a thickener. The taste won’t be the same, but you may be able to get a similar consistency. 

2. Ground Taco Shells


Go DIY and crush some taco shells! This is one of the easiest ways to make a masa harina substitute.

Simply purchase some hard shell tacos from the supermarket or Latin grocery, crush them using mortar and pestle <or place them in a ziplock container and crush them using a rolling pin>, and substitute in equal amounts. 

This was actually the first masa harina substitute that I ever made. A few months ago, I finely crushed some leftover taco shells, mixed them with some water, and turned them into dough.

To my surprise, I was actually able to make some pretty decent tortillas with the leftovers. Of course, it was far from restaurant quality, but it did its job in holding some leftover carnitas and barbacoa, and saving our taco night at home!

3. Polenta


I love making polenta, a dish made of boiled cornmeal. My kids love the creamy porridge-style serving, but I prefer to turn them into solid, grilled patties topped with whatever stew dish I have on hand--very similar to a taco!

If you’re out of masa harina and don’t mind having different a texture for your homemade tacos, you can try and use this one! Simply turn the polenta into flat patties <this serves as your tortilla> and top it with meat or fish, as you would a soft taco. 

Check out this beautiful polenta tortillas recipe to get started. Get creative with toppings and spices in your dishes! 

Keep in mind that while both masa harina and polenta are both made from corn, their processes and cooking methods differ <and polenta takes way longer to cook>. 

Packed polenta is available in supermarkets, but if you don’t find one, you can also use coarsely-ground cornmeal. Make sure to skip the finely-ground variety, as your dish will have a pasty consistency. 

4. Cornmeal


Cornmeal is what I use to make corn bread. It has a different consistency as masa harina, so if you decide to use it in corn tortillas, they will get very different textures <even the fine cornmeal variety is still coarser than masa harina>.

However, if the recipe you’re making uses masa harina as a thickening agent, cornmeal is a great alternative. You will definitely get the same texture, but keep in mind that they might have different flavors.

Using cornmeal as a thickener is common in soups and stews. I suggest that you use finely ground cornmeal to achieve a smooth texture. 

5. Hominy


Hominy, which is made by drying maize and then treated by soaking the hard grains in a solution of slaked lime and then washed, is finely ground to make masa, which is then dried and powdered to make masa harina.

This means that both are basically from the same family. Hominy, usually used in soups and stews, is usually served like whole corn kernels, so you will have to go through another process in order for you to turn it into a masa harina-type ingredient.

This is available in canned and ground forms, so you can just simply choose what's best for the recipe. I prefer the dried form--it does need to go through a long process of soaking, boiling, and simmering, but the results are more delicious!

6. Grits


Grits are also made from hominy, so this is an excellent alternative for recipes that call for masa harina.

One of the main differences between grits and masa harina is the coarseness--grits are usually coarser than masa, but you can make adjustments so you can turn them into tortillas or thickening agents.

One way to use grits as a masa harina substitute is to simply place the grits in a food processor and stop when they reach masa harina consistency.

These are usually served soft <like polenta>, but you can adjust the water levels in your recipe to turn them into solid patties. I once served these with some reheated tamales and the family loved it! 

7. Cornstarch


If you're working on a recipe that calls for masa harina as a thickener, you can use cornstarch as a substitute.

Masa harina is usually used in making a slurry and added to Mexican soup and chili recipes. If you're out of this ingredient, you can make use of cornstarch, which is also a common slurry ingredient.

Your food will have a slightly different consistency if you used this as a substitute, as cornstarch is finely ground, whereas masa harina is coarse. However, you can trust that cornstarch will be able to help you achieve thickness in your dish. 

8. Masarepa

The difference between masa harina and masarepa is the way that they are cooked. As explained above, masa harina goes through a process of drying and then grinding into fine cornmeal. Masarepa, on the other hand, is precooked and then soaked in liquid.

Masarepa is the main ingredient of the arepa, which has Venezuelan and Colombian origins. These are like sandwiches or griddle cakes stuffed with ingredients like meat and cheese. Think of it as a Latin-style sandwich!

A simple search of “masarepa vs masa harina” will lead you to lots of articles saying how they can’t be interchanged—they’re made with different processes, after all. However, I have tried using this as a masa harina substitute and got good results!

I would usually make gorditas—Mexican pastry that, like the arepa, is stuffed with meat, cheese, and other fillings—using masa harina, but I ran out of the flour one time, so I made use of the leftover masarepa I had at home.

I was very satisfied with the results, so if you’re also going to work on a sandwich-type recipe but don’t have masa harina on hand, masarepa is a wonderful and equally-delicious alternative. 

If you are interested in other ingredients, refer here: Ingredients

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Masa Harina Substitute

I hope you had learned something from this post! These are some of the best masa harina alternative ingredients out there, so go ahead and try them out if you’re out of the original!

If your first substitution didn’t work well, I strongly suggest that you try another masa harina substitute on this list. See which works best for your dishes!

Let me know in the comments below if you have any remarks, suggestions or recommendations! If you have recipes that you’d like to share, feel free to tell me and the readers about it too.

Thanks for dropping by, and good luck!


    Hi There! Welcome to Cooking Is Passio where I can tell you the things I love. My name is Vivian Carpenter. I am not only a foodie at heart but also passionate about cooking. I rely on the support of other cooking blogs like me to get new cooking tips as well as new recipes. This blog is the great way to share my experience and my love cooking with others. And I hope this blog can help you - the cooking lovers like me - cook your favorite dishes.

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    Noreen Danclair-Furlonge - 11/12/2017 Reply

    This is the best explanation I have read. Thanks a lot.

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