Masa harina is a widely used thickener and base flour for corn-based bread and similar products. It is most famous for its use in corn tortillas, but its use doesn’t stop there. Masa harina is one of the key ingredients in chili and the main culprit for its thick and creamy consistency. Some would say that masa harina is irreplaceable for chili, and although that may be true, there are still other options worth exploring. So, what are the best substitutes for masa harina in chili?
Cornmeal, corn flour, cornstarch, ground tortillas, white flour, rice flour, wheat flour, potato flour, graham flour, chickpea flour, girts, and ground taco shells are excellent substitutes for masa harina in chili.
Even though masa harina is widely available and pretty easy to make at home, you cannot count on having it lying around each time you feel like having chili. Since it is always helpful to have a few tricks up your sleeve, I will share the best masa harina substitutes for chili in the following paragraphs. I will also explain how to use each of them and what you should expect your chili to taste like as a result.
Masa Harina Alternatives for Chili
To successfully substitute masa harina in chili, you must first know what its role is in the chili and why it masa harina is one of the key ingredients, not just any flour.
Masa harina is corn flour, but it isn’t the same as a corn flour. It is made of dried corn which is then mixed with calcium hydroxide, which is then dehydrated. The dehydrated substance is what we call masa harina.
This product is most known for its density and heaviness, making it the perfect base for corn tortillas and an excellent ingredient for chili.
Mexico is known for its vast abundance of corn, which is why this Mexican delicacy uses masa harina instead of another type of corn. Masa harina makes the chili incredibly smooth and creamy. It also adds texture and density to its consistency, making the dish even richer.
To substitute masa harina for another product, that product needs to double for the purposes of consistency, texture, and flavor. Although generally taken as neutral-tasting, masa harina still has a certain quality when it comes to flavor.
It is very discretely sweet, which transpires in the chili. So, you will not only need to substitute the consistency of the chili that masa harina creates but also the flavor.
Below is a list of the best masa harina substitutes with some tips on using them best.
Cornmeal is the most apparent masa harina substitute, as it is very similar in texture, composition, and flavor features. Cornmeal is a little sweeter than masa harina but will do a great job substituting for it.
The usual masa harina quantity in chili is three tbsps., so feel free to use the same amount of corn meal when substituting. However, the masa harina is finer in texture than the corn meal, but it is no problem since corn flour is easily degradable, so you won’t have problems with lumps.
The differences between corn flour and masa harina are slight but still significant enough to make them two separate products. While masa harina is milled corn kernels soaked in calcium hydroxide, corn flour is just coarsely milled corn kernels. Therefore corn flour is rougher than masa harina.
Even though you cannot substitute masa harina for corn flour everywhere, chili is an excellent place to switch them. Since you make chili at high temperatures and there are juices and liquid involved, the corn flour will easily become creamy and take over the role of masa harina just fine.
Concerning the amount, I would suggest using half a tbsp less corn flour, as the coarse pieces will dissolve and make up nicely for the decreased corn flour amount.
Cornstarch will work in chili as a masa harina substitute only in the capacity of a thickener, but it won’t do anything about the flavor. Using cornstarch instead of masa harina in chili will result in a creamy and dense dish, with the flavor remaining intact.
To successfully substitute masa harina with cornstarch in chili, ensure you dissolve the cornstarch in warm water before adding it to the dish. Fill three-quarters of a cup with warm water and add one tbsp of cornstarch. Stir it well until there are no lumps.
Add the dissolved cornstarch to the chili while stirring it so that the high temperature doesn’t make it curdle.
Ground Corn Tortillas
Since corn tortillas are made of masa harina, they are an excellent substitute for masa harina in chili. Grind them as finely as possible, which shouldn’t be hard, especially if they are dry. If they are still fresh, you can dry them in the oven.
You will turn the dry tortillas into dust in under a minute, and it is also a great idea to add some spices to the mill. Sprinkle the ground tortillas inside your chili pan and stir. Use the same amount of tortillas to fill the two tbsps recommended as the right masa harina quantity for chili.
Just like the cornstarch, white flour won’t do much regarding the taste, but if you play cards right, it will contribute to the texture and consistency of the chili. We all know that white flour springs to life only when turned into a dough; the rest of the time, it is just there for support.
Nevertheless, it will do the job well if the circumstances are such. Dissolve one spoon of white flour in half a cup of warm water. Stir thoroughly because white flour gets lumpy very easily. What’s even more, once it gets lumpy, it will never smoothen up.
So you must prevent the lumps from the get-go. While pouring the water and white flour mixture into the chili pan, make sure you stir the chili all the time to get a lump-free, creamy and thick consistency.
Gentler than white flour and definitely more flavorful than cornstarch, rice flour is also an excellent masa harina substitute in chili. Its understated sweetness might be just what you want your chili to taste like.
On the plus side, rice flour is much lighter than other masa harina substitutes, such as white flour. It dissolves much more easily, so the risk of lumps is lesser and very nutritious.
You can use more rice flour than the one recommended for masa harina in chili. Therefore instead of two tbsps., feel free to use two and a half tbsps., or even three. You can dissolve the rice flour in water before adding it to the chili or sprinkle it as it is and stir to dissolve it.
Wheat flour is very soft and fine, but it easily makes lumps and can significantly diminish the food where you put it as a thickener if you don’t know what you are doing. It is an excellent substitute for masa harina in chili, but you need to be careful for it to work.
Wheat flour is generally considered flavorless, but it has a certain quality about it that makes it noticeable in a dish. Still, you can pull this off by using one tbsp instead of two in your chili.
Dissolve the wheat flour in a full cup of water. If you try to dissolve wheat flour in less water, it will get gooey, so make sure you have enough liquid. Pour it slowly into the chili pot and stir all along.
Potatoes are famously used as thickening agents. Many add grated potatoes to soups to make them creamier and to other dishes to give them some more substance. Therefore, potato flour is an excellent substitute for masa harina in chili.
Add the same amount of potato flour as that of masa harina for chili. You don’t need to dissolve it beforehand as it is very easily degradable in liquid, especially at higher temperatures. Moreover, potato flour has a very pleasant, soft, mildly sweet flavor that will combine deliciously with your chili.
The graham flour is not only delicious but also very nutritious and full-bodied, rich, and dense. It is made predominantly of whole wheat. It isn’t as refined as regular wheat flour, which makes it a great ingredient to use if you want to make your chili denser.
Still, Graham flour is a bit heavier than masa harina, so reduce the quantity and use 1 ½ tbsp instead of the standard two. You can dissolve it in water beforehand or pour it gradually into the chili and let it dissolve on its own. It doesn’t make lumps as wheat flour does.
Chickpea flour is a highly nutritious flour and an excellent replacement for masa harina in chili. When wet, it becomes creamy, transferring that creaminess onto the chili, making it richer.
Use the same amount of chickpea flour as that of the masa harina, i.e., 2 tbsps. It won’t get lumpy, as it will turn creamy almost instantly. Your chili will taste great, as chickpea flour has a specific taste. Slightly beany and nutty, it will fit perfectly in your chili pot.
Ground Taco Shells
Taco shells are mainly made of corn flour or masa harina. Therefore, they are an excellent masa harina substitute for chili. Often, they are spicy and flavored, which is nifty, considering that they will transfer that flavor onto the chili.
Place the taco shells in a zip lock bag and roll them over with a rolling pin. Add two tbsps of ground tacos to your chili, and enjoy.
Does Chili Need Masa Harina?
Added to the chili near the end of the cooking, masa harina thickens the dish and makes it creamer. Also, it impacts the taste, as it tones down the overly intense notes, adding sweetness and gentility to the dish.
Using masa harina in chili isn’t mandatory, as you may prefer it without it. If you like your chili dense and creamy but don’t want to use masa harina, some substitutes will work fine.
Is Masa Harina the Same as Cornstarch?
No, masa harina and cornstarch are not the same. However, cornstarch is an excellent substitute for masa harina. While cornstarch is finely ground corn kernels, masa harina is dried corn mixed with calcium hydroxide and then dehydrated.
They are similar, considering that they have the same base- corn, but they are not the same thing.