Sean Sherman, The Sioux Chef, Makes Nixtamal with Wood Ash

Sean Sherman Sioux Chef in Kitchen for Wood Ash Nixtamal Tutorial

"The flavor of the finished nixtamal and masa has a distinctly smoky, campfire essence, which I find especially complements roasted vegetables and grilled fish, though any pairing works, really. There’s also something rustic, elemental, and primordial to me about this method that I find quite romantic."

How is nixtamalizing corn with wood ash different than nixtamalizing with cal?

"Clocking in at a pH of about 11.3, wood ash is more than ten times less caustic than cal, which is approximately 12.4 pH. The pH scale is logarithmic, which means that a difference of one integer value (e.g., 12 to 11) changes the concentration by a factor of 10. This means that it takes a bit more ash to get the job done than cal.

For this reason, we’ll use a ratio of 1 part ash to 1 part corn, by volume. For example, one cup of corn will require one cup of ash to get the job done. (By weight, this ratio works out to be about 1 part ash to 2 parts corn, depending on the size and density of the corn kernels used.)

Where to find ash for nixtamalizing corn:

"Because ash has common applications beyond nixtamalization, including soap making and as a soil amendment, it is easy to find sifted wood ash online, if you don’t happen to have any on hand. Alternatively, you can hit up your nearest wood-fired restaurant for some, as it’s usually thrown out at the end of an evening’s service. (Special thanks to chef Juan and Max at Gjelina restaurant for Masienda’s local ash hookup.)"

For more on masa and nixtamalization, shop the MASA book.

Cover of MASA Book by Jorge Gaviria