If Mexican cuisine is a favorite in your household, making fresh, homemade tortillas and other corn dough products may be common practice.
Masa can be whipped up in seconds so it doesn’t necessarily benefit from batch cooking, but eventually, you’ll probably make more dough than you need and will be left wondering what to do with the rest of it.
Can you freeze masa? Yes, masa can be frozen very effectively for 3 to 6 months, depending on whether it is pre-shaped or not. Masa will refresh easily once thawed for use.
This article will answer all your questions about masa, including giving you detailed instructions on how to freeze the prepared dough and a few other storage options as well.
What is Masa?
Masa is a staple of Latin American cuisine. It is a type of dough made from corn that is used to make everything from corn tortillas to fruit-stuffed dessert tamales.
The practically instant to make dough is incredibly versatile, quick to make, and has a slightly sweet flavor that is undeniably corn.
You can make masa in seconds simply by mixing masa harina (a corn flour) with water, or you can often find the prepared dough, masa preparada, in Mexican grocery stores.
There are different ways to prepare masa, however, so check the list of ingredients or label to make sure you buy the type of dough you want.
For tortillas, masa is made with only flour and water, or sometimes broth. For tamales, however, there is also lard added to increase the fluffiness of the dough.
Generally, tamale masa is not vegan-friendly unless specifically stated. Of course, if you’re making it yourself, you have more control.
Nixtamalization is the process of treating corn with calcium hydroxide, or lime.
Instead of grinding simply dried corn kernels, they are first boiled and soaked in lime water. The corn is thoroughly washed afterward to remove the lime and hulls from the corn. It is then allowed to dry again to be ground.
Nixtamalization makes the corn more easily digested by your body, the nutrients being easier to absorb once the hull is removed. It also increases the niacin content to balance the nutritional profile better.
After nixtamalization, the kernel is now called nixtamal and has many uses whole. Once ground, it creates the fine flour called masa harina that can be reconstituted instantly with water to make the dough, or masa.
How Long Does Masa Last?
Once you’ve made your dough, it should either be used immediately or stored carefully. Corn dough does spoil relatively quickly if you’re not careful.
In your fridge, masa will last up to 3 days. Beyond that, it is more likely to either spoil or be too dry to manage and cook properly.
Masa that has gone bad may develop visible signs of mold or it might start to go sour, which is much different from the purposefully soured sourdough masa, masa madre.
How to Store Masa Dough
To keep masa fresh as long as possible, wrap it in plastic wrap and store it in an airtight container in your fridge. The cold will protect it from growing mold and the double airtight seal will help prevent it from drying out.
Can You Freeze Masa?
If you prefer to make your masa in advance, you can freeze it easily without compromising the quality. As long as it’s carefully packaged, masa will stay fresh in your freezer for 3 to 6 months.
Beyond that, the quality and flavor will start to deteriorate. Aside from not being quite as tasty, the dough may also be prone to breaking and crumbling, making it more difficult to manage and cook.
It’s always a good idea to label the packages of masa in your freezer with the dates they were frozen so that you know when you should use them.
How to Freeze Masa
You have two main options when it comes to freezing masa.
You can shape and prepare it into tortillas or tamale dough, depending on how you plan on using it in your future, or you can freeze the dough as is, which is less reliable but still quite effective.
1. Shape the Dough
If you know you’re going to be using your masa dough for tortillas, it may be best to press your dough before freezing it.
Separate each shaped tortilla using plastic wrap or parchment paper and then stack them carefully inside an appropriately sized freezer-safe bag.
If you’re making tamales, dumplings, or using the dough for another purpose, you’ll have the best successfully preparing your items and freezing them uncooked.
Freeze each individually by spreading them out on a baking sheet and, once thoroughly frozen, transfer them to a freezer-safe container for longer-term storage.
Preshaped masa will last up to 6 months.
2. Freeze the Dough Unshaped
If you’re not sure how you’re going to use your masa, you can freeze the entire ball of dough by wrapping it in plastic wrap and then placing it inside a freezer-safe bag or container.
The freezing process will break down some of the structure of the dough, making it slightly more difficult to handle and shape when it thaws. It should be used within 3 months at the most to avoid as much difficulty as possible.
How to Thaw Frozen Masa
If you’ve fully prepared meals like empanadas from your masa, they can often be cooked directly from frozen or thawed in your refrigerator overnight.
Tortillas will thaw very quickly, left sealed on your counter at room temperature. They will usually be ready to use within 1 hour.
If you’ve frozen a ball of dough, it is best to allow it to thaw in your refrigerator overnight. You can also replace the plastic wrapping with a cool, moist towel and allow it to thaw on your counter, which may take up to 3 hours, depending on the size of the dough.
What is Masa Harina?
Masa harina is the flour used to make masa, which is the dough. The exact translation from Spanish is “dough flour” and most packages will further label the products as instant corn dough.
Most masa harina is made from yellow corn, which may be labeled as Amarillo in Spanish, though specialty brands may also offer white or even blue corn varieties.
If you’re interested in trying masa for yourself, we love the organic masa harina options from Gold Mine.
How Long Does Masa Flour Last?
Commercially produce masa flour will stay fresh for up to 1 year if stored in an airtight container in a dry location out of direct light or exposure to dramatic temperature fluctuations.
It’s highly susceptible to moisture so you want to be very sure the container is secure and airtight.
It is not a good idea to store masa harina in your fridge as there’s a much higher chance of it being exposed to moisture and spoiling.
Can You Freeze Masa Harina?
You can freeze masa harina as long as it remains tightly sealed against moisture.
Many people choose to do so, not so much to extend the life of their corn flour, but rather to protect it from pantry weevils and other opportunistic bugs.
If you’ve bought multiple packages of masa harina, you can freeze the extras before opening them. Once the original package has been opened, transfer it to a freezer-safe bag and make sure that it is perfectly sealed.
You’ll also want to be careful that the bags are not punctured by any other items in your freezer, so placing them inside a sturdy container is a great option.
Is Masa Cornmeal?
Masa is similar to cornmeal in that they are both made from corn, but they are not identical nor exactly interchangeable.
Cornmeal, as well as corn flour, is simply ground corn kernels. The coarseness of the grind dictates whether it is flour or meal, with flour being a much finer powder.
Masa, on the other hand, is made using ground corn kernels that have been soaked in lime (calcium hydroxide). It is only ground after being properly treated and redried.
What Do You Make With Masa?
Traditionally masa is most commonly used to make corn tortillas and tamales.
It can be used for many other Latin-American favorite recipes as well, such as atoles, masa cakes, empenadas, gorditas, sopes, and pupusas.
It can also be used to make the popular Southern-style hominy grits.
Masa harina makes a reasonable substitute for corn flour in any style of cooking, though it has a stronger corn flavor. In many cases, you can also use masa as a substitute for cornmeal, but it does have a finer texture so not all recipes will have the same, or proper, consistency.
Masa may even lend a very unique and pleasing flavor to desserts, though if you want to try it, it’s a good idea to combine your masa harina with at least 50% of the all-purpose or whole wheat flour that your recipe calls for.
Can You Make Cornbread With Masa?
You can make cornbread with masa but it won’t be exactly the same as the Southern-style bread that many people are used to. Masa, or more specifically masa harina, isn’t as coarse as cornmeal and it also has a stronger corn flavor.
The result is a flavorful cornbread with a fine texture that is moist and soft.
For more inspiration, check out our related article sharing plenty of ideas on how to make cornbread without using cornmeal.
Up Next: Can You Freeze Tamales?