What Exactly Is Hominy?
Hominy is corn, but not straight off the cob. Hominy is whole kernels of dried field corn (aka maize) that have been nixtamalized, a process that cooks have been doing since ancient times, starting with those living in what we now call Mesoamerica. The corn kernels are soaked in lye or lime solutions and then rinsed several times, which removes the hulls and turns the inner kernels tender and plump. This process improves the corn's nutritional content, and also keeps the corn from sprouting during long storage, which were big deals when cooks needed as many ways as possible to make the corn harvest last through the winter. Puffy, slightly chewy kernels of hominy have complex flavor and aroma, more like stoneground grits or freshly made tortillas than fresh corn.
Making hominy from scratch is a rather tedious multistep process, which is why most of us simply go to the grocery store and buy it. Ready-to-eat canned hominy includes a little liquid, like other canned vegetables. Dried hominy comes in bags like dried beans or whole grains, and needs to be soaked before it's used. Wet or dry, hominy makes a reliable pantry staple. The next time you think of grabbing a can of corn or a bag of black beans, try hominy instead.
Most people think of hominy in its whole-kernel form, but it also comes ground. Hominy grits is coarsely ground hominy. Masa is finely ground hominy. Cornmeal from non-nixtamalized corn cannot be mixed with water to form dough, but cooks can use masa to make tortillas, arepas, tamales, and other dishes.
Seasoned whole hominy is an easy vegetable side dish. Most cooks, however, use hominy as an ingredient in other dishes, such as salsas, soups, and stews, especially posole, a beloved fragrant, flavorful stew that can upstage a pot of chili.