[Sca-cooks] masa

Terry Decker t.d.decker at worldnet.att.net
Sun Nov 11 09:20:29 PST 2007

> -----Original Message-----
> Take a look at the words, if I grasp the pronunciation correctly, masa is 
> a
> derivative of maiz and will be pronounced with a long "a," while massa 
> will
> be pronounce with a short "a".
> Massa, in this case, is a ball of dough (a sourdough starter) that is used
> to leaven a batch of dough and is recovered before baking.  In France, it 
> is
> a levain and in Italy it is a bigga (although that may also refer to a
> sponge).
> Bear   >> > > >> > >
> I buy the sourdough ball of dough/starter thing.
> As for the pronunciation, both are short a sound.  The long a sound in 
> maize
> coumes from combining the sounds of a and i together into a sort of 
> dipthong
> . . . ahh + eee makes ahheee,  which is basically the long A in English.
> Hispanic languages are similar to latin, but not the same.  the two
> spellings of masa/massa could be simple language variations with the same
> pronunciation.  The meanings we are discussing are separated by some 
> several
> centuries, so the object described could very well be different masa
> (modernly, ground hominy flour in Mexico) and massa (wahtever it was in 
> the
> mannuscript).
> niccolo difrancesco

I was wrong in connecting masa to maiz.  Masa and massa are the same 
thing--dough.  Masa harina means "flour made from dough."  Here's a little 
quote I found to explain the process:

"The second type of industry is the large industrial conversion of maize 
into an instant precooked tortilla flour. The process has been described by 
various workers (e.g. Deschamps, 1985). It is based for all practical 
purposes on the traditional method used in rural areas. More recently, the 
process of producing the flour has been expanded to produce tortillas.
Maize is bought after the buyer has inspected its quality and sampled it. 
Batches of maize with a high percentage of defective grains are rejected. 
Those that are accepted are paid for according to the defects found in the 
raw material. Maize is also selected according to its moisture content, 
since very high moisture will result in storage problems. During the 
cleaning stage, all impurities such as dirt, cobs and leaves are removed. 
The cleaned maize is sent to silos and warehouses for storage.

>From there it is conveyed to treatment units for lime-cooking. There it is 
converted into nixtamal, using either a batch or a continuous process. After 
cooking and steeping, the lime-treated maize is washed with pressurized 
water or by spraying. It is ground into a dough (masa) which is then 
transferred to a dryer and made into a rough flour. This flour, consisting 
of particles of all sizes, is forced through a sifter where the coarse 
particles are separated from the fine ones. The coarse particles are 
returned to the mill for regrinding and the fine ones, which constitute the 
final product, are sent to the packing units. Here the flour is packed into 
lined paper bags."

A more complete description of the process can be found at"


The entire paper, Maize in Human Nutrition can be found at:


The derivation of masa/massa is from the Latin "massa" from the Greek "maza" 
which in turn may derive from a pre-Hellenic conjugate meaning "to knead 
barley-cake."  The word enters English from Old French as "masse."


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