Introduction / Present / Limitations

Technological Limitations of the Nixtamalization Process

The problems associated with tortilla production have grown in Mexico and have become increasingly difficult to manage. Annual consumption has reached 12 million tons, and 3,000 to 10,000 liters of water are need to wash and rinse the nixtamal necessary to produce one ton of tortillas. About 800 million tortillas are consumed a day, which means there are literally rivers of contaminated water coming from the nejayote (nixtamal cooking water) that produce serious ecological damage. On the other hand, cooking tortillas and nixtamal with gas is very inefficient, since about half of the energy is dissipated as heat pollution in the environment. All of these factors have both nutritional and commercial implications for the tortilla industry.


Despite the many advantages of the 3,500 year old traditional nixtamalization process from a quality point of view, there are many drawbacks in terms of its ecological impact, and hence the process must be considered to still be in the first stages of its development. A great problem encountered in the industrial production of both instant corn flour and nixtamal masa is the enormous volume of waste water or nejayote produced (nejayote means lime broth in nahuatl). This polluting waste water has a high content of soluble solids and lime. There are also important losses of thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, fat, and fiber. The nejayote contains solid particles from fragments of the pericarp (fiber), starch, protein, and soluble corn germ.