Likely derived from the Algonquin word rockahominie, “hominy” is corn that’s been soaked in lime or lye water to remove the hard outer hull. In the process, corn becomes more digestible, liberating B vitamins and amino acids.
Hominy was one of Native Americans’ first gifts to European colonists, and the settlers no doubt gobbled it up. They’d helped themselves to the Indians’ stock of corn during their first exploration of Cape Cod (records say they paid the natives back for the “borrowed” grain at some later date). But just what to do with the hard flint corn must have absolutely baffled them. The Indians taught the settlers to cultivate the mysterious maize and to use the alkali from wood ash to turn it into hominy. The hominy could easily be cooked, broken into grits or ground into meal.
Today, we generally buy hominy canned. It’s ready to eat, and its tender, yet firm texture makes it a great addition to soups and stews. It figures prominently in posole (a Mexican stew) and menudo (a spicy tripe and hominy stew). It’s also mashed to make the masa used in tamales and turned into the hominy grits, ubiquitous in the “grits belt” of the Southeastern United States.
—Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.