Corn may be a staple part of the Mexican diet but a lot of the corn eaten here is actually imported from the US, a dependence that has been attributed to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
According to Mexican and US government figures collated in a paper by Timothy A. Wise, entitled Mexico: The cost of US, after NAFTA took effect in 1994, Mexican maize farmers saw corn imports from the US increase by 400%. These imports were priced 19% below the cost of production and resulted in a 66% fall in producer prices.
Wise described these prices as “punishing” for Mexican farmers, and many were unable to support themselves as corn-growers.
At Antad Alimentaria, FoodNavigator-LATAM spoke to one company, Maza Real, trying to create a market for native, Mexican-grown maize. Sales representative Ilsa Rodriguez said the company was founded to create a value chain for corn in Mexico.
“We are trying to preserve our corn [by using] native varieties,” she said.
“We have been losing all these varieties because people began doing something else. They couldn’t make any money out of [growing corn].”
“Our purpose should be to preserve those native varieties. We have to make a change of value related to corn and we believe that if we promote this around the world and in Mexico, we can actually bring that change, and make the producers say ‘I can grow corn’ and ‘I can make money out of that’ instead of working in the city or in a labor company.”
Maza Real works with native (criollo) varieties of white, blue and red corn that Rodriguez describes as “the ancestors of corn”.
The flour it produces is free from additives. "We want to preserve the flavor the way it is from the land […] and help the region keep producing corn,” said Rodriguez.
Demand for its products is driven by consumers’ desire to go “back to natural, back to their roots”, Rodriguez added.
All of Maza Real’s flours are nixtamalized, a traditional process that involves soaking and cooking corn kernels in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, before washing, hulling and grinding the corn.
The term nixtamalization comes from the Aztec word nextli (ashes) and tamalli (corn dough).
The process eliminates mycotoxins, increases the bioavailability of vitamins in the grain and improves the flavor.
“For us, we can’t eat a corn tortilla if it hasn’t been nixtamalazed, we are so used to this flavor!” she said.
Maza Real is targeting export markets, particularly European countries, where it has seen an increased demand for Mexican food. In its domestic market, it is targeting restaurants and tortillerias.
Its product line includes nixtamalized white corn flour; blue corn flour; red corn flour; and precooked white corn flour.