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Cooking Process Reduces Toxins in
Corn By Linda
August 2, 2001
Nixtamalization is not a sure-to-stump-you spelling
bee word, but a high-temperature, alkaline cooking process that removes toxins
produced by the fungus Fusarium moniliforme, which grows on corn.
Nixtamalization appears to be the key to reducing the toxins,
called fumonisins, that may occur in corn, according to Agricultural Research
Service (ARS) chemist Mary Ann
Dombrink-Kurtzman. In most years, fumonisins would not present a threat to the
U.S. corn crop, but drought stress in some years can trigger fumonisin
Working at the National
Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill.,
Dombrink-Kurtzman reports that nixtamalizing reduces the level of fumonisins in
raw corn by almost 80 percent. To conduct these studies, she first had to
search for normal-appearing, contaminated corn. Because the incidence of
fumonisin-contaminated corn in the United States is low, that search took her
nearly a year.
Over the past three years, the corn milling industry has
voluntarily screened about 2,000 cornmeal samples. Based on the industrys
data of low fumonisin levels and knowing that nixtamalizing reduces fumonisins,
U.S. corn tortillas might contain between 0.02 and 0.2 parts per million of
fumonisins--levels that do not present a problem, according to
This is good news for the U.S. population, which includes
immigrant citizens of Central and South America. Corn is a staple food for
millions of people in the world and a major source of calories for people in
Mexico, Central America, and parts of Africa and China. Other ARS scientists in
Athens, Ga., have studied nixtamalization in corn products made in
A full report on the nixtamalization process in Guatemala and
related work conducted by ARS and a major food company can be found in the
August issue of Agricultural Research magazine,
ARS monthly publication.
ARS is the chief scientific agency in the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.