Journal of Undergraduate Research


nixtamalization, maize processing, Malawi, crops


Life Sciences


Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Science


Malawi is a small country in southeastern Africa. The main crops that rural Malawians grow for food are maize, legumes, and dark, leafy greens. Due to this restrictive diet, many Malawians are at risk for several nutritional deficiencies. In a survey conducted of Malawian families at the School of Agriculture for Family Independence (SAFI), families reached an average of only 18.3% of their calcium needs. A calcium deficiency, especially early in life, can lead to low bone mass and low vitamin D levels, which leads to rickets or osteomalacia. An ancient Mesoamerican tradition called nixtamalization turns maize into a great source of calcium. Nixtamalization refers to the soaking of corn granules in an alkaline solution before processing. This has been seen to increase the calcium content of the maize upwards of 1760% of the original calcium content under laboratory conditions1. Nixtamal, or corn processed through nixtamalization, has become the main calcium source in most Mesoamerican communities that utilize this process2. In Malawi, the most prevalent alkaline source available would be the through the collection and boiling of wood ash, of which calcium is a predominant mineral3.

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