What Is Pinole?

Angie Bates

Pinole is a type of toasted powdered corn which is a staple food of some Mexican Indian tribes. Both filling and nutritious, pinole is considered an energy food. Easily made at home, this ground corn can be added to other spices and various amounts of water to create a drink, an oatmeal-like gruel, or dried cakes.

Cornmeal, one of the ingredients in pinole.
Cornmeal, one of the ingredients in pinole.

Most famous as a staple food of the Tarahumara Indians, pinole has been eaten for hundreds of years. The Tarahumara Indians are considered some of the most athletic groups of people ever known, running up to 100 miles without stopping. Pinole is often carried with them during these runs and can be eaten while moving or at camp fires.

Brown sugar, which is often used to sweeten pinole.
Brown sugar, which is often used to sweeten pinole.

Originally, pinole was made by removing the kernels from dried maize and parching them in hot ashes. The kernels were then sifted from the ash and cleaned before being ground into a coarse powder using a mortar and pestle. The ground corn could be eaten plain and washed down with water, or could be mixed with water and seasonings and turned into paste-like dish, similar in consistency to oatmeal.

Modern versions of pinole use dried corn on cob or dehydrated canned or frozen corn. If corn on the cob is used, the ears may be shucked and left to dry. Once dried, the kernels are removed from the cob. Then, the kernels are placed in a nonstick or lightly oiled pan and cooked until they are light brown and swollen. After it is cooked, the corn is placed in a food processor or coffee grinder and ground into a powder slightly more fine than cornmeal.

Cornmeal can also be used to create pinole. Simpler than using whole corn kernels, cornmeal is just placed in a pan and browned. Unlike the corn kernels, the meal does not swell.

Although pinole can be eaten plain, it is often mixed with other spices. Cinnamon and a sweetener, such as brown sugar or honey, are usually included. Alternatively, agave nectar might be used as a sweetener. Chia seeds are also sometimes mixed with the powdered corn.

In addition to the oatmeal-like version, a spoonful of the ground corn can be eaten and washed down with water. A small amount may also be mixed into a glass of water as an energy drink. Pinole does not dissolve in water, however, so many find the drink version too gritty for their tastes. The corn can also be made into small cakes by shaping the paste into roughly cookie-shaped circles and then baking.

Chia seeds can be used in pinole.
Chia seeds can be used in pinole.

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