The indigenous people of the pre-colonial Mesoamerica created the tortilla – a flat, round bread made from unleavened cornmeal, usually eaten with fillings or toppings of meat, beans, eggs, and vegetables.
Today, tortillas are ubiquitous all around the world and not just in Mexico. Restaurants worldwide feature tortillas in their menu, while supermarkets and groceries sell ready-to-eat tortillas.
- The first tortilla was made by a peasant to feed the hungry king.
- According to a 2010 US Census Bureau report, there were 381 tortilla manufacturing establishments in the US in 2007, and 1/3 of these are found in Texas.
- In 2003, Texas declared tortilla chips and salsa as the official state snack.
- 110 pounds and 32 square feet – that is the size of the biggest tortilla chip according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Tortillas Buying Guide
If you can’t make home-made tortillas, you can buy tortillas in the store. It is ready to eat, but you need to heat it first so that it turns warm and soft. There are two things you need to know when buying tortillas: what tortillas are made of, and your options for heating them.
Variety – Tortillas are traditionally made using corn. Commercially-produced tortillas are sometimes made from wheat. Check the label and the packaging for this information. The manufacturer indicates this.
Heating – You can use a microwave, oven, or stove to heat the tortillas.
- Microwave – Put tortillas on a microwavable plate. Cover it with a damp paper towel and set the dial to 30 seconds. Repeat until the tortillas are warm enough for eating.
- Oven – Preheat the oven at 350° and then wrap tortillas in an aluminum foil and place it in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
- Stove – Let the warm surface of the skillet or frying pan warm the tortillas.
Tortillas Production & Farming in Texas
In the 2016 book Encyclopedia of Food Grains (Second Edition), United States ranks second behind Mexico in terms of producing tortillas. The 2016 book Encyclopedia of Food and Health noted that “tortillas currently represent 30% of all baked product sales in the United States” and that “approximately 120 million tortillas are consumed yearly in the United States, making these the second most popular baked product, after white bread.”
While some tortillas sold in Texas supermarkets, stores, and groceries are made outside of the state, Laresh Jayansaker, in her book Sameness in Diversity: Food and Globalization in Modern America, shared how a prominent Texas supermarket chain produces tortillas in Texas. Jayansaker wrote: “the largest supermarket chain in Texas made tortillas in a 20,000 square-foot production facility.”
Besides Mexico and the US, other countries producing tortillas include the UK, Spain, France, Australia, Brazil, India, China, and Korea.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals:
Store-bought tortillas contain chemicals necessary to make the product appealing and to improve shelf-life, among others.
- Flour additives – riboflavin, niacin, biotin, folic acid iron. These enrich the flour to make it nutritious.
- Oxidants – benzoyl peroxide (bleaching agent) and azodicarbonamide ADA (maturing agent). In many countries, the use of potassium bromate as an oxidant has been banned. The US FDA hasn’t issued any restrictions regarding this matter.
- To enhance gluten formation, strength, and stability, chlorine ascorbic acid lipoxygenase is added, while sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) is used as chemical leavening.
- Leavening acids commonly used in a tortilla are the following: sodium aluminum sulfate (SAS), sodium aluminum phosphate (SALP), sodium acid pyrophosphate (SAPP), monocalcium phosphate (MCP), and calcium acid pyrophosphate.
- Store-bought tortillas also use preservatives during production, including anti-mold agents (calcium propionate, sodium propionate, and potassium sorbate), sorbic acid, sodium benzoate, and methyl/propyl parabens.
- Emulsifiers used in tortilla production include sodium and calcium stearoyl lactylate (SSL) and (CSL), ethoxylated mono and diglycerides (EMG), polysorbates (PS), succinylated monoglycerides (SMG), and diacetyl tartaric acid ester of monoglycerides (DATEM).
- Tortilla production also includes the use of gums (hydrocolloids) and fibers as dough conditioners, like guar gum, carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) gum, xanthan gum, carrageenan, and sodium alginate.
Ready-to-eat tortillas sold in stores come in transparent sealed plastic packaging.
Restaurants have a variety of ways for packing take-out/to-go tortillas. Some restaurants use wax paper to wrap tortillas, while others use aluminum foil. Some restaurants don’t wrap tortillas but instead place them inside a plastic, foam, or carton food container.
The tortilla is the main component of the burrito, tacos, quesadilla, and other food made from corn or wheat flour masa. Tortillas are a good source of energy, protein, calcium, and other important nutrients. According to the Encyclopedia of Food and Health, “lime cooking considerably increases calcium and the bioavailability of niacin and significantly diminishes the amount of aflatoxins and other mycotoxins originally present in contaminated maize.”
Home-made tortillas are safe at room temperature for 12 hours. Put in a container with a lid and refrigerate or else they will get moldy. Keep store-bought tortillas refrigerated.
Make your own tortilla:
The tortilla is a versatile food you can eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as a snack.
Even if there are ready-to-eat tortillas in stores, the food you make on your own is so much more enjoyable to eat, don’t you think? Besides, making tortillas is a great way to spend time bonding with your children, your siblings, your parents, or your friends! The time used in making tortillas is time well spent – if you want store-bought tortillas, imagine spending time driving to the store, the traffic on the way there and back, falling in line at the counter, etc. There is no doubt that a home-made tortilla is a great choice over ready-to-eat, store-bought tortillas because it is healthier too!
This recipe makes 8 tortillas.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup water
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
Step 1. Combine flour and salt in a large bowl.
Step 2. Stir in water and oil.
Step 3. Turn onto a floured surface and knead 10 to 12 times. Add a little flour or water if needed to achieve a smooth dough.
Step 4. Let rest for 10 minutes.
Step 5. Divide dough into 8 portions, and then roll each portion into a 7-inch circle on a lightly floured surface.
Step 6. Cook tortillas over medium heat in a greased cast-iron or a heavy skillet until lightly browned. Each side should take up no more than 1 minute.
Step 7. Serve warm. Enjoy!