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Mexican Food: The History Of Corn & Flour Tortillas

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

Mexican food

Whether they encase our favorite burrito or taco filling, serve as the base for nachos or chilaquiles, or simply accompany fajitas, tortillas are essential to Mexican food. While we all have our preference for corn or flour tortillas, it is necessary to recognize that each has its own rich history.

According to the Tortilla Industry Association, tortilla sales within the United States reached $16 billion in 2019 alone. It is no wonder they have become the second-best-selling bread product. Here the expert staff at Tequila Sunrise Mexican Grill discuss everything you need to know about tortillas’ illustrious history.

Dating back as early as 10,000 BCE, ancient Mayan legend says the tortilla was the invention of a peasant as a gift for the king. Though the unleavened flatbread quickly became a staple to the Mayan and Aztec people, it wasn’t until the 16th century that they were known as tortillas. While the origin story and myth are fascinating, the differences in their history are even more impressive.

As the Spanish came to Central America in the 1500s, they found themselves fascinated with the little round pieces of bread made from corn. The term "tortilla" comes from the Spanish word “torta,” meaning “little cake.” The Spanish were so enamored with the idea of the humble corn tortillas that conquistador Hernán Cortés wrote home to the king about the wonders of the local cuisine.

The idea of the tortilla was not wholly foreign to the Spanish conquistadors, as they had a similar staple made from chickpea meal. The process of making ancient corn tortillas does not vary much from the way many people in Central America still make them today. The simple approach, nixtamalization, begins by soaking the corn in a lime and water mixture to separate the kernel from the skin. They then grind the kernels into masa dough that can be portioned and flattened out to cook on a grill. Large-scale production completes this process by machine.

While flour tortillas do not have as long of a history as corn tortillas, they are still a vital part of Mexican food culture. Though the origin story of flour tortillas is highly debated, they are now more popular than their corn counterpart in restaurants and supermarkets across the United States. Depending on the source and time, flour tortillas have Jewish influence, Moorish influence – or even both! As more Spaniards immigrated to Central America in the 1500s and 1600s, flour became more popular in the area. While Spanish Jews came to escape the Spanish Inquisition, there was a strong Moorish influence in their cuisine.

Flour tortillas are most commonly a combination of flour, lard, salt, and water. Vegetarian and kosher versions can include butter or vegetable shortening instead of lard. Much like the corn version, they are stretched or pressed and placed on a hot griddle, or comal. Flour tortillas are usually much more extensive than corn tortillas.

The choice between corn and flour tortillas is one of the most heated debates in Mexican food. While some prefer the more traditional taste of corn tortillas, others prefer the large, versatile flour tortilla. No matter your preference, Tequila Sunrise Mexican Grill has plenty of options to satisfy your taste. To get a better idea of what we have, be sure to take a look at our fantastic menu!

You will find several options incorporating corn tortillas throughout our extensive menu, including chicken, steak, and even vegan items! A few of our options include:

  • Chilaquiles

  • Enchiladas

  • Tacos

As with corn tortilla menu items, our flour options have several options that include chicken, steak, and vegan accommodations. A few of our options include:

  • Burritos

  • Crepes

  • Chimichangas

  • Flautas

  • Tacos

  • Vegan Pizza

No matter which tortilla you prefer, Tequila Sunrise Mexican Grill wants you to come in and stay a while! From our daily specials to Sunday brunch, our staff is sure to feel like family. If you have any questions about our menu or would like to order take out or delivery, call us today at (954)-938-4473!

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