Mexican Food - wheat vs corn tortillas
- orangewasabi Oct 21, 2007 04:41 PM
What are the "rules" re using a wheat tortilla vs a corn tortilla?
are there specific combos like . . .
corn tortillas for tacos?
wheat tortillas with Quesos Fundidos?
If in the south, eat only corn. If in the north, eat corn with main noon time meal, fresh flour for supper, left over flour for breakfast. Well that's the pattern I observed on one trip to Mexico years ago. Obviously people and regions vary in their preferences.
It seems that most dishes get different names if flour are used instead of corn. Dishes that involve a lot of sauce, such as enchiladas, work better with the sturdier corn. More traditional items are likely to use corn. You usually only get a choice of kind of tortilla when they are served on the side, such as with soup.
Look under 'antojitos' on this page for descriptions of most tortilla preparations:
I think it may be an issue of Mexican regionality as paulj writes. If you are eating something typical of the Northern states of Mexico i.e. Sonora, Sinaloa, Chi etc. eat flour (due to heavy Spanish influence) if southern, central Mexican cuisine of this stick with corn.
There are no "rules" however - eat what you want - especially if that tortilla is being handed fresh and piping hot to you out of the tortilleria!
At any rate, I recall reading somewhere (Perhaps Gustavo Arellano's book) that flour tortilla consumption is up among Mexican immigrants to the states.
First... going back to the origins of the Flour tortillas (and yes the most likely scenario is that it has several origins):
> The Crypto-Jews that founded the area that is now the state of Nuevo Leon had to tip-toe very carefully during the Inquisition (specially given that their leader Carvahlo... had been tortured & decapitated)... so they were very careful about their traditions... and are believed to have adopted flour tortillas as a replacement for their traditional flat breads.
> Some Spaniards adopted well to corn & even brought it to Europe where it saved many lives during some of the wheat famines. However, many Spaniards had a very racist outlooks on corn & disdained it... also adopting Flour tortillas as their "consession"
> As Small Pox and other Old World diseases gained momentum.... millions of native Mexicans perished... and the remainder were greatly weakened... starting a number of periods of corn (& general food) shortages... specially in the more arid Northern parts of the country... were food production requires an extra effor... again this all lead to adoption of Flour tortillas.
The net effect of these impacts was that wheat tortillas came to be the standard in many (but definitely not all... and probably not even the majority) communities in Northern Mexico... as such they became inseperable from many regional specialties like Mulitas & Quesadillas... as well as becoming the daily bread.
> In modern times... there have been times when Corn production has ebbed while Wheat production remained strong (various wars, droughts etc.,)... in those cases most Mexicans prefered to switch to wheat tortillas, pasta & rice rather than pay a premium for corn... or go hungry.
Do Central & Southern Mexicans eat Flour Tortillas... generally no... but anybody that knows Mexico knows you can't generalize... there is always a number of exceptions. As you go South... people generally prefer Corn Tortillas... and Corn is intimately tied to identity & culture. How far South? I think of Zacatecas as the transition state.... a place where you can readily find both Corn & Wheat tortillas consumed regularly. And of course Zacatecas has some influence on its neighbors... particularly Aguascalientes & Jalisco. In fact... one of the regional specialties of Aguascalientes is the Burrita (a 1 1/2 ft diameter wheat tortilla stuffed with thinly seared steak, carmelized onions & serrano chiles & melted cheese).
Even in Southern Mexico you will find enclaves of wheat tortillas in the valleys where wheat grows better than corn... however.. they usually consume whole wheat tortillas (Triguenas) which I prefer to the bleached, refined ones.
My grandmother in the Highlands of Jalisco made stunningly good refined Wheat tortillas. In her household... they were a reflection of tight times & seasonality. When you didn't have anything good to put on the tortilla.... you make flour tortillas... and just fool them with a little bit of salt, the tinyest bite of butter or lard.. or some sugar... and you paired it with some Canelita (a tea made by brewing cinnamon sticks)... Hot Chocolate if you had enough money saved up. Also, before she moved to town... she grew her own corn (among other things)... and by March / April... the weevils would take over the grain stores.... with the endless intense dry, heat... a change of pace was essential and voila wheat flour tortillas.
I am surprised to hear that consumption of wheat tortillas among immigrants is rising... because in my experience it was high in the 1980's and diminished in the 1990's. When we first arrived to our neighborhood in the northern most enclave of East L.A.... it was still largely a lower middle class neighborhood of assimilated Mexicans (some having been born there in the 1940s), Italians, some old Jewish widows & a very small (maybe 10 block square) sanctuary of immigrants (both Mexican & Chinese). At that time immigrants did everything they could to be inconspicous (I remember my uncle who grew up in the rancho among cows, chickens & burros... wearing Michael Jackson style clothes, ripped shirts, spikes... and listened to Madonna & 80's Pop)... the corn tortillas were so disappointing (and the Masa Harina was so absent).... that my parents started eating flour tortillas in silent protest. By the 1990's the neighborhood had been claimed by immigrants as the older generations died, moved Palm Springs or rest homes... amnesty had been granted... and immigrants were free to express their identify.... better corn tortillas became available... and we could finally eat well again! Of course... we still bought the occassional package of flour tortillas... to be enjoyed as quesadillas, faux bunuelos, with a little butter & sugar etc.,
I never heard of whole wheat tortillas, except as a modern innovation. Still, I can imagine wheat growers using home or local ground wheat for the purpose. But finely ground whole wheat is the preferred flour for the Indian counterpart, chappati. Is this another chapter in the mole-curry link? Lavash is a thin flatbread of Armenian origin.
This may be pushing the similarities, but the only thin flat bread that I've encountered in Spanish cookbooks is coca, which has a lot in common with the Italian thin crust pizza.
In the US it is more that flour is used for burritos because they wrap fillings without breaking. The other use of flour is as dessert tortillas. I haven't seen corn used for desserts.
I'm finding that there are even different uses for different types of corn tortillas. The thin ones used as part of a preparation of a dish like tacos. The small size seem to be the most popular for tacos. Medium thin corn tortillas are used more to eat with a meal ... like the tortilla warmer size.
However, there are the lovely thicker corn tortillas that so far seem strictly for use to accompany a dish. I prefer these with a meal to the medium thin corn tortillas.
You know, even with the thin tortillas there is a wide range of flavors.
Blanditas are great. In oaxaca (the sierra near zaachila at least) they're eaten with almost every meal. People make the nixtamal fresh and grind it at a molino almost every morning. They use giant tortilla presses to make the tortillas. Its one of the things that i miss most. They also ate clayudas as accompaniments to meals
I didn't have a quesadilla made with flour tortillas until we moved to Arizona. I love my quesadillas made with two corn tortillas.
For poorer people in Mexico, it's easier to stretch your dollar by eating corn tortillas. My father told me that as a boy flour tortillas were a luxury because the flour was a lot more expensive.
Price corn vs. flour at the store - it's a no-brainer.
I rarely see large corn tortillas in the store where I shop, and I am typically using leftover flour tortillas I may have used for burritos previously. Perhaps I will seek out corn tortillas for this dish in the future. I prefer the taste of corn tortillas over flour.
The price issue isnt important to me, it is a matter of which tastes better, availability, and what I may have lying around my fridge.
A taco is, almost by definition, uses a corn tortilla. Obviously one could put the same sort of fillings on a flour tortilla. But given the pliability and large size of flour tortillas people are more like to roll it up around the filling, producing a burrito. Still, that glossary I linked to does mention 'tacos de harina', flour tacos.
Queso fundido is melt cheese. What you choose to dip, scoop, or spread this on is more a matter of convenience and personal preference. Crisp corn tortillas are an obvious choice for dipping or scooping.