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Mexican Food - wheat vs corn tortillas

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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?

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  1. 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:
    http://lomexicano.com/mexicanfoodreci...

    paulj

    1 Reply
    1. re: paulj

      and if a celiac or gluten-intolerant mexican food lover, just be thankful for corn!

    2. 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.

      3 Replies
      1. re: kare_raisu

        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.,

        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          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.

          paulj

          1. re: paulj

            No Mole-Curry link here... wheat growing areas of Central Mexico... traditionally did not bleach or refine the flour... and have traditionally made whole wheat empanadas (particularly the pumpkin ones), as well as a griddle baked cookie & the tortillas.

      2. 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.

        2 Replies
        1. re: rworange

          I have heard of super thin large white corn tortillas from Oaxaca called blanditos as well as flour tortillas in the north -so large- you carry them over your shoulder.

          1. re: kare_raisu

            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

        2. Corn tortillas for tacos

          Flour for Burritos, and quesadillas

          2 Replies
          1. re: swsidejim

            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.

            1. re: mamamia

              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.

          2. 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.

            paulj

            1 Reply
            1. re: paulj

              I live on the American side of the Sonoran desert and even at taco carts catering primarily to folks born in Mexico, venders will often ask the "flour or corn" question when we order tacos. Personally, I generally like corn, but here tacos are not automatically made with corn.

            2. The first and best Queso Fundido's I ever had were in a small roadside place in the Yucatan, near Coba and they were small corn tortillas. They included Chorizo and some strips of hot peppers. So that is my taste standard. In NJ the only place I know that makes them like the ones I had in Mexico is Fresco De Noche in Flanders, NJ.

              1. Corn tortillas are the standard in central and southern Mexico. Tortilleria are in every colonia. Taco stands make tortillas while you wait and then fill to your specifications. Enchiladas are made with the corn tortillas. In our area there is a wonderful pureed bean, tomato, and tortillas soup, Sopa Tarasca. This is made with stale corn tortillas. Chilaques are also made with day-old corn tortillas. DH was sent for a dozen, fresh tortillas recently. Either hearing or language problems resulted in my receiving 15 pesos of tortillas (about $1.35 US). I ended up with over a kilo of hot, corn tortillas.
                Flour tortillas are sold packaged in plastic at the grocery store and priced similar to NOB. I like to pan fry them and use as a base for a taco salad or a tostada.

                1. My mother is Mexican and her family still lives in Mexico- on the Gulf coast in the city of Tampico. Usually for "la comida", the big lunch around 3pm, consisted of a soup, a salad, rice, red and/or black beans, a meat, a starch, corn AND flour tortillas. Enchiladas, chilaquiles, and flautas always use corn tortillas...in other words, if it's fried/deep fried or coated in a sauce, use corn. Fried flour tortilas just taste greasy and gross to me (unless it's bunuelos) and flour tortillas get soggy when covered in sauce for enchiladas. I think there is a lot of variation depending on economic status, region, and family tradition.

                  1. I live in New Mexico and this is pretty much how it works here...

                    Corn:
                    -enchiladas
                    -huevos rancheros (almost always)
                    -tacos/taquitos (unless noted otherwise)
                    -tostadas

                    Flour:
                    -burritos/chimichangas
                    -side with soups or entire plates (enchiladas, etc.)
                    -quesadillas

                    I'm recently gluten-intolerant so I've been sticking to the corn dishes... haven't really tried changing them :-)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: agent229

                      I rather like quesadillas with thin corn tortillas. They get nice and crispy, which I enjoy with the melted cheese. You should try it.

                    2. The "rules" for tortilla choice in Mexico are driven mostly by affordability. Half of Mexico's 107 million population live in poverty, and the poor derive half of their calories and protein from tortillas. The states in southern Mexico, those that supported Lopez Obredor, are the poorest. That more flour tortillas are common in the wealthier northern states, (Calderon country) , is supported by others' observations here.
                      Tortilla making in Mexico long enjoyed price supports coupled with import restrictions. The 1999 Nafta agreement required Mexico to ease price supports and allow cheap American corn imports. A consequence was many small corn farmers were put out of business. (and many migrated to the U.S.) The peso devaluation of a1994 made corn imports, on which Mexico had now become dependent because of underplanting and drought at home, exerted further pressure on corn and tortilla prices. The next shoe to drop was in 1997 with the American-led policies regarding ethanol production, which created global corn commodity price increases that caused tortilla prices to rise 14% that year.
                      Many of us north of the border have the luxury of choice between corn and flour tortillas. Many south of the border don't.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Veggo

                        EDIT: "1997" should read "2007" as the year of the ethanol impact &14% increase in corn tortilla pices.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          I don't think it's affordability-- some nouveau rich Mexicans disdain corn tortillas, frijoles and rice as the food of the poor and started eating pan frances (french bread) as a sing of "we've made it." However, in the past (and I was bron and raised in Mexico a long long me ago), even those with money ate the corn tortillas.

                        2. Growing up one of our neighbors was from an old new mexico family. She said that corn tortillas were for cooking, flour tortillas were for serving. Don't know how true that is, but I see the rationale behind it.

                          1. As a general rule of thumb, corn tortillas in dishes where you want the tortilla to retain its integrity, flour tortillas in dishes where you want a soft texture and the tortilla is held in the hand. In other words, a flour tortill in an enchilada will get you an enchilada flavored dumplling. Flour tortillas do not hold up well in a moist environment. However, corn tortillas will eventually break down in soups and such and act as a thickener. Crispy tacos are traditionally made with corn tortillas, as are tortilla chips (aka "tostados" in some parts), but flour tortillas can make a very light and crunchy taco shell but they must be eaten immediately after filling or they will turn into dumplings!

                            Personal observation: Corn tortillas today are not what corn tortillas used to be. There is a possibility that my observation may apply just to the Dallas area, and may even relate to humidity, but I don't think so. The last five years I lived in El Paso, I was having trouble with some brands of corn tortillas not crisping up during frying for taco shells. The problem is now universal for me. I've found NO brand here that will make crisp crunchy taco shells. And they're kind of sad for huegos rancheros and enchiladas too. Oh, for the good old days of hand made corn tortillas in any size I asked for, made while I waited! <sigh>

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: Caroline1

                              I agree with your personal observation. We lived in Dallas 11 years ago, and then moved to Milwaukee. We knew that we would be losing out on Mexican food; we just didn't know how much.

                              I've made our corn tortillas, but have never been truly happy with them; I guess I don't have the right technique or something. I started buying them and finally became so tired of throwing them out because they dried out and fell apart. I tried freezing them, eating them the same day, frying them, and warming them in every way I could find. I've tried ones from the Mexican markets, from grocery stores, etc.

                              We tried the flour kind in plastic bags.Yuck, but what can one do when one's children love a taco night for dinner? We call it our taco party night.

                              I vastly prefer homemade items, so I set off on a mission to create a flour tortilla that we could be happy with. I'm happy to say that after 4 months, we have a winner. Last night's dinner had the best flour tortillas that we've eaten in our lives! The amazing part was that we rolled and cooked them in about 10 minutes. I made the dough in the afternoon and rolled it into balls, and then let it rest for a couple of hours at room temperature. This was the fastest we've prepared them also.

                              Now, I will try to perfect the corn tortillas because I do prefer them for chicken enchiladas salsa verde. I also want to make my own chilaquiles. Oh, if I could just eat more without gaining weight!

                              1. re: JKDLady

                                Congratulations on making flour torts! I have not succeeded. In Milwaukee, not too far from Chicago or maybe you can get the ones we get in Chicago. El Milagro makes the best corn ones, yellow and white, which I prefer. They are perfect for frying, or just warming up on the comal. Chilaquiles similar to migas (as they are called in Texas) are really easy so good luck.

                                As far as weight gain-- it's a BIG misconception that Mexican food is fattening, unless one overeats and that can be any food. Corn torts have no fat, flour or sugar. Mexican immigrants here do not get fat until about 5 or more years here, IF they change their traditional diet. But then again, that's true for immigrants from other countries, too.

                                Good luck with the new recipe and enjoy!

                                1. re: JKDLady

                                  What step of making flour tortillas need most practice? making the dough, rolling it, or cooking?

                                  1. re: paulj

                                    Making the dough-- there are only 3 ingredients and there ha to be a perfect balance: flour, water, and shortening-- o and a bit of salt

                                    1. re: paulj

                                      I have the ingredients down to a gram, so that's pretty easy now (after 4 months!). I also know the weight of each ball. The rolling out is pretty simple because of the fat content.

                                      I found the cooking to be the most difficult. Cook it too long, and they become rubbery. I put them on a hot griddle and cook until brown spots appear then flip and do the same for the second side. 30-60 seconds per side.

                                      Yes, I get the weight gain issue. It's just they are so good I could eat a ton of them! That's why I only make 16 at a time.

                                      1. re: JKDLady

                                        AH yes-- you are talking about the flour ones-- yes you cannot eat a l ot of those at one sitting-- flour and a bit of fat-- also some are small some very big. Since, as I mentioned in my very first comment, I/we only eat them with a Mexican breakfast of huevos y frijoles AND only home made AND I cannot make them, I very rarely eat them. With lunch or dinner food always the corn

                                        1. re: lapreferida

                                          They're only on our menu every two weeks or so! This is why I desperately want to perfect my corn tortillas. Ahhh, when the weather cools.

                                2. I live in E Tx and we have a LOT of Tex-Mex eating places. I prefer wheat tortillas just because I think they are healthier but they are usually too dry and stiff,so I often go ahead and get white ones anyway for that reason. I recently found one called La Bandarita wheat tortillas made by olemexicanfoods. It is supersoft and chewy,easy to roll and stays fresh a long time.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: texsara

                                    Do you mean whole wheat tortillas are healthier or flour tortillas (made from wheat) are healthier than corn? If the latter- I hate to break it to you but flour is not better for you- quite the opposite. Even the whole wheat flour tortillas frequently have more calories than a corn tortilla.

                                  2. When I lived in Guadalajara corn tortillas were used for everything. I didn't ever see a flour tortilla served in someone's home or in a restaurant. I don't even recall seeing flour tortillas in the supermarket, although I bought most of my tortillas from the tortilleria across from my house (much to the amusement of the two girls working there) and didn't thoroughly investigate the supermarket tortilla situation.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Jetgirly

                                      As I was saying in a previous post- tortilla preference varies- by region primarily. On the street/casual restaurants you will definitely see more corn. In my grandparents house (in Tampico, Tamaulipas, MX) flour tortillas were always served. I grew up associating corn tortillas with enchiladas, flautas, chilaquiles, etc. The tortillas in the basket at the table were almost always homemade flour tortillas. I'm not sure if this was just family preference, family history (Spanish, not indian/Aztec), or socio-economic. I think that store-bought (here in the US or at a tortilleria) corn tortillas are superior - and cheaper- than store-bought flour and hold up better (can be used for chilaquiles, etc. when they get old/dry). I have yet to find an acceptable substitute to homemade flour tortillas so it's simply easier/more economical to buy 1 kilo of corn tortillas at the tortilleria than to make your own flour tortillas at home. (Of course my grandma has a cook, so she has the luxury of homemade tortillas every day!).

                                    2. Ohh, quick question (not sure if I've asked before, but I can't remember)

                                      What are the hard ones? The shells? What are they made of, and how are they different? I like them.

                                      For a second, I thought Eat Nopal was back :(

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: Soop

                                        The hard shells are made from corn. Really a hard shell taco should be fried to order but like potato chips that doesn't happen much.

                                        1. re: rworange

                                          I see. If I want to make my own, I guess I make them thinner than usual and fry them in canola oil? Or if I can't get canola, maybe sunflower?

                                          Is there a trick to getting it to curve?

                                          1. re: Soop

                                            Crisp fried corn tortillas are traditional, called tostadas. But they are flat. In the Mexican aisle of your grocery you might find packets of them. Los Periquitos is a good brand - thin, crisp, good flavor.

                                            A taqueria or taco truck will offer these with a variety of toppings, especially ceviche and other seafood.

                                            The curved ones are an American invention (Taco Bell?). My first guess is was that they are folded right out of the fryer, like fortune cookies, but on second thought, I suspect they are fried in wire form to this shape. Same goes for the taco salad basket shaped shell.

                                            1. re: Soop

                                              Don't know about that. What I meant is that they are the gringo equivalent of fried tacos which gives them a hard crunchy shell. The filling is put in before frying and all is fried together. The tortillas aren't uniform.

                                              1. re: rworange

                                                Ohhh, I see. Doesn't sound healthy. Maybe I won't try making these.

                                                Paul, yeah yuo can buy them. I like them with my super-good chili :D

                                        2. I'm not sure what "rules" mean but I was raised in East LA in the 50s and there were almost zero flour tortillas at home or in restaurants. Everything was corn in various diameters and thickness and degree of cooking.

                                          Just some nomenclature to consider:

                                          A "taco" was a corn tortilla with anything at all you wanted to put into it and was folded up and eaten out of hand.
                                          A "burrito" (little burro) was the same as a taco except for the way it was folded... just like the flour burritos today except it was corn and the top was left open and we kids could make one and go back out an play on the run. Nothing dripped out of it. You ate it from the open top down.

                                          Mexican food has changed substantially in the last half century

                                          Camp

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: camper

                                            The best description I've heard is "the burrito is the dustbin of Mexican food, everything goes in it". I'm paraphrasing, but think the idea is that you fill it with a lot of stuff like beans, meat, fried pork rinds (can't remember what these are - chic something?), and then rolled into a tube. Same way I would with a fajita.

                                          2. The only time flour tortillas are used is breakfast-- eggs and frijoles and just the way mama made them-- never eat the store bought ones -- too thick and heavy.
                                            Corn tortillas for dinner for ANY meal either yellow or white -- the white crip better never use the yellow for chips. Burritos are an american invention and MY EXPERINECE (having lived in Chicago, Houson, Nebraka, New York, Fresno and Arizona) is anglos/white are more likely to SAY Flour when given a choice or at home at a resaurant for dinner, as well as mexican-americans, inlcuding my nieces and nephews. I don't believe that mexican immigrants are eating wheat tortillas. Wheat tortillas are relatively new anywhere under the idea that whole wheat is healthier.

                                            8 Replies
                                            1. re: lapreferida

                                              Here in Sonoma, mostly gringos order flour tortillas in restaurants. Latinos tend to order corn tortillas in restaurants.

                                              In immigrant Mexican homes, stacks and stacks of corn tortillas are eaten like bread with meat, beans, etc.

                                              But, we have a tortilleria named Jalisco, and although they make corn tortillas, they specialize in really thin white flour tortillas. I see more and more people of all backgrounds buying these tortillas as a "treat". They are really delicious, although certainly less nutritious than corn tortillas.

                                              1. re: dkenworthy

                                                I would love flour torts from a tortilleria-- but those large thick monstrocities in a plastic bag-- ugh! I grew up on flour ones made by mama, abuelitas, and tias. My abuelita Rosa (Pop's mama) made these wheatflour, thick, nonfoldable ones that had sugar and cinnamon. never had any like tha ever except for hers. We called them gorditas.

                                                1. re: lapreferida

                                                  My experience with a Mexican border family many years ago was that we ate freshly bought corn tortillas for the noon meal, and hand made flour ones for supper. Breakfast was what ever was left over.

                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                    Border is a culture all its own-- were they in Mexico? Texas? AZ? Mexican Americans? Immigrants? frequent /daily crossovers for work?

                                                    1. re: lapreferida

                                                      This was in Piedras Negras. The grandfather had worked as Bracero, but otherwise they did not travel to the USA.

                                                  2. re: lapreferida

                                                    I just bought a bag of reasonably thin Mission brand flour tortillas for carnitas tonight - they're not bad and keep for a while. Corn tortillas are best when eaten same day before they have time to completely cool.

                                                    1. re: Veggo

                                                      I live in Chicago and we have more than one tortilleria, where they make, package, and distribute them for sale, so that's not necessarily so. However, El Milagro are the best-- Mission are the worst.

                                                      1. re: lapreferida

                                                        I'll keep an open eye if El Milagro are available in my area. Nice to know there's nowhere to go but up!