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tortillas: when to use corn, when to use flour?

Are corn and flour tortillas completely interchangeable and a matter of personal preference? Or is one or the other traditionally used for certain dishes and better for certain foods, just as red and white wine are paired with some foods? It comes to mind because I was offered a choice between the two when I ordered my Mexican dinner at a restaurant once.

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  1. It's a personal choice all the way, but to me alot depends upon the quality of the product. I have many Mexican/Tex Mex restaurants where I live, and some have one better than the other. I prefer seafood in a flour generally, but with meat, and a good salsa plus some grilled onion, peppers and tomatoes, a good corn seems to bring out the flavors. Sometimes I'll order corn just to be contrarian. At some of the more authentic restaurants, the waitstaff assumes because I'm a white guy, (even though my wife is Hispanic), that I want flour, therefore I'll order corn.

    1. Like James said, this is a personal choice but there are some rules that can apply. Corn tortillas are generally smaller and less sturdy than flour tortillas. Flour tortillas are probably most associated with Tex-Mex or Americanized Mexican.

      The definition of "Mexican" food is used pretty generically so here are the rules I use:

      Flour is better than corn for:

      Corn is better than flour for:
      Tacos (I know....some people like soft tacos with flour tortillas; this is a personal choice but authentic Mexican tacos are always corn.)
      Accompaning any dish (main course, huevos)
      Fried chips

      5 Replies
      1. re: Dee S

        Agree w/ Dee. Add flour for fajitas and corn for tostadas, flautas.

        1. re: Passadumkeg

          I can go either way for fajitas, to me quality of the tortilla is the main thing, but nothing beats a really good, soft, flour tortilla, a little burnt, con (with) color as my wife says. I also agree to Dee S and Passadumkeg on all other above.

          1. re: Passadumkeg

            I'll say, Pass, and excuse me, but flour is way stronger! You can't make burritos out of corn tortillas.
            Flour will stretch. Corn: you need two just to keep a taco together!

            1. re: Scargod

              Right, flower burros & corny tacos.

          2. re: Dee S

            I completely agree. I don't find them interchangeable and when I see a recipe that says use either corn or flour tortillas I don't bother with that recipe.

          3. I use corn when I am baking in the oven with a sauce, or layering with a sauce (like an enchilada, or huevos rancheros) . I use flour for anything I assemble and eat out of hand.

            1. When served as the side to a meal, it is purely a matter of personal choice. It's like the choice of bread and rolls. If you want to be more 'traditional' or 'Mexican' choose corn, but it you prefer the taste and texture of flour, choose those. And if you know from experience that this restaurant has particularly good ones of one type, choose those.

              When used as integral part of dish, such as a taco, enchilada etc it does matter. For some of these dishes, the tortilla determines the name.

              In general, corn tortillas are common through out Mexico. Flour ones are common in the north, much less so further south. Corn stands up to 'saucy' preparations like enchiladas. Flour are larger and more flexible, so work better as warps (burritos). Flour also takes sweetening better.

              1. Never flour enchiladas. That is a burrito. A wet, ick burrito. Most people do flour torts for Burritos, fajitas and quesadillas. Mixed use for tacos. I like corn quesadillas. Sometimes it is a size issue. Unless you are making your own torts, the corn are usually too small for some applications like burritos - and not pliable enough - like for a burrito.

                1. Corn tortillas typically don't roll and stay intact particularly well for something to be picked up, like a burrito.

                  2 Replies
                    1. re: lgss

                      All the local taco trucks use two corn tortillas and it works quite well.

                    2. i agree it is a personal choice,
                      and me, I'm pretty set in my ways when I'm asked what tortillas do I want with dinner.
                      Flour are perfect for dipping into the sauces like colorado or mole or with a little butter, roll it up and munch away. They are great for chimichangas, burritos and quesedillas.
                      For enchilladas, only corn does the trick, they are the best for crunchy tacos.

                      1. Corn all the way for me. I use them in Mexican Lasagna, quesadillas and order them at restaurants. Never ate the flour ones growing up (I am not Mexican Hispanic but we had many Mexican family friends) And nothing beats a corn tortilla warmed on the stove burner.... yum........ I will use the for burritos and thats about it. Even fajitas are corn.

                        1. Oh, can I ask a question (that I should, admittedly, have asked Scargod or Passa a while ago)
                          I've had soft flour tortillas ages ago, and I've made corn tortillas that are soft.
                          But there's the store-bought which I like, which are stiff. Taco shells they call them. What are they? How do they get them stiff like that? They seem to drip out some kind of fat when you heat them?

                          *edit* is that what a flauta is? Just read a bit more of the posts

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: Soop

                            They are fried. U shaped hard tortillas are an American innovation, but the flat fried ones are common in Mexico. They are called 'tostados' - toasted things. The same name is used for a snack using one as the base. A typical topping would be the 'pickled' seafood, ceviche.

                            1. re: Soop

                              A flauta is a corn tortilla rolled tightly around a filling (usually a stewed shredded meat, chicken, etc.) and deep fried. Flauta means flute in Spanish, and flautas (the dish) are long and thin - flute shaped.

                              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                Corn tortillas can be softened by a brief dip in oil or (tomato chile sauce), and then rolled around a filling. That's what is usually done with enchiladas (literally 'something in chiles').

                                Here's a good list of a large number of different 'antojitos' (snacks or 'whims'), most using a tortilla in one way or another. Some are home cooking, many are specialties of street vendors.

                              2. re: Soop

                                What a flauta actually is depends a lot upon where you are.

                                A flauta in Mexico is usually a corn tortilla rolled around a filling and deep fried, it's often also called a taco dorado. In the U.S. the same thing is usually called a taquito or rolled taco. Flautas in my part of the U.S. (SoCal) tend to be taquitos made with flour tortilla instead of corn.

                                Quesadillas in Mexico - especially away from the highly touristed areas - tend to be made from fresh corn masa and then lightly griddled so that a thin, crunchy shell develops on the quesadilla. I have never seen what most American would call a quesadilla, i.e. a flour tortilla filled with cheese, chicken or whatever, in Mexico. Once you've eaten good quesadillas made from masa you will never go back to flour tortilla quesadillas, they are exquisite.

                                Chalupas, Gorditas, Sopes, Huaraches, Bocoles, etc, are all exclusively made from corn masa which is dough, never a corn or flour tortilla.

                                Tostadas are corn tortillas, hand or machine made that are fried on both sides until crisp and golden. Totopos are corn tortillas cut into strips or triangles and deep fried.

                                The use of flour tortillas is more frequently encountered in the northern parts of Mexico where flour and beef are raised, as opposed to corn and pork in the central and southern parts of the country. I've never, ever seen a taco made with a flour tortilla in Mexico, not even along the border in Baja. Corn tortillas are so soft and pliable to begin with, and then when heated quickly on whatever the cook top is, they soften even more. Tacos can be served open faced with the filling exposed; you then add whatever condiments you want, fold it over and eat. Or tacos (made with corn tortillas) can be filled, folded and fried. Either way the taco is made for corn tortillas, not flour. Tacos can also be steamed and the corn tortilla will remain remarkably tender and durable. The point is, the corn tortillas we get in the U.S., especially a lot of grocery store brands, just aren't very good. They're too stiff, too dry and lack good flavor.

                                In central and southern Mexico you will not usually be given a choice of tortillas, the ones that come to the table will invariably be made from corn. The vast majority of traditional Mexican cuisine is based on corn, hence the use of the term "corn kitchen" to describe Mexican kitchen. This is usually in regard to the huge variety of antojitos, many of which use some form of corn masa as their base.

                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                  While it’s certainly true in principal that corn tortillas are far more common in Mexico, Mexican cuisine is far too regional for generalizations. In my time in Durango, which doesn't really have any touristy areas, I only saw flour tortillas (though they were usually thicker than the flour tortillas common in the United States). The only other parts of Mexico I’ve done much travelling through, on the eastern side, tortillas were present in both forms, with corn more prevalent, but weren’t present in every dish or even at every meal. I also found that, in some of the eastern regions, one could find dumbed down versions of foods from other regions much the same as one can find dumbed down barbecue anywhere in the United States outside of its home turf. By some strange luck (luck meaning “complete lack of planning”) I never did hit anywhere in Mexico that was home to Mexican dishes you tend to see in the United States.
                                  The thing about Durango that I think might make it a big exception to the general use of corn over wheat is that the populace is much more European in descent. I wonder if perhaps this is generally true in Mexico; the more indigenous blood running through an area, the more highly corn is favored.

                                  1. re: danieljdwyer

                                    "I wonder if perhaps this is generally true in Mexico; the more indigenous blood running through an area, the more highly corn is favored."

                                    No, the percentage of indigenous blood has little to no bearing on tortilla preference. It probably has more to do with which grain grows better in which areas. Wheat came with the Spanish explorers as did beef and pork. Mexico's culinary bedrock are the 3 sisters - corn, squash and beans. Like most change, the culinary changes in Mexico evolved opportunistically in that the evolution happened quicker where the new items were assimilated more easily, like beef thriving in the north and pigs in the south.

                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                      Among others, we work with livestock feeding systems. I assure you that there are a lot of beef cattle in from Central Mexico down to Panama (and beyond).

                                  2. re: DiningDiva

                                    Thank you, DiningDiva, for your perfect and beautifully informative inservice.

                                2. There are also thicker flour tortillas traditional in Durango, used in gorditas.
                                  Is there a special name for this type of tortillas?

                                  2 Replies
                                    1. re: Sarah

                                      I thought chalupas use a thick corn tostada? Similar thickness, but wheat instead of corn (unless I'm wrong and both are wheat), and also not necessarily fried. I've had them fried and used like a hard taco shell, fried flat like a tostada, served like a soft taco, stuffed like a pita, and soft as a side with stews or beans.

                                  1. Then there are the thick hand formed (no tortilla press) tortillas made from blue maize. Have some in the freezer, from highland Vera Cruz. MMMMMMMNN!!!

                                    1. When I see a recipe or a restaurant item using a flour tortilla, I think 'Americanized, probably not authentic'.

                                      Flour tortilla based items like fajitas, chimichangas and especially burritos are mostly consumed NOB. Fajitas can be good but are used as a sizzling showoff item in restaurants. Chimichangas are deep fried, what 'Merican can resist that? Burritos are flour tortillas wrapping mostly filler - great for corporate profits. BTW 'quesadillas' SOB are often made with fresh masa - the flour tortilla is a convenience and, of course, good for corporate profits.

                                      Count me in the corn tortilla preference group. However, I have admitted to using medium (10") size flour tortillas to reduce the size of the burrito calorie bomb :-).

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: DiveFan

                                        However the OP was about dishes where the tortillas are served on the side. Whether you choose flour or corn, it doesn't reduced the 'authenticity' of your menudo.

                                        1. re: DiveFan

                                          Oops, you're right. Guess I was blinded by Tex-Mex fever.

                                          I'd still go with corn unless the flour tortillas are known to be freshly made :-).

                                          1. re: DiveFan

                                            A long time ago I stayed for a month with a Mexican family just south of the border. Their use of tortillas was quite predictable. Freshly purchased corn tortillas with the noon day meal, which was often a chicken and noodle soup/stew. Supper had freshly made flour tortillas. Breakfast left over tortillas (and coffee and atole, barbacoa on Sundays). We didn't have antojitos (tacos, enchiladas, etc) very often.

                                          2. re: DiveFan

                                            I'm with you.The Mexican-American calorie bomb burrito grosses me out, and is an aberration. But, the burrito norteno is a beautiful thing and very Mexican.

                                            They are thin, like a rolled crepe, and only have a guisdao a filling.I had these around 2AM recently in Guadalajara from a guy selling them from a cooler in a little cart.One was with rajas con queso, the other picadillo.They also had machaca, mole, frijoles con queso,etc. These are moist and stewed fillings, no other ingredients.They are delicious and not huge, dry, bags of slop like the American version.

                                            The closest we have in LA are places that serve meat only burritos, but if it's carne asada or al pastor, you are eating a dry burrito.I know a place in Inglewood that does grilled meats in the burritos but adds a slather of refritos to achieve a more authentic texture.I wish I knew of a place in LA, a stand that did burro nortenos.That would be the late night hit.

                                          3. I love Mexican food, but hate corn tortillas, so I use flour for everything, even enchiladas. There's Mexican restaurants I won't go to because they won't subsitute flour tortillas.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: schrutefarms

                                              funny, I am Bizarro schrutefarms, then!? flour tortillas taste like undercooked bread to me. Corn baby!!!:-)

                                              1. re: nkeane

                                                I think I don't like them because a corn tortilla and butter was my parents go-to food when I wouldn't eat dinner as a kid. Not sure of the psychological ramifications of it all, but I now have an aversion to corn tortillas.

                                            2. Flour tortillas are in the northern states, while corn dominates the central and south.It also depends on the food.The best flour tortillas are in the states of Sinaloa and Sonora, where the giant thin flour tortillas are everywhere, the choice for carne asada.

                                              Tacos gobernador and tacos de marlin are tacos that use flour tortillas, and there are many more, like the camaron enchilado.But, even in the north, birria is always served with corn tortillas.

                                              Even in the north, the flour tortillas vary from state to state.Again, the tortillas de harina in Sonora are only made there.In Sinaloa they are more taco sized. Oh, and there are flour tortilla quesadillas, but they are called "gringas" or "sincronizadas" and are stuffed with meat along with the melted cheese.Quesadillas are made from fresh masa and either grilled with their fillings or fried in oil.

                                              There are also many foods in Mexican cuisine where tortillas are not to be had with the food, like many raw and cooked mariscos plates.

                                              In the south, blue corn is used along with yellow and their are subtle regional practices that also vary.The bottom line is that the tortilla should go with the food, and there are standard practices that will be recognized by traditional mexican restaurants.A good birrieria will not have flour tortillas on hand.

                                              1. Ok, I'm going to throw a wrinkle into the generalizations here. True Mexican food is not hot as a rule. The chile - green or red - has become largely a thing of New Mexican food. With the exception of burritos, in our New Mexican culture, the flour tortilla was basically the bread served on the side while the corn tortilla was the ingredient in the dishes: tacos, enchiladas, flautas, etc. Later on, things lke chimichangas and quesadillas were dreamed up, but these were not a part of the classic menu.

                                                And Pauji, I'm curious. I'm not used to seeing menudo with tortillas in the soup. On the side, sure. It takes a true purist to enjoy real menudo. I can't quite get my tastebuds around the tripe issue. Cheers to you.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Tinka82

                                                  When I mentioned menudo, I had in mind the tortillas which are commonly served on the side. The same corn that is used for tortillas is used, unground, in pozole, a pork and hominy soup. I've also added hominy to my homemade menudo, but that may be more of an Andean idea. Crisp corn tortilla strips are added to chicken soup to make tortilla soup.

                                                  All three soups are examples of Mexican dishes that are not intrinsically hot. Commonly soup like this is served with condiment sides, chopped onion, dried Mexican oregano, and chile flakes.

                                                  And despite our focus on tortillas, yeast bread is also quite popular in Mexico. Panaderias (bakeries) are nearly as common as tortillerias, specializing in a wide array of pan dulce. Tortas, the Mexican answer to panini, are a staple at taco trucks, and street food in Mexico City. The popularity of bread like that has been attributed to the brief occupation of Mexico by the French around the time of the US Civil War, though I'm sure Spain's predilection for bread had something to do with it as well. And Pan Bimbo is the Mexican Wonderbread.