Here's everything you need to know about tortillas.

By Alyssa Sybertz
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Homemade Flour Tortillas | Photo by Holiday Baker
Holiday Baker

Tortillas are one of the staples of Mexican cuisine and serve as the base for countless Mexican dishes, including tacos, burritos, enchiladas, taquitos, fajitas and more. But not all tortillas are created equal—they come in different sizes and can be made from different ingredients, all of which serve a unique purpose when it comes to cooking mouthwatering Mexican food. Let's take a look!

The Traditional Type: Corn Tortillas

What they are: The tortillas you'll most often find in restaurants and in cities and villages across Mexico, corn tortillas are made from corn that's been dried and finely ground to form masa, then pressed into tortillas and cooked on a cast iron skillet. Since the corn drying and grinding process is a little tedious, you can also make corn tortillas from masa harina, or corn flour, and water. Corn tortillas are typically six inches across or smaller and have a distinct corn flavor and a firm and chewy texture.

See how to make corn tortillas:

How they're enjoyed: Corn tortillas are the best base for small, simple tacos, like those you'd find at a restaurant and order three or four. They're also best for enchiladas and taquitos, or small tacos that have been rolled and fried. Many Mexican recipes incorporate cooked corn tortillas, like chilaquiles, in which tortillas are baked and simmered with salsa and other ingredients, or tostadas, in which they're fried and topped with meat, veggies, and cheese. And of course, slicing and frying corn tortillas will yield crispy, delicious tortilla chips.

How to use them: Fresh corn tortillas are firm, yet pliable, strong enough to hold up as a taco and flexible enough to be curled in a dish of enchiladas. But the longer you wait to use them, the more likely they are to crack and break, spilling their contents everywhere but your mouth. Fortunately, it's easy to soften corn tortillas and warm them up at the same time. If you're making tacos, pop your dry tortillas in a cast iron skillet over medium heat or on a baking sheet in the oven at around 175°F for a couple of minutes. If you're making enchiladas or taquitos, spritz your tortillas with cooking spray, stack them on a plate, cover them with a damp paper towel and microwave for at least 30 seconds, or until they feel pliable enough to roll.

How to store them: Provided the package remains unopened, corn tortillas will stay fresh at room temperature for around a week, with the exception being homemade tortillas, which will only keep for a couple of days. But if you're not sure when you'll use them, feel free to stick corn tortillas in the fridge—there, they will keep for up to eight weeks until you warm them up using your preferred method. And if you're stocking up or handmaking a large batch, you can freeze corn tortillas for up to eight months.

The More American Type: Flour Tortillas

What they are: The preferred tortilla of many Americans, authentic flour tortillas are made with flour, lard, salt and water, though many versions exist today that are made with other fats in place of the lard. Flour tortillas are stronger and thicker than corn tortillas, which is why they come in much larger sizes, with some measuring 12 inches or more in diameter. They have a much milder, less distinct flavor than corn tortillas and are softer, more flexible, and easier to use, which is one of the primary reasons so many Americans prefer them.

See how to make homemade flour tortillas:

How they're enjoyed: Another reason Americans love flour tortillas is that they are the base for two distinctly Mexican-American dishes: burritos and quesadillas, both of which require a large tortilla. Fajitas that are loaded with fillings are also best enjoyed with smaller flour tortillas, as are tacos that are piled high with meat, cheese, lettuce, and the like, since the hot, heavy ingredients may cause a corn tortilla to tear.

How to use them: Flour tortillas will stay soft and pliable in their package and can easily be removed and used right away without as much of a risk of cracks and breaks. If you want to warm them up, a dry skillet or the oven are the best options—flour tortillas don't perform as well as corn in the microwave, losing their flavor and becoming gummy.

How to store them: Flour tortillas keep in the pantry for about a week and in the fridge for about a month. If you want to freeze them, alternately stack the tortillas with pieces of wax paper so you can separate them easily after defrosting them in fridge.

The Other Type: Flavored Tortillas

What they are: These are your spinach, your sundried tomato, your wheat, and your roasted garlic tortillas. Flavored tortillas typically start with a flour base, then add in seasonings to supply unique flavors.

California Club Chicken Wraps | Photo by Molly

How they're enjoyed: Often found in the deli section of grocery stores, flavored tortillas are typically used in wrap sandwiches (they're even marketed as "wraps" in most cases). However, you can easily use them in place of a regular flour tortilla for a burrito or quesadilla if you'd like.

How to use them: For best results, flavored tortillas should be treated the same way as flour tortillas.

How to store them: Flavored tortillas should be stored the same way as flour tortillas as well.


Check out our collection of Mexican Recipes.


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