Blogs » Digital Babble » Food for thought: Tortillas


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Today I will talk about something I know a thing or two about: tortillas.

For many people tortillas are a regular staple, they have to have tortillas with their meal. Every meal. No questions asked. I wonder if that's why Hispanics lead in the number of diabetes cases. All that harina can't be good for you.

But that talk is for another day. Let's focus on tortillas, those tasty morsels of goodness.

People love tortillas. Someone even wrote a song about this fondness for our little round savory friends. The song "There's No Tortillas" by Lalo Guerrero was sung to the melody of "It’s Now Or Never."

There's No Tortillas

I love tortillas and I love them dearly
You’ll never know dear just how sincerely
I love the corn ones y tambien de harina
Oh how I dread to eat with bread, believe me
There’s no tortillas, there’s only bread
There’s no tortillas, and I feel so sad
My grief I cannot hide, there’s no tortillas for my refrieds

I have fond memories of sitting in the kitchens of both of my abuelas, watching them heat up tortillas over the comal while I sat knitting a poncho and singing old songs from our native Mexico.

Ok that is a lie. James Frey moment: I never called my grandparents abuela or abuelo. It was always Grandpa or Grandma. Assimilation rocks. I also can't sing to save my life. I did have a poncho though, but I didn't knit it. I think my mom bought it at Sears.

My favorite tortillas are homemade. It's a shame I don't know how to make them. I really never cared to learn how to make them either. I remember my little sister would be the one to help both of my grandmothers make tortillas. She probably sang songs from Mexico too while she did it. My sister is more in tune with our culture than me. While they were slaving away making tortillas I was probably in the next room tearing apart a radio to see how it worked, or watching reruns of CHiPs.

My mom used to make tortillas every day when I was still at home. I think she stopped making them around the time I was 10. I'm not sure why she stopped, but my heart, cholesterol and waistline thank her.

Don't even get me started on store bought tortillas, especially those low-carb tortillas. It's like eating cardboard with butter, not that I've had cardboard with butter, but I imagine it would taste the same.

So here's to the torilla, I may have been embarrased to take you to lunch for school because the kids would make fun of me, but look at you now! Everyone loves tortillas! (Almost everyone.)

Tortilla facts:

  • The word "tortilla" comes from the Spanish word "torta" which means "round cake."

  • According to Mayan legend, tortillas were invented by a peasant for his hungry king in ancient times.

  • The first tortillas, which date approximately 10,000 years before Christ, were made of native corn with dried kernel.

  • Today, corn tortillas are made from either corn cooked in a lime-based solution or by using corn flour, producing a dough, forming it like a pancake and finally baking it in an oven.

  • Among native Mexicans, tortillas are also commonly used as eating utensils.

  • In the Old West, cowboys realized the versatility of tortillas and used tortillas filled with meat or other foods as a convenient way to eat around the campfire.

  • In 2000, tortilla sales in the U.S. reached the $4.4 billion mark and are expected to hit $5.7 billion dollars in sales by the year 2002. (It has reached $6 billion at last count.)

  • Chemists at the U.S Department of Agriculture say the aroma of a tortilla is mostly due to 2-ameno-acephenone,a compound which develops when corn is soaked in lime water, the traditional treatment for producing corn masa. Food chemists have identified more than forty flavor compounds in tortillas, but 2-amino-acephenone was the hands-down winner as the most tortilla-like, as judged by a panel of government-appointed flavor smellers.

  • In northern Mexico and much of the United States, tortilla means the flour version. Flour tortillas are the foundation of Mexican border cooking and a relatively recent import. Their popularity was driven by the low cost of inferior grades of flour provided to border markets and by their ability to keep and ship well.

  • In the 1940s and ‘50s, one of the first widespread uses of small scale gas engines and electric motors was to power wet grain grinders for making masa. A hand press or hand patting were used to form the masa into tortillas.

  • To find out more you never wanted to know about tortillas go to the Tortilla Industry Association Web site.

  • CJ's Glossary of Terms:

    harina - flour

    comal - A round, flat griddle used in making tortillas, made of either cast iron or unglazed earthenware.

    abuelo - grandfather

    abuela - grandmother

    James Frey - an American writer and a self-described former alcoholic, drug addict, and convicted criminal. The Smoking Gun and other investigators began to allege that elements of his bestselling memoir, A Million Little Pieces, were not true. In January 2006, under pressure from the media and in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey, Frey acknowledged that he either embellished or outright fabricated many elements of the book.