The short answer is yes, burritos do originate from Mexico. Burritos are a traditional Mexican food consisting of a wheat flour tortilla wrapped around a filling. While the exact origins of the burrito are unclear, they became popular in northern Mexico in the 19th century before spreading to the United States in the mid-20th century.
Origins of the Burrito
The word “burrito” means “little donkey” in Spanish, referring to a stuffed flour tortilla that resembles a donkey’s load. Burritos likely originated in northern Mexico in the 19th century, though their early history is not well documented. Some theories suggest they may have roots in 16th century colonial Mexico when wheat flour tortillas replaced corn tortillas, allowing for larger and more portable wrapped foods.
Northern Mexican states like Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Sonora all claim to be the birthplace of the burrito. These states border the United States, which may be how burritos first made their way north of the border. The earliest definitive written references to burritos date to the 1930s in Mexican literature.
Burrito Fillings and Varieties
While burrito fillings can vary greatly, some traditional Mexican burrito fillings include:
- Refried beans
- Meat – especially machaca (dried meat), carne asada (grilled beef) or chorizo (Mexican sausage)
- Cheese – often grated white Mexican cheese like queso fresco
- Onions and cilantro
Some distinct regional burrito styles exist in Mexico:
- Burritos del norte: Large burritos common in northern Mexico, often filled with machaca or carne asada, whole pinto beans, cheese and chili peppers.
- Burritos del sur: Smaller burritos from southern Mexico that substitute rice for beans and tomato-based salsas for chili peppers.
- Breakfast burritos: Filled with eggs, potatoes, cheese and sometimes beans, common at Mexican breakfast joints.
The Burrito Arrives in the United States
Burritos became popular in the Southwestern United States when refugees from the Mexican Revolution settled in areas like California, Texas and Arizona in the early 20th century. The Mexican community in Santa Maria, California claims to have invented the modern American burrito in the 1930s when they began selling large burritos filled with regional favorites like whole beans and chilies.
Burritos grew even more mainstream when Mexican-American restauranteurs brought them to a wider audience. Brothers Mac and Dick Thomas opened the first Taco Bell in Downey, California in 1962, putting burritos on the fast food map. Glen Bell founded the first Taco Bueno in Abilene, Texas in 1967, introducing pre-formed burritos that became commonplace at chains like Taco Bell. Zona Hernandez founded Zona’s Tamales in Tucson, Arizona in 1972, wrapping burritos in aluminum foil to allow portability.
These pioneers established burritos as a tasty, inexpensive, on-the-go meal that could feed a family. They began to diverge from their Mexican origins by incorporating American tastes like cheddar cheese, sour cream and wheat tortillas. New regional burrito styles emerged, like the massive super burrito from San Francisco’s Mission District.
Today, burritos are a pillar of Mexican-American comfort food. Chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill and Qdoba Mexican Grill have brought gourmet burritos to the mainstream. Yet classic mom-and-pop Mexican restaurants remain the gold standard for authentic burritos made from traditional recipes.
Global Spread of the Burrito
While burritos originated in Mexico, their popularity has spread around the world over the past century. How did burritos go global?
- United States: Mexican immigrants brought burritos to the Southwestern US in the early 1900s. Their popularity exploded nationwide in the 1960s and 70s thanks to fast food chains and innovative restaurants.
- Canada: Northern Mexican migrants introduced burritos to western Canada in the 1960s. Burritos can now be found across Canada at Mexican restaurants and chains like Mucho Burrito.
- Australia: American-style burritos emerged in Australia in the 1980s as Mexican restaurants opened in urban areas. Quesadilla chain Guzman y Gomez now has over 150 Australian locations.
- Japan: Taco Rice, a fusion dish combining burrito fillings with rice, originated at an Okinawan restaurant in 1984. Burritos themselves grew popular in Tokyo’s youth culture in the 1990s.
- India: Delhi got its first burrito truck in 2011. Burrito chains like Sanchez and Amigos have brought Mexican-Indian fusion burritos to major cities.
The burrito has clearly come a long way from its humble origins in northern Mexico. Its portability, versatility and appeal have allowed it to become a worldwide culinary phenomenon, while still retaining its cultural significance as an iconic Mexican food.
More than just a popular food, burritos have become ingrained in popular culture both in Mexico and abroad. Here are some fun burrito facts:
- Mexico celebrates National Burrito Day (Día Nacional del Burrito) on April 2nd every year.
- Some Spanish speakers use the term “burrito” figuratively to mean a closed deal, a hidden secret or a baby wrapped up tight in swaddling clothes.
- The world’s largest burrito according to Guinness World Records weighed over 4,500 pounds and was made in Las Vegas in 2019.
- Burritos are sometimes called “Manhattan tacos” on East Coast college campuses, reflecting the food culture clash as burritos move far from their Mexican roots.
- Chipotle celebrates National Burrito Day on April 1st, offering buy-one-get-one free burrito deals to reward their loyal burrito lovers.
- Runners in the Bay Area Burrito Challenge semi-seriously compete to eat a four pound super burrito in the shortest time.
Clearly burritos hold a special place in Mexican food culture. Their popularity worldwide shows that people everywhere appreciate the burrito’s unique ability to deliver a savory, satisfying meal wrapped up in an easy-to-eat package.
Burrito or Taco: Key Differences
While burritos and tacos are both representative foods from Mexican cuisine, they have some key differences:
Burritos have all ingredients wrapped inside a large flour tortilla. Tacos are constructed by placing ingredients inside a small folded or rolled corn tortilla.
Burritos are more portable than tacos. Their large wrapped tortilla keeps fillings securely contained.
Tacos feature fewer wet ingredients than burritos to prevent soakage of the tortilla. Burritos often contain rice, beans, cheese and chunkier salsas.
Burritos typically have standardized fillings. Tacos can be more customized with various fillings and toppings.
Burritos originated in northern Mexico while tacos likely come from central and southern Mexico.
While burritos make a great on-the-go meal, tacos allow for a more customized interactive experience. Both burritos and tacos hold an important place in Mexican cuisine and culture worldwide.
Making Burritos at Home
You don’t need to go to a restaurant to enjoy delicious burritos. Making burritos is easy and fun to do at home. Follow these steps:
- Prepare ingredients: Cook rice, beans, meat or other fillings.
- Warm tortillas: Heat flour tortillas in the microwave or oven to make them pliable.
- Assemble burrito: Place fillings across the center of the tortilla then fold the bottom and sides in and roll it up tightly.
- Toast burrito (optional): Toast assembled burritos in a pan or griddle until golden brown on each side.
- Add toppings: Top with salsa, guacamole, sour cream, cheese and other toppings as desired.
- Enjoy: Dig into your fresh homemade burrito!
Homemade burritos are quick, delicious and allow for total customization. Experiment with different fillings, toppings and tortillas to invent your perfect burrito.
Burrito Nutrition Facts
Like any food, burrito nutrition depends greatly on the specific fillings and toppings used. In general:
- A bean and rice burrito provides a good balance of complex carbs, fiber and plant-based protein.
- Meat burritos also pack protein, as well as iron, zinc and B vitamins.
- Cheese boosts calcium and vitamin content.
- Using lots of fatty meats, cheese and sour cream increases fat and calories.
- Smaller burritos with lots of veggies provide healthier options.
Some tips for more nutritious burritos include:
- Choose whole grain tortillas over white flour.
- Load up on veggies like lettuce, tomatoes, onions, peppers.
- Use beans, brown rice, and lean proteins like chicken.
- Limit high-fat cheese, sour cream, and creamy sauces.
- Ask for salsa on the side to control added sodium.
Overall, burritos can be a flavorful way to get vegetables, fiber, lean protein and energizing carbs into a meal. Just be mindful of your fillings to optimize nutrition.
Global Burrito Trends
While traditional Mexican burritos remain popular worldwide, some fascinating burrito fusion trends are emerging across the globe. Here are a few burrito innovations around the world:
Korea – Kimbap Burrito
Kimbap are Korean seaweed rice rolls similar to sushi. Kimbap burritos combine Mexican rice, meat and veggies wrapped in seaweed rather than a tortilla.
Japan – Teriyaki Chicken Burrito
To appeal to local tastes, some Japanese burrito chains serve teriyaki chicken, ginger rice and shredded cabbage in a tortilla.
India – Paneer Burrito
Indian burritos incorporate local flavors like curry spices, raita sauce and paneer cheese.
Kenya – Chapati Burrito
Chapati, a popular flatbread in East Africa, stands in for tortillas in Kenyan burritos stuffed with curry and chutney.
Poland – Kebab Burrito
Kebab meets burrito by wrapping shaved meat, fries, cabbage and yogurt sauce in a tortilla.
These unique local spins show how the beloved burrito can adapt to cultures worldwide, proving it has become a truly global food.
While debates continue over claims to the original burrito, the evidence strongly points to its origins in northern Mexico in the 19th century. From there, the handy wrapped food spread through the Southwest US before exploding in popularity nationwide. Today the burrito is adored across the Americas and around the world, with new fusion styles emerging to meet local tastes. Yet at its core, the burrito remains a tasty symbol of iconic Mexican cuisine and culture.