Corn tortillas are a staple food in Mexican and Central American cuisine. They are made from masa, which is a dough produced from treated corn. Corn tortillas have a rich history dating back thousands of years to the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. Today, they remain an integral part of the cuisine and culture of Mexico and Central America.
One of the defining characteristics of corn tortillas is that they are made without wheat flour. This leads many people to assume that corn tortillas are flour free. However, the answer to whether corn tortillas are 100% flour free is more nuanced. In this article, we will explore the ingredients and production methods used to make corn tortillas and analyze whether they can be considered completely flour free.
Are Traditional Corn Tortillas Flour Free?
Authentic corn tortillas made using traditional techniques are flour free. The basic ingredients are:
- Dried corn
- Calcium hydroxide (cal)
To make the masa dough, dried corn kernels are first cooked and soaked in a solution of water and calcium hydroxide. This process is called nixtamalization. It breaks down the hulls and loosens the corn kernels, while also infusing calcium into the kernels. The calcium hydroxide helps improve the nutritional value of the corn by increasing the availability of certain amino acids and vitamins.
After soaking and cooking, the corn is ground into a wet masa dough using a stone mill called a molino. The masa can then be pressed into tortillas and cooked on a comal, which is a flat griddle.
The entire traditional process from dried corn to fresh tortillas uses no wheat flour or other grains. So, authentic corn tortillas made with just corn, water, and calcium hydroxide are completely flour free.
Are Factory Made Corn Tortillas Flour Free?
While traditional corn tortillas contain no wheat flour, many mass-produced commercial corn tortillas are made with a percentage of wheat flour. There are a few reasons for this:
Improved Texture and Flexibility
The addition of some wheat flour can improve the texture of corn tortillas made with masa produced from rehydrated dried masa flour. The flour makes the tortillas more flexible and less likely to crack or break when rolled or folded. This makes them better suited for making tacos or burritos.
Easier Production and Transport
Adding wheat flour allows the masa to be produced and shipped in a dry form as masa flour. The flour can be easily rehydrated at factories and formed into tortillas mechanically. This makes large scale production faster and cheaper compared to the traditional method. It also improves the shelf life of the dry masa flour.
Wheat flour is typically cheaper than corn. Replacing a portion of the corn with flour reduces production costs for mass-produced corn tortillas.
For these reasons, many factory-made corn tortillas contain a percentage of wheat flour, usually around 5-10%. The FDA allows up to 30% wheat flour in corn tortillas. So, while these tortillas are still predominantly corn-based, they cannot be considered completely flour free.
Finding 100% Flour Free Corn Tortillas
To find corn tortillas with no wheat flour whatsoever, you need to look for ones made using the traditional nixtamalization process. These are sometimes labeled as “authentic” or “traditional” corn tortillas. They will contain just three ingredients: corn, water, and calcium hydroxide.
You may find these flour-free varieties at:
- Mexican grocery stores or tortillerias
- Farmers markets
- Specialty food stores
- Some mainstream supermarkets
Your best bet is to check the ingredient list and purchase corn tortillas made with just corn treated with calcium hydroxide. You can also find recipes online to make your own flour-free corn tortillas from scratch.
While it takes extra effort, finding authentic tortillas without wheat flour is possible. The rich flavor and supple texture of the real thing is worth it!
Nutrition Profile of Flour Free Corn Tortillas
One of the biggest advantages of opting for flour-free corn tortillas is their stellar nutrition profile. Here is how the nutrition facts break down for a standard 6-inch flour-free corn tortilla made only with corn:
Calories and Macronutrients
As you can see, corn tortillas are naturally low in calories, fat, and sugars. They provide plenty of complex carbohydrates and a modest amount of filling fiber.
Vitamins and Minerals
Corn tortillas are packed with essential vitamins and minerals:
- 25% Daily Value (DV) of folate
- 6% DV iron
- 6% DV magnesium
- 4% DV phosphorus
- 2% DV zinc
- 2% DV copper
- 1% DV manganese
The nixtamalization process increases the availability of certain B vitamins like folate and minerals like iron and zinc. Calcium is also enhanced through the calcium hydroxide bath.
Corn contains beneficial plant compounds like anthocyanins, ferulic acid, and zeaxanthin which act as antioxidants in the body to reduce inflammation.
Overall, flour-free corn tortillas made from whole masa provide a nutritious and well-rounded food that complements any Mexican dish.
Uses for Flour Free Corn Tortillas
When you manage to get your hands on some authentic flour-free corn tortillas, here are some delicious ways to put them to use:
Corn tortillas are the perfect vessel for just about any taco filling you can imagine. Their subtle sweet corn taste balances beautifully with spicy, savory taco meats, vegetables, beans, and salsas. Bend them into a U-shape and fill them up!
For amazing enchiladas, stuff corn tortillas with cheese, meat, veggies, or other fillings of your choice. Top with simmered red or green enchilada sauce and more melted cheese.
Flat and crisp tostada shells are made by frying corn tortillas in oil until they are hardened. Top with your favorite layers of beans, lettuce, salsa, cheese, avocado and more.
Tortilla chips sautéed with salsa and scrambled eggs make a comforting breakfast dish called chilaquiles. Start with corn tortillas cut into wedges and deep fried into chips.
Sandwich fillings like cheese, shredded meat and salsa between two tortillas and grill until the cheese melts. Cut into wedges for an easy-to-eat finger food.
Sopes and Gorditas
Thicker masa cakes called sopes and gorditas can also be made from corn masa. Top them with any combination of proteins, vegetables, beans, salsa and garnishes.
So in summary, flour-free corn tortillas are incredibly versatile for both savory and sweet dishes. With some creativity, the possibilities are endless!
Are There Any Downsides to Avoiding Flour in Corn Tortillas?
While traditional flour-free tortillas have an amazing flavor and nutrition profile, there are a couple potential downsides to consider:
Texture and Breakage
Without the addition of wheat flour, corn tortilla texture can be more crumbly and delicate. The tortillas may break more easily when rolling or folding. Overcooking them can make the texture too dry and crackly.
Shorter Shelf Life
Corn tortillas without preservatives have a much shorter shelf life than flour tortillas. Freshly made corn tortillas may last 1-2 weeks at most in the fridge. So you need access to fresh tortillas regularly.
The traditional nixtamalization process takes more time and labor compared to using masa flour. You may pay a premium for authentic corn tortillas from specialty shops compared to mass-produced varieties.
It can be challenging to find high quality traditional corn tortillas depending on where you live. You may need to visit specialty grocers or order online if your regular stores don’t stock flour-free options.
However, for most people these are minor inconveniences compared to the incredible flavor of the real deal. Part of embracing traditional cuisine is honoring time-tested cooking methods, even if they take more effort. The end result is well worth it!
Flour-Free Substitutes for Corn Tortillas
For those avoiding gluten or simply looking to cut carbs, you can also substitute corn tortillas with lettuce or other vegetable wraps in dishes like tacos and fajitas. Some healthy flour-free replacements for tortillas include:
Use leaves from romaine, butterhead or iceberg lettuces in place of tortillas for low-carb tacos or wraps.
For added crunch, fiber and nutrients, large cabbage leaves also work great.
Sturdy collard green leaves make excellent lettuce wrap substitutes. Their slightly earthy flavor pairs well with taco fillings.
Thin slices or ribbons of zucchini can be used in lieu of tortillas for a veggie-packed vessel.
Portobello Mushroom Caps
The meaty texture of juicy portobello caps satisfies when used “bunless” for fajita vegetables or taco fillings.
So in place of corn or flour tortillas, get creative with healthy and naturally gluten-free lettuce or vegetable wraps! They offer a nutritious alternative.
Authentic corn tortillas made using the nixtamalization process contain no wheat flour whatsoever. They are created from just three simple whole food ingredients: corn, water and calcium hydroxide. This makes traditional corn tortillas completely flour free.
However, many mass-produced corn tortillas contain a percentage of wheat flour for purposes of cost, texture, shelf life and production efficiencies. To find 100% flour-free corn tortillas made the traditional way, look for brands using whole corn masa and source them from specialty grocers. Or make your own homemade tortillas using fresh masa or soaked and ground corn.
Though it requires some effort to seek out flour-free varieties, you will be rewarded with superior nutritional quality and authentic corn flavor. So for the full experience of real deal Mexican cuisine, genuine corn tortillas are the way to go.