Tortillas are a staple food in Mexican and Central American cuisines, with origins dating back thousands of years to indigenous cultures in the region. But how many different types of tortillas are there? The simple answer is that there are dozens of varieties, but they can be grouped into a few main categories based on key characteristics like ingredients, preparation methods, and regional styles.
The Main Tortilla Categories
Most tortillas fall into one of these common types:
- Corn tortillas – Made from masa (corn dough)
- Flour tortillas – Made from wheat flour
- Hybrid tortillas – Made from both corn and wheat
Within each of those broad categories, there are numerous sub-types and regional variations depending on factors like the grind of the corn, added ingredients, cooking methods, and more. Let’s explore some of the most popular tortilla varieties in more detail.
Corn tortillas are the original and most traditional type in Mexico and Central America. Here are some of the main kinds:
- Instant corn tortillas – Factory-made from masa flour, dehydrated, and quick-cooking
- Fresh masa tortillas – Made from freshly ground, wet corn dough (masa)
- Pre-cooked corn tortillas – Mass-produced, shelf-stable tortillas, pre-cooked then packaged
- Gorditas – Thicker corn tortillas, often fried or baked
- Sopes – Thick, small corn tortillas shaped into rounds
- Tlayudas – Large, thin oval-shaped corn tortillas
- Totopos – Fried or baked corn tortilla chips
Regional corn tortilla varieties include Oaxacan tortillas, which use a finer grind of corn, and tortillas de maíz azul made from rare blue corn.
While less traditional than corn, wheat flour tortillas are widely popular, especially in northern Mexico and the United States. Common types include:
- Plain white flour tortillas – The simplest and most common flour variety
- Whole wheat flour tortillas – Made from whole wheat flour instead of refined white flour
- Bolillos – Oblong flour tortillas similar to submarine sandwich rolls
- Burritos – Large flour tortillas often used to wrap and roll fillings
- Taco shells – Fried or molded flour tortillas shaped into U-shaped shells
- Tostadas – Flat, crisp-fried flour tortillas
- Chalupas – Small, thick, fried flour tortillas
- Sopes – Thick, small rounds made from flour instead of corn
Flour tortilla recipes can also vary regionally based on preferences for ingredients like types of fat (lard vs. vegetable oil) and leavening agents (baking powder vs. yeast).
As the name implies, hybrid tortillas contain a mix of corn and wheat flour. This category includes:
- Mexiterranean tortillas – Contain both corn and flour plus Mediterranean ingredients like olive oil, garlic, and black pepper.
- Wheat flour-corn blended tortillas – A simple mix of both corn masa and wheat flour.
- Tex-Mex tortillas – Flour tortillas with some added cornmeal or masa flour.
The blend of corn and flour creates tortillas with enhanced flavor and flexibility compared to plain flour alone. Tex-Mex restaurants commonly use hybrid tortillas.
Unique and Specialty Tortillas
Beyond the major categories, there are also many unique, exotic, and specialty tortilla varieties. Some examples include:
- Beet tortillas – Made with added beet juice or beet powder, creating a vibrant reddish-purple color.
- Spinach tortillas – Contain pureed spinach for color and added nutrients.
- Sweet potato tortillas – With pureed sweet potato or sweet potato flour.
- Multigrain tortillas – Incorporate additional grains like quinoa, amaranth, or chia seeds.
- Spiced tortillas – Seasoned with spices and herbs like cilantro, jalapeño, chipotle, or cumin.
- Activated charcoal tortillas – Made with added charcoal powder, resulting in dark grey or black tortillas.
- Cauliflower tortillas – A paleo, low-carb, and gluten-free alternative made with riced cauliflower.
The possibilities for unique flavored and colored tortilla varieties are endless. Chefs and home cooks get creative with specialty ingredients to make their own custom tortilla recipes.
Size, Shape, and Preparation Methods
In addition to differences in ingredients, tortillas can vary significantly in terms of size, shape, and cooking methods.
- Taco-size – Small, round 6-inch tortillas used for tacos.
- Burrito-size – Large 10-12 inch tortillas suitable for burritos.
- Fajita-size – Roughly 8-inch tortillas, typically flour-based.
- Tostada-size – 5-6 inches and flat for making crispy tostadas.
- Rounds – Circular tortillas in sizes ranging from 5 inches up to 12 inches.
- Ovals – Oblong and elliptical shaped tortillas.
- Triangles – Mostly deep-fried wedges served as chips.
- Hexagons or octagons – Unique geometric shapes, sometimes served as appetizers.
- Grilled – Cooked on a comal griddle.
- Fried – Either pan-fried or deep-fried.
- Baked – Oven-baked, often used for crispy tostadas or taco shells.
- Steamed – Cooked through steam rather than dry heat.
The preparation technique impacts the tortilla’s final texture and taste. Deep-frying makes them crispy, while grilling gives them charred spots and flavor.
Common Tortilla Terms
There is some vocabulary around tortillas worth noting:
- Masa – The corn dough used to make corn tortillas and other masa-based foods like tamales.
- Nixtamalization – The process of soaking and cooking dried corn in limewater to make hominy and masa for tortillas.
- Comal – A flat griddle traditionally used to cook tortillas.
- Quesadilla – A tortilla filled with cheese and other ingredients, pan-fried until crisp.
- Tlacoyo – A thick, oval-shaped masa cake similar to a stuffed gordita.
- Pellizcadas – Tiny “pinched” corn tortillas used for soups and stews.
- Tlayuda – A large, thin, and crisp oval tortilla from Oaxaca, typically topped like a pizza.
There are also many regional dialect differences for tortilla terminology in Mexico and Central America. For example, sopes may be called pellizcadas in some areas.
Estimated Tortilla Varieties
Given all the possible factors we have covered, how many distinct tortilla varieties are there? Estimating an exact number is challenging, but we can make some logical projections based on the categories and variables.
There are likely:
- 10+ common corn tortilla varieties
- 10+ common wheat flour varieties
- 5+ major hybrid tortilla types
- At least 20+ unique specialty tortillas
- 10+ variations based on size and shape
- 5+ cooking methods
Factoring in all those categories and estimating conservatively, there are potentially over 100 distinct types of tortillas when considering ingredients, cooking methods, origins, and more. The possibilities are endless, especially when home cooks and restaurants invent their own spin on tortillas.
Notable Tortilla Types by Region
While tortillas are found all over Mexico and Central America, some of the most distinctive, famous, and popular varieties are tied to specific regions. Here are a few noteworthy regional tortilla specialties:
|Notable Tortilla Types
|Tlayudas, yellow corn tortillas, chapulines tortillas with grasshoppers
|Mexico City (DF)
|Tlacoyos and fresh masa tortillas from Tortillerías
|Large thin Sonoran-style flour tortillas, wheat flour tortillas
|Very thin guerito tortillas
|Harder, drier tortillas from corn dough without lime
|Small, thick corn tortillas
|Flour tortillas, fajita-size tortillas
|Mission-style burritos, gorditas, multigrain tortillas
As shown, signature tortilla varieties are associated with certain Mexican states and regions based on local culture, cuisine, ingredients, and cooking styles.
Most Popular Tortilla Types
While creativity has led to endless tortilla varieties, consumer sales and common usage demonstrate the most popular types among home cooks and restaurants in Mexico, the U.S., and worldwide:
- Plain white flour tortillas – The simplest, cheapest, and most widely-used tortilla in the U.S., northern Mexico, and beyond.
- Corn tortillas – Remain highly popular in authentic Mexican cooking and the backbone of classics like tacos and enchiladas.
- Whole wheat flour tortillas – A top seller as a healthier take on flour tortillas.
- Taco shells – One of the most purchased retail tortilla products, especially the pre-formed U-shaped variety.
- Tostadas – Crispy, flat tortilla rounds or triangles in both flour and corn versions.
- Tortilla chips – The ultimate party snack and a retail bestseller.
- Quesadillas – Cheese-filled grilled flour tortillas, a versatile crowd-pleaser.
- Tex-Mex hybrid tortillas – Dominate casual Mexican restaurant menus and recipes.
These familiar tortilla preparations can be found in countless home pantries, restaurants, snack aisles, and Mexican eateries worldwide.
Tortilla innovation marches on, with some interesting trends emerging around unique ingredients, alternative flours, and cutting-edge techniques. Some current tortilla trends include:
- Plant-based tortillas – Using ingredients like chickpea flour, cauliflower, cassava flour, or almond flour to create paleo, vegan, gluten-free, or high-protein tortillas.
- Ancient grain tortillas – Tortillas incorporating quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, chia, and other ancient whole grains.
- Sprouted grain tortillas – Made from sprouted wheat berries or other sprouted grains for enhanced nutrition.
- Cold-pressed tortillas – Rather than cooking, cold-pressing the dough between hydraulic plates to avoid heat-damaging nutrients.
- Super-vitamin tortillas – Fortified with extra vitamins, minerals, and nutrients like vitamin D, fiber, or protein.
- Activated charcoal tortillas – Adding activated charcoal powder to create jet-black tortillas.
- Savory seasoned tortillas – Infusing global flavors through spices, herbs, roasted garlic, jalapeños, and compounds like morita chile.
Creative tortilla makers are also experimenting with everything from cricket flour to moringa powder to algae to produce ever more unique and healthy tortilla options.
Exploring the expansive world of tortillas reveals the remarkable diversity across ingredients, cooking methods, shapes, and origins. While the classic corn and flour tortillas remain beloved staples around the globe, the possibilities for new tortilla inventions are endless. Chefs, restaurants, and home cooks will continue dreaming up twists on tortillas by harnessing creative flavors, alternative flours, and innovative techniques. With undiscovered varieties still waiting to be developed, the answer to “How many types of tortillas are there?” will keep expanding for ages to come.