Tortillas and totopos are both staple foods in Mexican cuisine, but they are not the same thing. Tortillas are made from corn or wheat flour and are soft and pliable. Topopos, on the other hand, are crunchy, crispy corn tortilla chips. While tortillas can be used for making tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and more, totopos are usually eaten as a snack, with dips like guacamole or salsa.
What is a Tortilla?
A tortilla is a thin, unleavened flatbread made from corn or wheat flour. Corn tortillas are the more traditional variety in Mexican cuisine, made from masa harina, which is corn that has been treated with lime and ground into a flour. Wheat flour tortillas are a modern adaptation, as wheat was introduced by the Spanish during colonization.
Tortillas can be made by hand or by machine. To make corn tortillas by hand, the masa harina is mixed with water to form a pliable dough. Small balls of the dough are flattened into thin rounds and cooked on a hot comal or griddle. For wheat flour tortillas, the flour is mixed with water, shortening, and salt before being rolled out and cooked.
Types of Tortillas
There are a few main types of tortillas:
- Corn tortillas – Made from masa harina, the traditional variety
- Flour tortillas – Made from wheat flour, larger and more pliable than corn
- Yellow corn tortillas – Made from yellow cornmeal not treated with lime
- Blue corn tortillas – Made from blue corn, have a distinctive color
- Spinach tortillas – Made with added spinach for color and nutrition
- Whole wheat tortillas – Made from whole wheat flour
Corn and flour tortillas are the most common. Flour tortillas tend to be larger, softer, and more pliable, making them easier to use for burritos. Smaller corn tortillas are better for tacos, enchiladas, and tostadas.
Uses for Tortillas
Tortillas are an integral part of Mexican cuisine and are used in a variety of dishes:
- Tacos – Meat, beans, cheese, lettuce, and other fillings wrapped in a tortilla.
- Quesadillas – Tortillas grilled or toasted with cheese inside.
- Burritos – Fillings like rice, beans, meat, and more wrapped in a large flour tortilla.
- Enchiladas – Corn tortillas dipped in chili sauce, filled, and rolled.
- Tostadas – Flat tortillas that are fried or toasted until crispy.
- Chilaquiles – Fried tortilla chips simmered in salsa.
- Tortilla soup – Tortilla chips simmered in broth with veggies and chicken.
The soft pliability of the tortillas allows them to be folded, rolled, or stacked easily without cracking or breaking apart. Both corn and flour tortillas can be used for most dishes, with the choice coming down to personal preference.
What are Topopos?
Topopos, sometimes also called tostadas, are tortilla chips – crispy, crunchy rounds made from corn tortillas. While plain tortillas are soft and pliable, totopos are fried or baked until they become hard and brittle. Topopos are served as a snack, appetizer, or accompaniment and are meant to be crunched on.
How Topopos are Made
There are a few methods for making totopo tortilla chips:
- Frying – Corn tortillas are cut into wedges or rounds and fried in hot oil or lard until crispy.
- Baking – Tortillas are brushed with oil or sprayed with cooking spray and baked at 400F until hardened and browned.
- Microwaving – Stacked tortillas are microwaved 2-3 minutes until crispy.
Frying gives the deepest, crispiest texture, but baked totopos are a lower-fat option. Modern mass-produced tortilla chips are made by frying, then oven-drying to remove excess oil.
Many totopo brands add extra flavor with spices, lime, or salt. Restaurant-style tortilla chips may have flavorings like garlic, jalapeño, or chipotle blended into the masa dough before frying.
Types of Topopos
There are several varieties of totopos available:
- Yellow corn totopos – Made from yellow corn tortillas
- White corn totopos – Made from white corn masa harina
- Multigrain totopos – Made with added grains like quinoa or flaxseed
- Flavored totopos – Chili-lime, salt and pepper, etc.
- Restaurant-style totopos – Handmade and seasoned
- Round totopos – Tortilla rounds cut into wedges
- Triangular totopos – Cut into triangle wedges before frying
The most common are yellow and white corn totopos. Flavored varieties add extra taste, while multigrain chips increase nutrition. Homemade and restaurant tortilla chips tend to be irregularly shaped when cut by hand.
Key Differences Between Tortillas and Topopos
While tortillas and totopos originate from the same food – the corn tortilla – they have a few key differences:
The main difference between tortillas and totopos is texture. Tortillas are soft, pliable, and rollable so they can be used to wrap other ingredients. Topopos are crunchy and brittle, meant to be eaten as-is, not wrapped or folded.
Tortillas can be made from either corn or wheat flour. Topopos are exclusively made from corn tortillas, whether yellow, white or blue corn. The corn is first made into tortillas before being fried for totopos.
Tortillas are baked lightly to set the dough but remain soft and pliable. Topopos must be deep-fried, baked at a high temperature, or microwaved to dehydrate and harden the tortillas into a crispy chip.
Use in Cuisine
Tortillas are used for making other dishes like tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and enchiladas. They bind ingredients together. Topopos are primarily eaten as a snack or appetizer and aren’t used in composed dishes.
Since totopos are fried at high heat, they lose more nutrients than tortillas and absorb more oil. Topopos are lower in fiber, vitamins, and protein compared to an equal amount of tortillas. However, lower-fat baked totopos have a more similar nutrition profile to tortillas.
While tortillas and totopos originate from the same basic food – the corn tortilla – they have distinct differences that make them unique. Tortillas are soft and pliable, perfect for making tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and other dishes. Topopos are crunchy and crispy, meant to be eaten as a snack or appetizer. Their different textures and cooking methods set them apart, though they do begin from a similar dough. Both have their special place in Mexican cuisine and can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
Can you make totopos out of flour tortillas?
It’s uncommon, but possible to make totopos from flour tortillas. They will be crunchier and more brittle than corn tortilla totopos. The flour dough won’t puff up as nicely when fried since it lacks the layering of corn masa dough. Flour totopos are doable, but corn tortillas make superior chips.
What oil is best for frying totopos?
The most traditional oil for frying totopos is lard, as it was commonly used in Mexican cooking. However, vegetable oils like canola, avocado, grapeseed, or peanut oil also work very well. Avoid olive oil as it has a low smoke point. Look for oils with high heat tolerance and neutral flavors.
Are totopos gluten-free?
Authentic totopos made from corn tortillas are naturally gluten-free. However, some flavored varieties may contain gluten from seasonings or cross-contamination during processing. Check labels to confirm gluten-free status if following a gluten-free diet. Plain white or yellow corn totopos are reliably gluten-free.
What’s the healthiest way to make totopos?
For a healthier totopo option, try baking instead of frying. Baking significantly reduces the oil and fat absorption compared to deep frying, while still producing a crispy chip. Use whole grain corn tortillas and minimal added salt for extra nutrition. Spritz lightly with oil instead of deep-frying.
Why are some totopos round while others are triangular?
The shape of totopos comes down to personal preference in cooking. Round totopos are made by cutting whole tortillas into wedges before frying. Triangular totopos are cut after frying when the tortilla has hardened, making triangular shards. In mass production, automated machines stamp triangular shapes. Either shape works great in homemade cooking!
5 Tips for Buying and Storing Tortillas and Topopos
- Look for soft, pliable tortillas without cracks or tears
- Choose tortillas with a longer shelf life for stocking up
- Refrigerate or freeze extra tortillas to extend freshness
- Allow refrigerated tortillas to come to room temp before using
- Reheat cold tortillas in a dry skillet or microwave with a damp paper towel
- Select crispy, sturdy chips that aren’t broken or crushed
- Check the expiration date and choose newer packages
- Store unopened bags of chips at room temperature
- After opening, store in an airtight container or bag
- Eat opened chips within a week for best freshness
Proper storage helps maintain the texture and taste of both tortillas and totopos. Keeping them in cool, dry conditions prevents early staling. With a little planning, you can always have fresh tortillas and crunchy totopos ready to enjoy!
|Nutrient||Corn (6-inch)||Flour (6-inch)|
|Carbohydrates||13 g||20 g|
|Fiber||2 g||1 g|
|Protein||2 g||3 g|
|Fat||1 g||1 g|
|Nutrient||Per 10 chips (28g)|
Topopos are significantly higher in calories and fat compared to tortillas, since they are fried. Tortillas offer more fiber and nutrients from the whole grain corn. Be mindful of portion sizes when snacking on totopos to keep calories in check.
Chicken Taco Tortillas
- 6 small corn tortillas
- 1 cup shredded chicken
- 1/2 cup shredded lettuce
- 1/4 cup shredded cheese
- 1/4 cup salsa
- Lime wedges for serving
- Heat tortillas in a dry skillet until warm and pliable.
- Place 2-3 tablespoons chicken down center of each tortilla.
- Top with lettuce, cheese, and salsa.
- Squeeze lime juice over tacos before folding closed.
Baked Chili-Lime Topopos
- 6 small corn tortillas
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 lime, juiced
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Brush tortillas with oil and cut into wedges.
- Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.
- Sprinkle tortillas with chili powder and salt.
- Bake 8-10 minutes until crispy.
- Drizzle lime juice over chips before serving.
These homemade tortilla and totopo recipes make it easy to enjoy these Mexican staples anytime! Adjust recipes with your favorite fillings or seasonings.
Tortillas and totopos originate from the same basic food – the corn tortilla. However, their differing preparation methods set them apart. Soft, pliable tortillas are perfect for tacos, burritos, enchiladas and more. Crunchy, brittle totopos make an irresistible snack or appetizer for dipping and scooping. Both have their place in Mexican cuisine and can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy lifestyle. Whether you prefer folding up a warm tortilla or munching on crispy totopos, you can’t go wrong with these classic Mexican staples!