As Mexican food grows in popularity, more and more people are wondering: which tortillas taste most like the real deal? With so many brands and varieties to choose from, it can be hard to know which tortillas are the most authentic. Here we’ll explore the differences between mass-produced and artisanal tortillas, what makes tortillas authentic, and recommend some of the most authentic store-bought and homemade tortilla options.
In short, fresh, handmade tortillas from Mexico using traditional techniques and high-quality ingredients like masa harina and lard will taste the most authentic. Mass-produced tortillas may be more convenient but often lack the complex corn flavor and tender yet sturdy texture of their artisanal counterparts. For authentic store-bought tortillas, look for brands using non-GMO corn, lime-treated corn flour (masa harina), and minimal additives. Making tortillas at home using masa harina or freshly ground nixtamalized corn offers full control over ingredients and process for the most authentic tortillas possible.
Mass-Produced vs. Artisanal Tortillas
Most of the tortilla options at regular grocery stores are mass-produced by large manufacturers. To cut costs and extend shelf-life, these tortillas are made with modified starches, preservatives, and Maseca-brand powdered corn flour. Maseca flour is made from corn kernels that have been chemically nixtamalized rather than traditionally steamed and steeped in limewater. This streamlined process yields a very fine, almost white flour that produces thinner, lighter tortillas compared to nixtamalized masa harina.
While mass-produced tortillas offer convenience, their materials and technique sacrifice complex corn flavor and texture. Preservatives give them an unnaturally long shelf life but a staler, blander taste. Their thinness also causes them to tear more easily compared to handmade tortillas.
In contrast, artisanal tortillas are made from minimally processed ingredients by small producers. They use whole masa harina, which retains more of the bran and germ for nutrition and corn taste. The nixtamalization process infuses masa with minerals like calcium and magnesium that aid digestion. Artisanal tortillas also skip additives like preservatives, dough conditioners and stabilizers for a cleaner ingredient list.
Handcrafting the tortillas allows control over thickness and cooking time to optimize texture. Masa is pressed to the perfect thickness to be pliable yet strong. The tortillas are freshly cooked to puff up with steam and develop those coveted charred spots that enhance flavor. And since they don’t contain preservatives, these tortillas need to be eaten within a few days, which encourages enjoyment while they’re freshest.
Table Comparing Mass-Produced and Artisanal Tortillas
|Attribute||Mass-Produced Tortillas||Artisanal Tortillas|
|Ingredients||Refined Maseca flour, modified starches, preservatives||Minimally processed masa harina, water, salt, lime|
|Texture||Thin, light, tear easily||Substantial, pliable yet strong|
|Flavor||Stale, bland||Complex sweet and earthy corn taste|
|Cooking method||Mass-produced by machines||Pressed and cooked by hand|
|Shelf life||Weeks to months (with preservatives)||2-3 days without preservatives|
What Makes Tortillas Authentic?
When determining authenticity, it’s helpful to look at the history and traditional production of tortillas in Mexico. Corn tortillas date back thousands of years to the time of the Aztecs and ancient Maya. The native people would soak corn in limewater, then grind it into a masa dough which was pressed and cooked into tortillas. They also understood the importance of quality ingredients, dedicating time to nixtamalization and using varieties of corn with optimal flavor and texture.
Today in Mexico, nixtamalization remains widespread. The whole corn kernels are cooked in water with lime (calcium hydroxide). The limewater softens the hulls, loosens the starch and infuses the kernels with minerals. The kernels are then steeped for hours and ground into masa dough using a stone mill called a metate ormolino. Special river stones like volcanic basalt provide the ideal texture for grinding the masa.
The masa is pressed into discs by hand and cooked on a comal griddle until lightly charred. The comal surface and open-flame roasting are also vital for achieving authentic tortilla flavor and texture. Good comals are well-seasoned carbon steel or cast iron.
So in summary, the key aspects of authentic tortilla production include:
- Nixtamalization in limewater
- Freshly ground masa
- Cooking on a comal
When buying tortillas, look for brands that follow as many of these traditional practices as possible. The lime nixtamalization, in particular, is what sets authentic tortillas apart in terms of flavor and nutrition.
Recommended Authentic Store-Bought Tortillas
If you don’t have time to grind your own masa and make tortillas from scratch, look for these recommended store-bought varieties to get closer to the real deal:
La Tortilla Factory
– Made in California by Mexican family using traditional techniques
– Nixtamalized organic GMO-free corn
– Masa pressed by hand, cooked on comal
– Just two ingredients: organic masa flour and water
Miss Ramona’s Tortillas
– Produced in Texas by Ramona and Armando Lopez
– Masa nixtamalized for 12 hours
– Cooked on cast iron comals
– GMO-free, fresher tasting
Maria and Ricardo’s Tortillas
– Small producer in California
– Labor intensive traditional process
– Masa pressed by hand, cooked on comal
– Only real masa harina, water and lime
– Superior texture and flavor
Making Authentic Tortillas at Home
For the absolute most authentic tortillas, making them yourself at home is ideal. This gives you control over ingredients and process from start to finish. Here are two methods, one starting from masa harina and another from whole dried corn:
Homemade Tortillas from Masa Harina
- 2 cups masa harina
- 1 1/4 cups warm water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- In a medium bowl, stir together the masa harina and salt.
- Gradually stir in the warm water until a soft dough forms.
- Knead the dough until smooth, about 3 minutes.
- Divide into 16 equal pieces, rolling each into a ball.
- On a tortilla press lined with plastic or wax paper, press each ball into a thin round tortilla.
- Cook on a lightly oiled comal over medium heat for about 1 minute per side until lightly browned with some char spots.
Tips for best results:
- Use Mexican-grown non-GMO masa harina like Maseca or Bob’s Red Mill.
- Let the freshly pressed tortillas sit for 15 minutes before cooking for best texture.
- Cook tortillas in batches to prevent sticking and overcrowding.
Homemade Tortillas from Dried Corn
Soak, nixtamalize and grind the corn yourself for maximum authenticity:
- 2 cups dried white or yellow corn kernels
- Pickling lime (calcium hydroxide)
- Pinch of salt
- Soak corn in water mixed with pickling lime for 8-12 hours to nixtamalize.
- Drain and rinse corn thoroughly. Rub kernels to remove hulls.
- Grind corn in batches in molino or high-power blender with a little water.
- Knead ground masa with salt and extra water until pliable dough forms.
- Press into tortillas and cook as above.
This traditional nixtamalization unlocks the full flavor and nutrition of the corn. Grinding your own masa dough gives you ultimate freshness. Follow the same cooking instructions as above for tender, deliciously authentic tortillas!
When it comes to authentic tortillas, freshness and quality of ingredients matter most. Look for tortillas produced in small batches using real masa harina from lime-treated corn. Better yet, make them yourself from masa dough or dried corn for full control over the process. With practice, homemade tortillas can surpass any store-bought option in taste and texture. The impressive flavor and nutrition of authentic tortillas comes from ancient wisdom perfected over thousands of years. Honor the traditions by seeking out or grinding masa nixtamalized in the ancestral way.