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What comes to your mind when you think of tortillas? The see-through bags at the grocery store? The little pressing machines at Chipotle? And flour tortillas? Corn ones? People feel very strongly about tortillas, and rightly so — there’s a lot of cultural history associated with them, and that doesn’t quite translate to American “Mexican” food so well.

Today, we’re talking tortillas, namely flour vs. corn. What baggage do they bring to the table? And which type of tortilla is best to make your favorite Mexican food staples? We’ve got a full breakdown. (And this fun fact: the Spanish word "tortilla" is the diminutive form of "torta," which refers to a cake or a sandwich, depending on where in the Spanish-speaking world you are.) Let’s take a look:
While You Eat...

Why Everyone Hates on Flour Tortillas

In the grand tortilla power rankings, the status of the ubiquitous flour tortilla is up in the air. Even among Mexicans, apparently there’s a lot of debate about flour tortillas — are they “authentic”; are they remnants of Spanish colonialism in a way corn tortillas aren’t; are they even worth making and eating?

In The New Yorker, Gustavo Arellano explains: “The corn tortilla is an easy symbol of pride, an elemental food that connects Mexicans to our indigenous past and ancestral homeland. Those made de harina (of flour), by contrast, are bastard children of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, a hybrid of the corn flatbread that has existed in Mexico for thousands of years and the wheat that the Spanish conquistadors brought over. Recent Mexican immigrants deride flour tortillas as a gringo quirk.”

However, he argues that there are indeed some darn good flour tortillas. Border states like Texas, New Mexico, and California each have their own styles of flour tortillas, but for Arellano, the best ones in the U.S. are to be found in Arizona. There, the flour tortillas are prepared in the Sonoran style — thin and translucent, with just water, flour, and salt. Avellano also lets us know other people agree with him, including food scholar Steven Alvarez.

He writes: “Alvarez, who hails from the Arizona mining town of Safford, remembers his mom making fresh flour tortillas every weekend. He’d help to mold the dough into little balls that she would then roll out before placing them on the comal. For him, flour tortillas are about his own family memory, and nostalgia. But they are also no less a part of Mexican culinary heritage than chiles or maize. “There has been a resurgence in the turn toward the indigenous, pre-Columbian roots of Mexican food,” Alvarez told me. “But, no doubt, what we understand as Mexican food today would not be the same without pork, chicken, beef, cheese, and flour—all introduced by the Europeans.””

Read the rest: “In Praise of Flour Tortillas, an Unsung Jewel of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands,” by Gustavo Arellano @ The New Yorker
So, which tortilla — corn or flour — should you use for what purpose? 

It’s another Nosh Box choose-your-own-adventure:

Tacos — Depends what kind of taco, but corn is likely your best bet flavor-wise. Tacos al pastor are traditionally made with corn tortillas, and fish tacos probably should be too, due to both tradition and the pleasant complement of the corn flavor with the final dish, which flour could not provide. Breakfast tacos (“tacos” in air quotes, maybe), on the other hand, should use flour, since you’re packing a lot in there. As Food and Wine points out: “Here's a good rule to live by: heartier tacos require flour tortillas. … The moisture from the eggs, coupled with the barrage of salsa that breakfast tacos require, can turn a corn tortilla soggy.”

Burritos — Flour. Again, you’re cramming a whole lot of stuff into a burrito, so the strength of flour is much-needed. Also, corn tortillas don’t come in a big enough size to fit a burrito anyway. Sorry.

Fajitas — Flour, again. They’ll stand up better against the saucy peppers and whatnot.

Enchiladas — Corn, actually, because even though they’re in a liquidy sauce, corn tortillas won’t fall apart in the oven the way flour ones will.

Chips — Corn all the way. Flour tortilla chips?! Can I get a “no, gracias”? (Plus they don’t crisp up the same and you’ll have a nice fresh batch of oily-soggy-mess. ¡Delicioso!)

Taquitos — Corn. If you make a taquito with a flour tortilla, it’s actually a flauta, which'll turn out flakier and softer. Also, if you do make flautas, make them a little bigger than taquitos — since the flour tortilla won’t crisp up the same as corn, there’s no reason to keep them super-skinny.

Quesadillas — Flour. The flavor of the corn would be really wacky with melted cheese, plus the texture is going to be all wrong. I’ve tried this one; personally would not recommend.

Sources: Food & Wine, Food Republic
Watch This — How Tortillas Are Made in Mexico

Saveur Magazine went down to Puebla, Mexico, to talk to a local family of tortilla masters about how they make good corn tortillas. The big questions — what's their process? What's their secret? Not overcooking them (below) is a start, but they also talk about their special methods of preparing the corn, the importance of the fire, and passing tortillas on to the next generation:
(Video still courtesy of Saveur)
Cook This Later...

I've got a flour tortilla recipe for you, courtesy of America's Test Kitchen — so you know it's legit and has been tested at least 16,000 times. I might even make them myself because the recipe looks delicious, very specific, and definitely doable. Take a look:
Learn to Cook: Make Homemade Flour Tortillas
(America's Test Kitchen)
That's all we've got for Nosh Box today. Thanks for reading, and we'll see you Monday!
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