20 days of tortillas: Corn tortillas

Maize (corn), chocolate (cacao), tomatoes, beans, chilies, avocados, papaya, vanilla - most of these are foods you could probably find in your kitchen on a weekly basis, and all of them originate from Mexico! It's no wonder that I'm obsessed with the cuisine - everything delicious comes from Mexico. And, according to one study, maize is the most widely produced crop in the world. Maize was a staple food in Mesoamerica, and the early Mexicans developed a way to process the maize so that it was healthier, and easier to digest. The process of nixtamalization requires soaking (or boiling) the maize in water with lime (calcium hydroxide) overnight, which brings out some of the vitamins, minerals and protein from the plant they depended on for 3 meals a day.

a few signs in my own kitchen of foods, origins of which are Mexican

a few signs in my own kitchen of foods, origins of which are Mexican

In Mexico, this maize is not only destined to become tortillas. Once the maize is turned into ‘masa,’ it may be used for tortillas, tamales, sopes, pozole. It may be dried to form masa harina - this is what we can get in New Zealand, and what our corn tortillas are made from.

We would love to make our corn tortillas from fresh masa. It would, of course, be the best tasting, best texture, most authentic...but I haven’t found a maize grower in New Zealand (yet) who is interested in the process of nixtamalisation. It’s only a matter of time - Mexican food is VERY popular in New Zealand. One day, it would be great to see a local producer of fresh masa that has been grown right here in NZ!

a stack of our own corn tortillas, made from imported masa harina

a stack of our own corn tortillas, made from imported masa harina

So, the corn tortilla is the tortilla recognised around the world, and the authentic Mexican tortilla. The hard taco shells we know from supermarkets are made from corn tortillas, the tacos you see on the streets in Mexico are made with corn tortillas, and the abuelas you see making tortillas in local homes are making corn tortillas.

While this used to be done by hand, you can now find a range of equipment to assist the process. I remember walking down the street in Oaxaca, and coming across a tortilleria that was open to the public. I had to stand there and watch the process (while my travel companion stared at everything else going on in the street…). I was fascinated by the machinery that they had to mix the masa, roll the dough into fresh tortillas of various sizes. And then they had a countertop with fresh tortillas for sale - about $1.50 for a kilo!

Why do we make flour tortillas at Taco Addicts then?? Coming up in our next post...


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