Origin and History of the Tortilla

A tortilla is a type of thin flatbread made from finely ground wheat flour and unleavened, water based dough, pressed and baked. Tortilla is a variant of corn tortilla and its name comes from Spanish and means "small cake". Oldest found tortillas date back as far as 10,000 years BC and were made of native maize with dried kernel. It was the principal food of the Aztecs who lived in Mesoamerica. Similar flat bread is made in South Asia and is called “chapati”. Western Arabia, eastern Mediterranean and southern Asian countries have their own wheat flatbread that look like tortillas. Some other variants are Chinese “laobing” and “roti” from India. They are made from about 6 to over 30 cm in diameter, depending on the region or the country in which they were made and of the dish for which it is intended. They are made by hand but, in commercial production and even in some larger restaurants, it can be made by machines.

Picture of Tortilla

Since pre-Columbian times tortilla was made from nixtamalized maize flour and has been a staple food of the Mexican region. It is now commonly made from wheat flour. They differ in texture. Maize is thicker and more brittle while the wheat version is softer and can be made wider and thinner without breaking too easily. In western parts of the world maize tortillas are eaten as tortilla chips or as an ingredient in combination with enchiladas, tostadas or as flautas. The wheat flour tortilla is used to make burritos, a dish from northern Mexico. Maize tortillas are also made in the Basque region of Spain and are know there as talo.

Mayans made tortillas from the very long time. There are even myths how the tortillas came to be. Hernán Cortés (or Hernando Cortez) arrived in today’s Mexico on 22 April 1519 with Spaniards. They found that native peoples there make flat maize bread which they called, in their native Nahuatl language,”laxcalli”. This makes the first European testimony of tortillas. Traditionally, maize tortillas were prepared from nixtamalized maize. Kernels were soaked in a solution of lime and water to which would remove their skins. Grains treated in that way were then ground into maize dough called masa. A piece of dough that was a size of a golf ball is patted down by hand into a shape of a pancake, placed on a hot griddle, and baked on both sides. This method of tortilla-making is still used in southern Mexico even today. Although it is most often made by hands, in the 1940s and 1950s appeared the first small gas engines and electric motors which powered wet-grain grinders for making masa. By the 1960s appeared small-scale tortilla-making machines which produced tortillas from that masa with speed of one tortilla in every two seconds. Today’s machines are even faster.

Picture - Tortillas Bread

Tortillas are still a staple food in Mexico and Central America, but have gained popularity in the U.S. and other places of the world. Tortillas have grown from an "ethnic" to a mainstream food.

Picture - Basket of Tortillas
Picture - Windmill - Making Bread