Homemade Tortillas: Are They Worth the Effort?

Homemade Tortillas: Are They Worth the Effort?aturshina /123RF

Homemade tortillas are better than the store-bought kind by a wide margin. Still, there’s a time and place for both in your kitchen.

So you’re trying to figure out whether homemade tortillas are worth the effort or not, and you stumbled upon Home Cook World?

Welcome, and let me start off by saying I hear you. An avid tortilla eater myself, I’ve made more tortillas from scratch than I can count. And, yet, I keep a stash of packaged tortillas in my pantry for whenever I’m feeling too lazy—or too tired—to cook.

If you’re the type of person who likes to spend time in the kitchen and makes their food from scratch, homemade tortillas are definitely worth it. If you’re not, then Mexican markets and taquerias sell pretty good handmade tortillas as an alternative.

When you’re craving a quick snack or have little-to-no time to cook, pre-packaged tortillas at the grocery store can taste just as satisfying. But take a good hard look at the ingredients list on most tortillas on the shelves, and it isn’t hard to understand why people prefer to put in the extra time and effort.

Even if you don’t care as much about the food that you feed your body, homemade tortillas have something that their store-bought counterparts simply can’t give you.

Maybe it’s the fact that you control 100% of the ingredients that go in. You get to choose the flour, the salt, the water. You get to decide how dry or watery to make them. How flat or thin to press them. How raw or charred to eat them. They’re made entirely to your taste.

Perhaps it’s because you’ve gone through the extra effort to make the tortillas yourself. Knowing the ingredients, the technique, and the love that go in, you can’t help but appreciate the outcome. I guess food tasted better in the past because people actually had to work for it.

Homemade tortillas, unlike store-bought tortillas, are freshly made. And, no matter how hard brands try and how many preservatives they add to their products, they simply can’t replicate the smell, taste, and feel of a just-baked tortilla from just-mixed dough.

To add fuel to the fire, not all tortilla producers use only masa harina (Mexican corn flour) when making “corn” tortillas. It’s not uncommon for masa harina to be second to all-purpose flour on the ingredients list. Yes, this keeps cost down and fattens profit margins, but it gets the final product away from being the real deal.

How to Make Your Own Tortillas

You only need three ingredients to make homemade tortillas: 1) masa harina, 2) fine salt, and 3) hot water. Not to be confused with cornmeal, masa harina is a type of Mexican flour that’s ground from dried corn kernels then soaked in lime juice.

That soaking gives it a distinct flavor that cornmeal doesn’t have, which is why the two can’t be used interchangeably.

Readers in the U.S. and Canada can consider my go-to brands, Bob's Red Mill Organic Masa Harina, King Arthur Masa Harina, and Maseca Yellow Corn Masa Flour. I get my supplies from Amazon, but readers who prefer to shop brick-and-mortar—as some have told me they do—can also find them at Kroger, Publix, Target, and Walmart.

In terms of equipment, you’re going to need a tortilla press and a preheated, well-seasoned cast iron skillet. The press helps you flatten your tortillas and the heavy, thick-bottomed skillet cooks them to sheer perfection.

cokemomo /123RF

Make your own corn tortillas at home:

In a bowl, mix 2 cups masa harina and 1 teaspoon of fine sea salt. Gently pour 1½ cup of hot water onto the mix and incorporate it with a silicone spatula until your tortilla dough becomes uniform enough to knead.

Using your hands, knead the tortilla dough in the bowl for a good 2-3 minutes so that it turns into a pasty, smooth ball. If it’s too sticky, add a little more masa harina. If it’s too dry and crumbly, add some more hot water.

Cover the bowl with a damp cloth so that your dough won’t dry out, and let the dough rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Once it’s rested, portion out into smaller balls with a diameter of 1½ to 2 inches—large enough to comfortably hold in your hand—and press them.

Preheat your cast iron skillet for 3-4 minutes over medium heat. Then cook each tortilla for 50-60 seconds on each side, or until it gets those dark brown, slightly charred spotting.

Serve warm and enjoy.

All of the above, of course, is assuming that you have—or you’re willing to equip yourself with—a tortilla press, cast iron skillet, and masa harina.

If you can’t picture yourself owning a tortilla press and a cast iron skillet, you might as well substitute them with a rolling pin (a wine bottle will also do) and a non-stick frying pan. Since you shouldn’t heat an empty non-stick pan for long or you can damage its coating, preheat it for 30-40 seconds instead of 3-4 minutes.

You can make tortillas out of flour, though one thing’s for sure: they’ll never taste as authentic, traditional, and good as their corn counterparts. Isabel Eats has arguably the best recipe for flour tortillas I’ve come across on the Internet, and I’ve tried plenty.

The only non-negotiable here is fine sea salt. Add coarse sea salt to your tortilla, and you might as well end up breaking a tooth. Himalayan sea salt is okay, but I’ve found some brands to have an overtly sulfuric taste to it that, let’s be honest with ourselves here, has no place in a tortilla.

Handmade vs. Homemade Tortillas

Here’s something you won’t read or hear from every food blogger: handmade tortillas don’t have to be the same thing as homemade tortillas. The fact of the matter is, you don’t have to make tortillas at home to enjoy perfectly good tortillas made by hand.

If you live near a Mexican market or taqueria that makes and sells tortillas by the dozen, they might as well turn out to be better-made—and better-tasting—than the ones you could make at home. (Especially if you’re not Mexican, and nobody taught you tortilla-making technique growing up.)

Are Store-Bought Tortillas Bad for You?

Having read all of this, some of you may be asking themselves if it’s finally time to stop buying pre-packaged tortillas from the store.

Honestly, I don’t think so. As long as you’re willing to shop at Amazon and you know how to pick, you can actually find some really, really good and organic products out there.

Take La Tortilla Factory Organic Yellow Corn Tortillas. These USDA Organic, non-GMO tortillas are made from water, masa flour, guar gum, and lime. Sure, you could probably do without the guar gum had you made these bad boys at home. But they’re as good as store-bought tortilla gets.

Whether you try these out or prefer to select something else yourself, always remember to read through the ingredients list. “OG” tortillas are made from water, masa flour, and salt—so any additional ingredients are probably preservatives or fillers.

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