Wait, flour tortillas space Jewish? the doesn’t sound right. Actually, it sound so wrong, ns couldn’t stop wondering, wondering, all thanks to this late-night stumble-upon in the Houston Chronicle. (What am i doing looking in ~ decade-old news stories on tortillas? Oh, who knows?) I constantly understood flour cake to it is in a Tex-Mex staple—and castle are—but apparently, lock were around long prior to Texas (1845) or Mexico (1824). By then, world had been grind wheat right into flour, which was mixed into dough, which was pressed into patties, which to be cooked into floppy, flaky tortillas, for number of centuries. Who, though?

There to be a little influx that Jewish immigrants to the Texas-Mexico border an ar in the 1500s—conversos hiding their confidence to prevent persecution—then better numbers throughout the Mexican independence movement in the at an early stage 1800s. The Houston Chronicle is talking around the first wave: “Since corn was not kosher and also they were accustomed come eating level pita bread, they began to make tortillas the end of wheat.”


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If you’re wonder why corn isn’t kosher, same. Ns Jewish however not kosher (because bacon) but some of my family members are. Pork and also shellfish: no go. Meat through milk: certainly not. But corn? Why? A tiny digging—and a New Yorker piece—sorted this out. Well, type of: Ashkenazi Jews don’t eat grains (like wheat, barley, and rye) throughout Passover, one homage to our ancestors’ exodus indigenous Egypt once they escaped for this reason speedily, there was no time for bread to rise. In enhancement to these grains, they also don’t eat legumes and also friends, choose rice and corn. Ah-hah! girlfriend say. Corn! But—there’s always a but—most Jews indigenous Spain, phibìc Africa, and the Middle eastern never complied with such restrictions.

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So, the Jews who could have developed flour tortillas—the people who relocated to the new World in the 1500s—probably had nothing versus corn. And they did have actually something versus one that flour tortillas’ 3 ingredients: lard. Nowadays, you deserve to make them v butter or vegetables shortening. At the time, though, lard was the just shelf-stable fat around. I m sorry means, flour tortillas no kosher. I m sorry means, flour tortillas most likely aren’t Jewish. I m sorry means, what are they?

Corn tortillas’ background is clearer—and older. Flashback for a hot second to Mesoamerica: Maya people started around 2000 B.C. Aztec people started sometime in the 13th century. As Margarita Carrillo Arronte describes in Mexico: The Cookbook: “The significant food that the Mayas, Aztecs, and also other Mesoamerican civilization shared to be corn.” Mayas thought that civilization were born native corn and, prefer the Aztecs—who dubbed themselves Mexicas—they worshipped corn gods, also sacrificed people to keep them happy. Come Carrillo Arronte, corn’s cultural significance can’t be overstated:


Without corn we have actually no country. Corn is the staple food throughout and also especially in the main and Southern regions where it is spend by all Mexicans basically every day...Dried corn saw the civilization of Mesoamerica with their year. The dough or masa do from floor corn kernels was pressed flat, cook on a little pan referred to as a comal, and eaten daily as tortillas.


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this is the catch, though: Those corn cake weren’t dubbed corn tortillas. They weren’t, in fact, called any kind of one term. I chatted with Pati Jinich, cookbook author and also host of the Emmy- and James Beard–nominated PBS routine Pati’s mexican Table, and she referenced the Nahuatl word tlaxcalli. “But,” she said, “this was just one the many worlds that spoke many languages.”


“At that time Hispanic civilization in California, Arizona, brand-new Mexico and also Texas to be eating Corn tortillas, they had actually no idea what a wheat flour cake was. Also that first Mexican cookbook from 1831 just had actually recipes from main and southern Mexico. Which would probably mean that the flour tortilla is from southerly Mexico.”

So whereby did words tortilla come from? follow its etymology back, back, back, and you’ll find the Spanish native torta, or cake. And the Spanish, it transforms out, space the lynchpin to all of this. Your brutal new World conquest began in 1492 and also reached Mexico in 1519. There to be countless cultural differences between them and the indigenous communities, not the least of which was starch preference.

Corn was critical to the Aztecs and surrounding communities, yet the Spanish to be not into it. Melissa Guerra, who teaches at the Culinary academy of America in mountain Antonio, explained: “There has constantly been a europe prejudice against corn. It was viewed as junk food. Yes sir this quote in French: Potatoes room for pigs. Corn is for cows.”

What starch did the Spanish Catholics eat, then? you guessed it—wheat. “That to be the ingredient lock knew and also liked,” Jinich said. “Most importantly, it to be an ingredient they linked to Jesus Christ. Come them, wheat was holy. And also corn—they didn’t recognize what to do of it.” In turn, they, rather literally, didn’t do anything of it. They carried wheat to the an ar and offered that instead.


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“Wheat heritages belong to the civilization of the productive Crescent, regardless of religion,” Guerra said. “I have heard the Germans the have claimed ownership the flour tortillas in Texas, also Lebanese. All room plausible.” yet none space unequivocal. Flour tortillas’ past, it seems, no belong to any one culture.

Its present, that course, does: Mexican. In the unified States, yes a fair amount that confusion, even stigma, about flour tortillas. Part assume they no authentic. Others insist that they’re inferior to corn. Jinich, who thrived up in Mexico, can not disagree more: “Flour tortillas room very Mexican,” she says. “I don’t select one end the other, at all, just like any kind of Mexican.”

Flour tortillas are certainly an ext common in the northern part of the country, whereby the terroir is an ext suited to farming wheat 보다 corn. But they’re both integral come Mexican—and Tex-Mex—cuisine. And Taco Bell’s Double Decker taco. Which simply wouldn’t have been a point in the 1500s. This, that seems, is the best difference in between when flour tortillas involved be and what they space today. Centuries ago, her preference in between corn or wheat revealed where you lived, wherein you come from, that you worshipped. But nowadays, we have the right to have it all.

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Do you have a preference in between corn or flour tortillas? Tell united state why in the comments.


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composed by: Emma Laperruque


Emma is the food editor at gimpppa.org. Prior to this, she functioned a many odd jobs, every at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries in ~ 3 a.m., and writing around the history of pie in north Carolina. Currently she resides in new Jersey through her husband and their cat, Butter. Remain tuned every Tuesday because that Emma"s award-winning column, huge Little Recipes (also the cookbook in October 2021!). And also see what she"s as much as on Instagram at