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Corn vs flour tortillas

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Thanks for taking our questions this week! I was very excited to hear of this Q&A! I'm going to add one to the "this vs that" category....

I grew up in Austin, and had some of my first dining experiences at places like Las Manitas and Mexico Tipico. I grew up thinking that Mexican food was based on flour tortillas, and I loved them. When I spent a summer in Oaxaca at age 16, I discovered that corn tortillas are not the hard, pasty, flat objects that I had seen when the flour tortillas weren't available in Austin restaurants. There I learned to love the freshly-made, warm corn tortillas sold at market stands, and came to understand that the prevalence of flour tortillas as more of a Tex-Mex phenomenon. Can you comment on the reason for the preference for flour over corn tortillas in the Tex-Mex menu? What is it about the corn tortilla that has kept it from a more prominent role on the Tex-Mex palate?

Thanks again for participating in this forum!

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There are a lot of myths about the flour tortilla. I have heard it credited to Spanish Jews who came to Northern Mexico to escape the Inquisition and created it to serve as unleavened bread during Passover.

But the real story with flour and corn tortillas comes down to agriculture.

Corn grows on the central plateau of Mexico, but not in the desert north.

The Franciscans planted grapes and wheat whereever they went because they needed wine and bread to say Mass. Wheat thrived in Sonora and the flour tortilla was probably born there.

Corn was available thoughout New Spain in the dried form. To make tortillas, you have to slake the hard corn with lime (calcium oxide). Then mash the nixtamal into masa. Not an easy process. And the masa doesn't keep for more than a day without refrigeration.

San Antonio got its first flour mill in 1859. And it employed a lot of Mexican-Americans over the years. Flour was cheap. And flour tortillas were much easier to make than corn ones.

The two existed side by side and were used for different purposes. But for San Antonio Mexican-Americans, mom's hot flour tortillas have always been a big deal.

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