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The Best Flour Tortillas
Don't let a dry, dense flour tortilla ruin dinner.
Published June 1, 2018. Appears in Cook's Illustrated September/October 2012, America's Test Kitchen TV Season 20: Ground Beef Enchiladas and Steak Tacos
Top PicksSee Everything We Tested
What You Need To Know
Sometimes we make tortillas from scratch, but more often we reach for packaged versions. We're not alone. Americans spent more than $6 billion on tortillas in 2015, according to retail sales data gathered by the Tortilla Industry Association, with the flour variety just barely outselling corn. It has been six years since we last reviewed flour tortillas, and we wondered if our favorite from Old El Paso was still the best. We focused on 6-inch tortillas, which we use for tacos and fajitas, and found six top-selling products priced from $1.99 to $2.72 per package (packages contained eight to 20 tortillas). We sampled them in a series of blind tastings. First, we gently warmed them and tasted them plain. To see how they held up to rich and juicy fillings, we used them as taco shells with Mexican pulled pork. Then, to see how they fared when cooked, we made mini cheese quesadillas.
Tasting (and Measuring) the Tortillas
For the most part, differences in flavor were minor. Most of the tortillas tasted “neutral” and “plain.” We didn't mind; their “mild” flavor allowed the quesadilla and taco fillings to shine. Given those similarities, our tasters focused on differences in the tortillas' texture.
We wanted a wrapper sturdy enough to hold cheesy, juicy fillings without tearing or falling apart. All our tortillas achieved that basic goal, but we didn't like ones that were too stiff. Lower-ranked tortillas were oddly slick and “smooth,” which tasters likened to “compressed supermarket white bread.” Others were described as “dense,” “thick,” and “not especially tender.” When we removed them from the package, we also noticed that some tended to stick together, so we had to carefully peel individual tortillas off the stack. We preferred tortillas that were sturdy but still “very tender” and “soft” and that could be easily removed from the packaging.
To confirm what our tasters had noticed, we measured the tortillas (using samples from two bags to get an average). Sure enough, our least favorite was among the thickest—2.18 millimeters—and the heaviest—36.78 grams. Higher-ranked tortillas were consistently thinner and lighter; the best were about 1.4 millimeters thick and 23.7 grams, and tasters described them as “airy” and “light.” We also noticed that these more “delicate” tortillas had “distinct layers” and became pleasantly “crisp” when we cooked them for quesadillas.
How are Tortillas Made?
It's likely that all the tortillas were made in a similar fashion. According to Tortillas: Wheat Flour and Corn Products (2015; edited by L.W. Rooney and S.O. Serna-Saldívar), the four main phases of commercial production are not unlike the steps we ...
Everything We Tested
Our previous winner, the thinnest tortilla in our lineup, impressed us again with its delicate and tender texture. Served warm, these tortillas had a “light, flaky texture.” In quesadillas, they became “crispy,” “like a cross between a tortilla and phyllo dough.” In addition to being relatively high in fat and sodium, these tortillas contain glycerin, which helped them retain moisture. The company's larger, burrito-size tortillas are made using the same recipe and methods.
Although they're thicker, we liked these “very tender and soft” tortillas almost as much as our winner. They're also high in fat, which adds tenderness and richness, and relatively high in flavor-enhancing sodium. In our tests, tasters described them as “substantial but pliable.”
A “soft and chewy” texture earned these tortillas high marks throughout testing. Although they contain slightly less fat than our favorites, they had “some flakiness that made [them] feel authentic.” These tortillas were the thickest in our lineup, but they weren't doughy or dense. Instead, testers found them reassuringly “sturdy” and noted that they “held together well” when used as taco shells with juicy pulled pork.
These tortillas were fairly thin, and we liked that they had noticeable “flaky layers.” Quesadillas were pleasantly “crispy and airy” with “good color and crunch.” Although they had plenty of fat, they had one of the lowest sodium levels in our lineup and were “not superflavorful.”
Recommended with reservations
These tortillas aren't significantly thicker or heavier than others in our lineup, yet they weren't as light or crisp. Instead, tasters described them as a little “bready” and “tough.” They fared best in quesadillas; once filled with cheese and heated, these “not especially tender” tortillas struck a good “balance between crisp and crunchy.”
These tortillas, some of the thickest in our lineup, came in last in all three tastings. They were the lowest in fat, which deprived them of moisture, richness, and flakiness. They were also among the lowest in sodium. We liked them best in the quesadilla tasting. There, these somewhat “dense” and “cardboardy” tortillas became a little more “tender” and “chewy.”
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.