Could we find a supermarket corn tortilla that was tender, moist, and flavorful?
Published Nov. 7, 2019.
Who doesn’t love corn tortillas? Their nutty corn flavor and soft, tender chew are perfectly suited for a range of dishes. We love to fold them around fillings for tacos, wrap them around cheese or meat and bake them for enchiladas, serve them alongside Huevos Rancheros, and fry or bake them to make homemade tostadas and crispy taco shells.
Corn tortillas have been a dietary staple in Mexico and other Latin American countries for centuries. While we enjoy making our own homemade Corn Tortillas, it’s more convenient to use store-bought tortillas. American shoppers agree: Sales of corn tortillas have been surging in the United States for years, and they continue to climb due in large part to their affordability, the increasing interest in gluten-free diets, and the popularity of Latin American food. It was time to evaluate them again.
We surveyed nationally available brands of 6-inch corn tortillas, the size we call for most frequently in our recipes. If a company made multiple products, our team tasted each option and moved the best to the final round of tasting. Some brands offer both yellow and white corn tortillas, but we didn’t have a preference, so our final lineup of seven tortillas included selections of both. Five of the products were made from corn, and two were blends of corn and wheat flour. Twenty-one America’s Test Kitchen staffers sampled them plain and in Citrus-Braised Pork Tacos. For each tasting, we warmed the tortillas gently in the oven.
According to the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the sweet corn we eat on the cob during the summer makes up just 1 percent of the corn grown in the United States. Much of the other 99 percent of corn grown is field corn, the variety used to make corn tortillas. When harvested, field corn kernels, which are high in starch and low in sugar, are dry and hard. To ready field corn for use in corn tortillas, it goes through a chemical process called nixtamalization. The corn is soaked for a number of hours in an alkaline solution, usually food-grade pickling lime (also known as slaked lime or food-grade calcium hydroxide), which softens and breaks down the shells surrounding the kernels. This soaking also boosts the corn’s nutritional value, brightens its color, and develops its buttery, earthy “corn chip” flavor. The kernels are then drained, rinsed, and milled into masa, which can be rolled immediately into tortillas or dried further into masa harina (a form of flour). Traditional homemade corn tortillas are rolled by hand or formed using a tortilla press and cooked on a comal, a flat cast-iron griddle.
The process of making large ...
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Carolyn is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She's a French-trained professional baker.