Tortilla – A name given by the Spaniards to the unleavened flat bread they found in Mexico among the Aztec in the sixteenth century. The word “tortilla comes from the Spanish word “torta” which means round cake.
Past, and Present, and Future: Tortillas date back as far as 10,000 years before Christ. It was the principal food of the Aztecs who were the dominant people in Meso-America in 1519. Spanish conquerors looking for gold, that they found and sent back to Spain, when they reached the highlands of Mexico found a civilization that had the most delightful and unusual food. The main diet of these people was corn; it supplied the necessary starch, the main source of energy, as well as protein and a little fat. Sometimes the corn was eaten raw on the cob but in most cases it was stored dry and ground into corn meal and later made into masa, corn dough. As time went on, the Indians learned to soak the corn kernels in a lime solution until the skins came off, which made the making of the masa a lot easier.
Still today this ancient method of making tortillas is still being followed, an Indian woman working with a stone slab grinding the soaked kernels into masa. The masa can be white, yellow or any color the raw corn is, but more importantly the consistency is key. As simple as the ingredients are, if the temperature of the mix water is not just right or the not the right quantity, the tortillas will not come out perfect. In Mexico a young girl will spend years learning the secrets to making the perfect tortilla. Once the masa is just right, a golf ball size of masa is placed between her wetted hands and the process of patting it into a flat thin pancake begins. When the masa is about six to eight inches in diameter, it is placed onto a hot griddle/ comal to be quickly cooked on both sides. If you have ever eaten a tortilla right off the griddle you will know how good it can be.
Today tortillas are prepared using the same ingredients but machines have replaced the Indian women working over a grinding slab. Each tortilla is perfect and uniform in size. They are made from corn as well as wheat flour and they come in every flavor imaginable. But even with all our new technology one can still make them from scratch if they so choose.
From the days of the Aztecs and the first known tortillas, to today, tortillas have gone from an ethnic food to mainstream in the United States. Tortillas sales have now become second only to sliced bread as the number 2 packaged bread product sold, passing bagels and muffins. It is estimated that 5.7 billion dollars of tortillas will be sold in the United States in the year 2002 according to TIA the Tortilla Industry Association.