You might think that it’s a little odd to explore the history of such a basic foodstuff as flour, but in the grand scheme of history, flour is actually a relatively new addition to Mexican cuisine. Before the Spanish came to Mexico in the 1500s, the primary grain in Mexican food was corn. You’re probably familiar with the corn vs. flour tortilla debate, and this is where it finds its origins. People usually choose one or the other because of flavor and texture, but authenticity is part of the equation, too. But why are we bringing this back up now? Because March 20th is World Flour Day!
Let’s take a look at how wheat flour changed Mexican food.
Wheat Comes to the New World
What is what we sometimes call an “old world crop,” meaning that it isn’t indigenous to the Americas. Using corn to make foods like tortillas is a practice that dates as far back as 10,000 B.C. as a staple of the Aztec diet. When the Spanish came to Mexico in the 1500s, they (understandably) loved the local food but wanted to add a few things from home to it. One of those things was wheat flour to make tortillas. Flour tortillas are softer and stretchier than corn tortillas, which makes them easier to load with ingredients.
When to Use Corn vs. Flour Tortillas
Speaking of loading tortillas with ingredients, there are certain foods that are better with flour or corn tortillas. Let’s start with corn:
- Tacos: In general, tacos are smaller and have fewer ingredients than other Mexican foods like burritos. Using a corn tortilla for your taco contributes to the overall flavor and adds a satisfying texture
- Taquitos: You may not know this, but taquitos are always made with corn tortillas. If you use flour tortillas, they’re called flautas.
- Enchiladas: Because you are going to soak and bake them in sauce, corn tortillas are the best choice for enchiladas. They hold up well without losing flavor or texture.
Although corn tortillas are more traditional, flour tortillas are better for these foods:
- Burritos: We all love to load up a burrito with plenty of ingredients, and you don’t want your tortilla to break and spill the fillings everywhere. Flour tortillas are stretchier and bigger, making them ideal for burritos.
- Quesadillas: Because flour tortillas can be much bigger than corn tortillas, they are what you want for a quesadilla. It gives you plenty of room to fill it with cheese, vegetables, and other ingredients.
- Fajitas: Whenever you have a Mexican dish that uses lots of ingredients and fillings, you want a flour tortilla to hold it all together, and fajitas are no exception.