Homemade vs. Store-bought: Tortillas


March 21, 2011 by Leah

Full disclosure: my grandparents lived in Mexico for a long time (my father was actually born there) and therefore I seem to have inherited a prejudice against flour tortillas. I’m not sure they should even be called tortillas. I mean, I loved the flour things in the same way I loved Doritos or Cool Whip.  I got a lot of emotional satisfaction out of eating fluffy “foods” with no redeeming nutritional value for a good chunk of my life. And then I woke up one day weighing 223 pounds and came to my senses. After two years of therapy.

Anyway, back to tortillas. I was sitting in my in-laws’ kitchen last summer when my sister-in-law Megan pulled out a bizarre looking contraption from under the counter, a griddle, some saran wrap, mixed some masa harina with water, and set to making tortillas for her supper that night. The contraption was a tortilla press. I knew I had to try this.

After much poking around on the internet, I have come up with a method that seems to work for us (sans tortilla press). I first found masa harina (a corn flour where dried corn kernels are cooked and soaked in lime water and then ground into flour – an ancient process which just happens to neutralize the phytates in the grain) at Whole Foods, then in the section of our local health food store, Vitamin City, that seems to be entirely dedicated to Bob’s Red Mill products.

The next step, of course, will be making the masa myself from scratch (a process outlined in loving detail by Cheeseslave, a blogger I follow not-quite slavishly, in three posts starting with this one). For now, though, I can get a 24 oz. bag of Bob’s masa for $2.99, which means that the cup of masa I use to make the tortillas (with some water and a little bit of salt) costs $.50. Fifty cents turns into enough piping hot tortillas – say six to eight – that my taco devotee husband and myself can make a meal of them. Sometimes there are even leftovers.

At Albertson’s I would buy something like Mission corn tortillas. $2.09 for 30. That’s 7 cents per tortilla, whereas the homemade are 8 cents per tortilla.  Plus, whenever I bought the bag of 30 tortillas, they would seemingly last forever in the fridge, but even so I never managed to use them all.

About that lasting in the fridge? Here’s the ingredient list:

Ground Corn Treated with Lime, Water, Cellulose Gum, Propionic Acid (to preserve freshness), Benzoic Acid (to preserve freshness), Phosphoric Acid (preservative), Dextrose, Guar Gum, Amylase.

My ingredient list again? Masa harina (aka ground corn treated with lime water), water, salt if I remember. The homemade taste FAR better, don’t have preservatives or binding agents, and are only 1 cent per tortilla more expensive than store bought. Homemade all the way on this one.


8 thoughts on “Homemade vs. Store-bought: Tortillas

  1. Juskimo says:

    Do you think you could give a breakdown of both the prep time and the cook/wait/rise/whatever time for each of these products?

    While the .07 v .08 may be accurate for cost, it discounts the value of your own time. As much as everyone wishes for their own Mrs. Baily, Aaron has that market locked down. So an estimate of cost v. cost + prep time would be helpful.

  2. lahancock says:

    I went to Cheeseslave and am a bit disappointed that most of the corn meal out there is made from GMO corn. What a bummer. I will have to try this and we have a beef tongue sitting in our freezer. We may need to make some homemade beef tongue tacos.

  3. leahkathlyn says:

    @Josh Yeah, I was thinking I’d sum things up with a post about time involved. And then Kymberly got me thinking about “labor cost.” Which is quite different. Most of this honestly doesn’t take much more time than schlepping to the store or market. E.g. there’s very little hands-on time with yogurt, I use a stand mixer with a dough hook to knead bread, and tortillas cook in like 30 seconds per side. I don’t think it takes more than 10-15 minutes to mix and cook tortillas for dinner (and with a tortilla press it would be a snap). I can’t say I’ll be making crackers too often, frankly, and the noodles would go a lot faster if I got a pasta machine, but rolling out the dough is probably the most time-consuming part of that process, just to give you an idea.

  4. David G says:

    Counting time as an expense does not work. I enjoy cooking so do I need to pay my self to do something I enjoy? I love making my own corn tortillas, the press is worth it. I have one of the cast iron ones and it is so much easier than trying to press them with a pyrex pie plate, what I did before I had a press.

    Even if this does cost more the fresh taste is awesome and worth twice the price of store bought.

  5. Juskimo says:

    It is not about counting time as an expense. It is about acknowledging that if a project takes two hours to complete, it may not be possible to do on a regular basis.

    I also enjoy cooking, but I also have other things that take up a substantial amount of time and often prevent me from doing any cooking that takes more than 20-30 minutes.

    Also, knowing about equipment (like a stand mixer, which I don’t have) is helpful.

  6. leahkathlyn says:

    Apparently I should have been more clear that a third party who has a masters’ in gender and development introduced me to such concepts as the economics of reproductive (as opposed to productive) work, which is a fascinating academic field and not unrelated to several areas where my interests overlap. Oh, wait, I said that. The part about “time involved” and what was then my fledgling idea about “labor cost” being quite different. @Josh, automation is good. $200-300 for a KitchenAid, which will last a lifetime, saves probably days’ worth of kneading. (Bread purists will hate me for saying that.) More on that tomorrow.

  7. Benjamin says:

    The comments on flour tortillas are interesting. It seems as if the author doesn’t consider flour tortillas to be an authentic part of Mexican cuisine. My understanding is that tortillas made from flour are actually more common in many areas of Mexico than those made from corn, particular in the central and northern regions. For example, my grandmother was born in Zacatecas, and she made nothing but flour at home. She kept corn on hand for different applications, but the family favorite was always flour. As for equating them to Doritos and Cool Whip in the sense that they have “no redeeming nutritional value”, I would hope that is just the writer’s use of hyperbole for dramatic effect. They’ll certainly help you stay not dead. I’d consider that a slightly redeeming quality. Homemade flour tortillas are a challenge (especially if you are trying to duplicate your grandmother’s) but well worth the effort.

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