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How to Keep Your Corn Tortillas From Breaking

How to Keep Your Corn Tortillas From Breaking

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You’re assembling your delicious Mexican tacos, but just as you’re done with the filling, you look over at your corn tortillas. They’re looking a little cracked and dry.

While breakage isn’t as big a problem when making a saucy dish like enchiladas, crumbling tortillas can threaten the structural integrity of your tacos.

Luckily, there are several ways to keep corn tortillas from breaking. That way, you can enjoy tacos, enchiladas, and more without worrying about spilling all over yourself.

Corn Tortillas vs. Flour Tortillas

Corn And Flour Tortillas

While extensively popular, corn tortillas aren’t the only tortillas out there. Several home cooks and Mexican restaurants use flour tortillas instead, but what’s the difference?

Process

Corn tortillas are made by curing corn in lime water and creating a dough called masa. The process for making flour tortillas is similar, except they’re made with wheat flour and usually have added fat to make the dough easier to meld.

Usage

Corn is a popular ingredient in Mexican cuisine, with its crop production tracing back thousands of years.

Meanwhile, wheat only gained prominence after the Spanish brought the plant with them on their American expedition.

For this reason, corn tortillas are more authentic for most Mexican meals. Flour tortillas, on the other hand, are better for more filling dishes, such as burritos and fajitas.

Size and Feel

Flour tortillas tend to be larger and more flexible than corn tortillas. They can wrap larger fillings without breaking.

In addition, flour tortillas offer a thinner shape and softer texture as opposed to corn tortillas’ firmer feel.

Flavor

So, if flour tortillas are easier to use, why do people bother with corn tortillas? 

Corn tortillas have far more flavor. Some people prefer their earthy taste. The occasional breakage is worth it for their fantastic taste.

Flour tortillas, on the other hand, have a slight sweetness to them, making them better suited to breakfast and dessert burrito recipes.

Why Do Corn Tortillas Break?

Corn tortillas are more prone to breaking than flour tortillas because they tend to be firmer. 

Understanding why your corn tortillas keep breaking will help you prevent breakage in the future. Here are other reasons why your corn tortillas keep falling apart.

Composition

Fresh White Corn Tortillas

Corn tortillas don’t have any added fats. The added gluten is what prevents tortillas from cracking and being more susceptible to drying. This is partially why flour tortillas are more pliable.

Age

You might’ve kept your corn tortillas out for too long. As soon as a tortilla is more than a few days old, it is no longer flexible enough to accommodate rolling or fillings.

Temperature

Cold and dry corn tortillas are more likely to crack. Some corn tortillas contain lard. As the tortilla begins to cool, the lard will have a harder time binding, reducing your bread’s pliability.

Opening A Microwave

How to Get Fresh Corn Tortillas

After knowing why your corn tortillas are fraying everywhere, it’s time to find solutions and options, whether that involves buying from specialty stores or making your own corn tortillas.

Go to Specialty Stores

The best place to get fresh tortillas is at a traditional tortilleria, a bakery that only makes fresh tortillas.

Tortillas bought in supermarkets usually can’t compare. Nonetheless, tortillerias are only accessible if you live somewhere with a large Mexican population, such as the Southwest.

Make Them at Home

If you’re nowhere near a tortilleria, you can try to make corn tortillas at home. You’ll likely create fresher results than opting for supermarket tortillas.

Start by buying a masa harina and a tortilla press in specialty grocery stores or online. Find a reliable recipe online. You’ll never go back to the stale store-bought corn tortillas that fall apart from a delicate touch.

Use After Purchase

Now, you might have too much on your schedule to be making fresh corn tortillas from scratch. In this case, there’s no shame in going for the store-bought option.

Just make sure you use them immediately after purchase. Resealing it completely will help them stay as fresh as possible for longer.

Keep Them Warm

Corn tortillas are stiffer and more likely to break when they are cold. Heating them even just a little bit before you begin rolling will help them become more flexible.

You can heat your corn tortillas using various methods. It primarily depends on what is more convenient for you and what dish you’re planning to prepare.

  • Cook in Oil: Drizzle some neutral oil on a pan and wait until it’s warm. Place your corn tortillas and let them warm up for five to six seconds. If left for longer, you’ll risk frying them.
  • Dry Grill or Cast Iron Griddle: You can heat your corn tortillas on a dry grill or cast iron griddle for less than a minute on each side. This method works best if you are planning to make tacos or tostadas.
  • Microwave or Oven: Before placing your corn tortillas in an oven or microwave, wrap them in a damp paper towel. It’ll heat your tortillas and works particularly well if you’re planning to make enchiladas. Nevertheless, tortillas heated in the microwave tend to be too moist for tacos.

Retain Moisture

Another source of breakage for corn tortillas is dryness. Subsequently, you want to reintroduce moisture back. The microwave method mentioned above, where you heat tortillas in a microwave wrapped in a damp paper towel, helps retain moisture.

Make sure to use microwave-safe paper towels, rather than a rag. Otherwise, it could catch on fire and become a safety hazard. If you’re using any other fabric material, check to see if it’s microwave-safe.

Other than that, keep the microwave on a low heat setting and allow the damp paper towel to slightly cool beforehand. Make sure the paper towels are loose around your tortillas as well.

Besides that, you can also incorporate moisture by using a steamer. Wrap the tortillas in a towel when putting them in the steamer basket. Then, let them stay in the steamer for about 15 minutes after the water comes to a boil.

No matter what method you’re implementing to add moisture to your tortillas, be sure to monitor your tortillas closely. If you let them moisten for too long, they’ll become soggy and ruin your dish.

Use Sauce to Your Advantage

Enchiladas

If you’re making a dish with sauce, you can allow the sauce to moisten your tortillas. For instance, if you’re making enchiladas, soak your tortillas in a bit of your enchilada sauce. They’ll be moist enough to roll and include extra flavor.

A saucy dish such as enchiladas will also cover up any small cracks that do appear in your tortillas. The added moisture in the sauce will also work well on stale corn tortillas.

How to Keep Corn Tortillas Fresh While Cooking

Once you’ve put in the hard work of preparing your corn tortillas by heating them and moistening them, you don’t want to see that work go to waste.

At some point, you’ll have to turn away from your corn tortillas to focus on cooking the main filling or other side food items. During that time, your corn tortillas might crack and become brittle once more.

If you previously heated your tortillas using the microwave method, keep them wrapped in the damp towel or paper towel. Only take one tortilla at a time as you work. It’ll help them retain moisture.

If you used a grill or stovetop to heat your tortillas, you can wrap them in foil and place them in the oven so that they stay warm.

If they were already in the oven, you can keep them there until you prepare the rest of the feast. You’ll want to consider that heating corn tortillas in the oven will take a longer time compared to other methods.

Can You Use Stale Corn Tortillas?

You might have stale corn tortillas, but they’re not bad enough to throw away. Rather than feel guilty about discarding them, you can infuse them in certain recipes that don’t require any rolling or folding action.

For example, you can incorporate stale tortillas into your soup. All you have to do is fry them, grind them, then add them to your soup as it cooks. It’ll act as a thickener or cornstarch but with extra flavor.

Alternatively, you can cut them into quarters, fry them, and add them to your breakfast Chilaquiles.

If all these methods involve too many steps, you can always just create a batch of tortilla chips. You just need to cut them, place them on a baking sheet, brush some oil, sprinkle some salt, and bake them.

Final Thoughts

Corn tortillas are essential when creating delicious, authentic Mexican dishes like tacos and enchiladas. Their susceptibility to breakage and falling apart makes them a pain to cook with.

The good news is that you implement multiple methods to get your corn tortillas looking as good as new. Whether you choose to retain the moisture with the microwave method or heat it on a griddle, you can solve the cracking issue.

If all else fails, use your tortillas in a saucy dish that will cover any imperfections. Or, break them up and fry them to make tortilla chips. After all, it’s the taste that counts, not appearance.

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Jim Miller

Saturday 23rd of April 2022

As to "Corn tortillas have far more flavor and are more authentic to Mexican cuisine", this is a frequently repeated belief, but it is not true. Southern and central Mexico has little wheat, so corn is the grain of choice for tortillas. Northern Mexico grows plenty of wheat. The same rumor road tries to make Tex-Mex a fraud, while it is simply the cuisine of south Texas even before Texas became independent of Mexico.

Bruce

Tuesday 28th of June 2022

@Jim Miller, sadly we have a new tortilla shop/restaurant that just opened and thier tortillas, even doubled up, instantly break when picked up and it is soggy even when just meat is on it... What are they doing wrong?!?