Corn tortillas are a versatile food that can be used in all kinds of dishes. They add an authentic Mexican flavor to many meals.
However, corn tortillas are also prone to breaking. Breakage is not as big a problem when you are making a saucy dish such as enchiladas, but 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 continue to enjoy tacos, enchiladas, and more without worrying about spilling all over yourself.
Corn Tortillas Versus Flour Tortillas
Corn tortillas are not the only type of tortilla out there. Many home cooks and Mexican restaurants use flour tortillas instead.
Corn tortillas are made by curing corn in lime water and creating a dough called masa. The process for making flour tortillas is similar to the one for making corn tortillas, except that they are made with wheat flour and usually have added fat so that the dough comes together easier.
Corn tortillas are more authentic for most Mexican meals, including tacos and enchiladas. However, flour tortillas are better for dishes that have more filling, such as burritos and fajitas.
Flour tortillas tend to be larger than corn tortillas and more flexible. They can wrap larger fillings without breaking.
If flour tortillas are so easy to use, then why do people bother with corn tortillas? Corn tortillas have far more flavor and are more authentic to Mexican cuisine. The occasional breakage is worth it for their fantastic taste.
Why Do Corn Tortillas Break?
Corn tortillas are more prone to breaking than flour tortillas because they tend to be firmer. They do not have any added fats, which is partially what makes flour tortillas more pliable.
Several factors can make corn tortillas more likely to break, including age, heat, or moisture. Understanding why your corn tortillas keep breaking will help you prevent breakage in the future.
Keep Them Fresh
One of the main reasons why corn tortillas tend to break is if they are stale. As soon as a tortilla is more than a few days old, it is no longer flexible enough to accommodate rolling or fillings.
The best place to get fresh tortillas is at a traditional tortilleria, a bakery that only makes fresh tortillas. Tortillas bought in supermarkets usually cannot compare. However, tortillerias are only accessible if you live somewhere with a large Mexican population, such as the Southwest.
If you want guaranteed fresh tortillas, you can always try making them at home. You can buy masa harina and a tortilla press in specialty grocery stores or online, then you’re always going to have a supply of fresh corn tortillas on hand.
If you cannot find a fresh tortilleria near you and don’t have the time to make your own, then grocery store tortillas can still work. You just have to make sure to put in the effort to keep your tortillas fresh.
The best way to avoid stale corn tortillas is to use them soon after buying them. Once you open a bag of corn tortillas, make sure that you reseal it completely so that they 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.
There are several different ways to heat your tortillas quickly, depending on what is more convenient for you and what dish you are planning to prepare.
You can heat your corn tortillas on a dry grill or cast iron griddle for less than a minute on each side (any longer, and they will become too crispy for anything but tortilla chips). This method works best if you are planning to make tacos or tostadas.
If you are making enchiladas, you can add a little bit of oil to the pan because the extra moisture will improve the taste.
You can also heat your corn tortillas in a microwave or oven by wrapping your tortillas in a damp paper towel. This will heat your tortillas and works particularly well if you are planning to make enchiladas, but tortillas heated in the microwave tend to be too moist for tacos.
Another source of breakage for corn tortillas is a lack of moisture. Corn tortillas are prone to drying out if they are a few days old or have been left outside for too long.
You can easily boost the moisture levels of your tortillas before preparing them, and that will prevent breakage. The microwave method mentioned above, where you heat tortillas in a microwave wrapped in a damp towel, helps retain moisture.
Another way to increase the moisture of corn tortillas is to use 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 are using to add moisture to your tortillas, be sure to monitor your tortillas closely. If you let them moisten for too long, they will become soggy and ruin your dish.
Use Sauce to Your Advantage
When you are making a dish with sauce, such as enchiladas, you can use that sauce to moisten your tortillas. Soak your tortillas in a little of your enchilada sauce before you begin rolling, and they will be moist enough to roll and have extra flavor.
A saucy dish such as enchiladas will also cover up any small cracks that do appear in your tortillas. If your corn tortillas are a few days old and you are worried about how stale they are, enchiladas are a great way to use them up.
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. However, if you leave your tortillas unattended while you’re preparing the rest of the meal, they could become brittle again and break.
If you heated your tortillas using the microwave method, keep them wrapped in the damp towel or paper towel and only take one tortilla at a time as you work. This will 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. You can also warm them in the oven in the first place, although this method tends to be slower than the other ones.
Corn tortillas are a crucial ingredient in delicious, authentic Mexican dishes such as tacos and enchiladas. However, they can be a pain to cook with since they are prone to breaking.
By making sure your tortillas are fresh, helping them retain moisture, and heating them before use, you can prevent them from cracking or breaking.
If all else fails, use your tortillas in a saucy dish that will cover up any imperfections. Or, break them up and fry them to make tortilla chips. After all, it’s the taste that counts, not appearance.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.