There are actually right and (arguably) wrong applications for both.
While there’s no such thvngs as a bad tortilla, when it comes to choosing between the two varieties—corn and flour—there is a right place and time to use both of these humble but hugely important creations. Though the two kinds of tortilla were created thousands of years apart by very different cultural groups, today they serve side-by-side as the bases for the most craveable Mexican dishes.
Corn tortillas are undeniably the original, and have been part of the Mesoamerican diet for thousands of years, going as far back as 10,000 BC. This corn-based dietary staple became known as the “tortilla,” after Spanish conqueror Hernando Cortez nicknamed the flatbreads consumed by the natives after the Spanish word for ‘little cakes.’
Flour tortillas came along a few thousand years later, created by Spanish Jews who were exiled to current-day Panama as a result of the Inquisition. Though maize was considered non-kosher, they created their own take on the popular flatbreads using wheat they hauled from Europe, which became the flour tortilla we know and love today.
The flour tortilla eventually made its way to Mexico when a portion of these Jewish exiles settled in Northern Mexico, and still today this region of Mexico (including what is now Texas) is the only place in the country you’ll find flour tortillas served frequently.
While corn tortillas are typically utilized in more authentically Mexican dishes, flour tortillas have risen over the years to an equal importance, particularly in Americanized Tex-Mex style food. Here’s a breakdown of when to use each of these distinct tortillas—and the perfect recipes to get you started.
The beauty of a corn tortilla is in its simplicity, as the recipe essentially requires just two ingredients: maize and water. To create corn tortillas from scratch the traditional way, first corn kernels are cooked with lime and then ground—preferably on a grinding stone. Luckily for those of us without a grinding stone lying around, we can purchase bags of pre-ground Masa Harina to seriously simplify the process. The ground corn mixture is then combined with water, formed into balls, and flattened by hand before being cooked on a skillet or griddle.
Get the recipe: Corn Tortillas
When it comes to tacos, corn tortillas can’t be beat. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a taco being served in a flour tortilla from the street stands and restaurants of Mexico, and for good reason. The simplicity and earthiness of a well-made corn tortilla is the ultimate way to instantly improve a taco, and to capture a more authentic taste of Mexican cooking.
Get the recipe: Shrimp Tacos with Corn Salsa
Tostadas are served on a fried corn tortilla, so it goes without saying flour tortillas have no place here. Simply fry your fresh corn tortilla in oil for a short time to get that signature tostada crunch.
Get the recipe: Tostadas with Shredded Pork
Taquitos are also always made with a corn tortilla that’s been filled, rolled, and fried—with no exceptions. A simple and satisfying dish that can be served party-style with a dip, or dressed up with shredded lettuce, salsa, and guacamole at mealtime, taquitos are always guaranteed to please.
Get the recipe: Taquitos With Pork Picadillo
Another beloved rolled dish, enchiladas are also best made with corn tortillas, which are more resilient to the soaking and cooking process. While there’s a good chance you’ve eaten or prepared enchiladas made with flour tortillas before, corn still reigns supreme when it comes to the saucy rolled dish.
Get the recipe: Chicken Enchiladas
As a bonus, an excellent use for corn tortillas is creating homemade tortilla chips. Simply slice some fresh corn tortillas into quarters and fry, and your fiesta will be taken to a whole new level. Though flour tortillas can also be used to make tortilla chips, to achieve the crunch of a restaurant-style chip, corn is the way to go.
Get the recipe: Spicy Tortilla Chips
Though flour tortillas are the new(er) kid on the block compared to their corny cousin, there are a number of beloved Mexican dishes that require the glutenous version. Creating your own flour tortillas requires a few more ingredients than the corn recipe, but the process is still extremely simple in its own right. Flour is combined with baking powder, shortening, water and some salt for flavor, and formed into balls before being rolled out into thin circles and cooked on a skillet until lightly browned.
Get the recipe: Flour Tortillas
Though corn tortillas are generally the preferred taco base, when it comes to Breakfast Tacos flour is king. When utilizing heavier and heartier ingredients, like eggs, sausage, and potatoes, you want a sturdier base that can hold up to the weight. While a breakfast taco will still be tasty in a corn tortilla—it is still a taco, after all—nothing will complement this recipe quite like a warm flour base.
Get the recipe: Breakfast Tortillas
The burrito—a food that isn’t extremely popular in Mexico, but has become perhaps the most iconic staple of Mexican-American food—goes hand-in-hand with flour tortillas. After all, it’s rare to spot a corn tortilla that is big enough to contain the contents of your average burrito, typically filled to the brim with meat, rice, beans, and all of the fixings.
Get the recipe: Chicken and Black Bean-Stuffed Burritos
Fajitas also require a certain level of sturdiness to ensure that the tortilla doesn’t crumble to pieces as you’re trying to load up with flavorful slices of chicken, peppers, onions, and toppings like cheese and guac. Therefore, flour tortillas—preferably on the smaller side, as to not overwhelm the contents—work best for this sizzling dish.
Get the recipe: Chicken Fajitas
Quesadillas are, by nature, made with two flour tortillas—and it’s rare to find a version made with the corn alternative. The bonus here is that you get double the tortilla action in one warm, melty, cheese-filled package.
Get the recipe: Poblano, Chicken, and Mushroom Quesadillas
Flautas are the flour tortilla lover’s take on a taquito, made with the same method of filling, rolling, and frying. The benefit of opting for a flauta over its crunchier cousin is a softer, slightly crunchy result that’s less intense than the crumb-producing taquito. Most Flautas are made with wheat flour, though white flour tortillas will also do the trick.
Get the recipe: Beef Flautas with Buttermilk-Avocado Crema
For the perfect crunchy backdrop to your salad or burrito bowl, a tortilla bowl can come in handy. In order to recreate this restaurant-style dish—which will seriously up your taco salad game—a flour tortilla baked for a short time will do the trick.
Get the recipe: Chicken and Black Bean Taco Salad