Tortilla means "little cake" in Spanish, and refers
to several different foods eaten in various Spanish speaking
countries and parts of the United States.
In Mexico, Central America, as well as in English, "tortilla"
refers to a flatbread made from corn or wheat originally made by
In Spain, South America, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, "tortilla"
refers to an omelets, with variations that can include vegetables
such as onions and potatoes.
Tortillas have been used for many centuries in
Mexico, where they are consumed year round. More recently other
countries have begun producing them to serve the expatriate Mexican
market and the growing demand for Mexican food, particularly in
North America, Europe and Eastern Asia.
Mexican tortillas are most commonly prepared with meat to make
dishes such as tacos, burritos, and enchiladas, however, there are
many alternate versions without meat.
Different meanings of tortilla
Spanish word tortilla denotes two different classes
of foods, depending on where the term is encountered.
In Spain, Puerto Rico, Cuba, South America, a tortilla
is any omelet, often a round, layered omelette (i.e., not folded
over), most typically made with chopped potatoes (Tortilla de
patatas) cooked in vegetable oil, mixed with beaten eggs and such
seasonings as the chef desires, and cooked very slowly on the stove.
It is usually served cold as an appetizer, tapas, or bar snack. The
terms Spanish tortilla, tortilla espa�ola or tortilla de patatas all
refer to a common recipe in Spain, an omelette with fried potatoes
and chopped onion, often served in Spanish bars and caf�s.
American versions of Spanish and South American tortilla are usually
cooked in vegetable shortening, commonly with bell pepper and/or
onion and/or chives; and typically served warm instead of cold.
In Panama, a tortilla is a deep fried cornmeal
disk, slightly smaller than a hockey puck.
But it is the Mexican meaning of "tortilla" that
may be most familiar throughout the world. The corn tortilla
(tortilla de maze), made from specially treated (nixtamalized) maize
flour, have been a staple food of the Mexican region since
pre-Columbian times; these are also now commonly made from wheat
flour (tortilla de harina or tortilla de trigo).
The two versions of the Mexican tortilla have
different textures owing to the grains from which they originate:
the maize version is somewhat thicker and heartier in texture, while
the wheat version is less easily broken, due to its elevated gluten
content, and therefore often larger in circumference.
Corn tortillas are commonly eaten throughout the western world as
tortilla chips, and are an essential ingredient in
many popular Mexican and dishes such as enchiladas, tostadas, and
flautas. Tacos, while commonly made with corn
tortillas in Mexico, are made with either maize or wheat
tortillas in the US.
The flour tortilla is probably best known as the
tortilla used to make burritos, a dish originating
in northern Mexico. Wheat tortillas have also become a staple of the
peoples of northwestern Mexican states (such as Sonora and
Chihuahua) and many southwestern US American Indian tribes.
Maize tortillas are known in the Basque region of
Spain as talo and were a traditional Basque farmers' staple until
the introduction of rail borne wheat flour suitable for bread. There
are maize tortillas in other regions of Northern Spain, such as
Asturias, where they are called frixuelos, and Galicia, where they
receive the name of filloas.
The South American tortilla of Argentina, Bolivia
and Chile, is inspired by the Mexican food, but is a small flat
cake, usually salty, made with wheat or corn flour, and cooked over
Use in Mexican cuisine
are used to prepare many Mexican and, more generally, Latin American
dishes. Traditionally, all these dishes (except burritos) are made
with corn, not flour, tortillas. The dishes include:
- tacos dorados
- tortilla chips
- tortilla soup