You’re Eating Fake Tortillas

“Why is it that we have allowed people who are totally incompetent in food to design our food?” Diana Kennedy was saying, her gray and white hair lifting lightly in the breeze. “Our food doesn’t have the flavor it used to have. I remember the chile poblanos, full of flavor, thin-fleshed, very dark green, and that big. Now ¡olvidalo!”

Nixtamal is what makes a tortilla an actual tortilla, but few of us eat decent tortillas anymore. With nixtamalization, corn is soaked with cal, an alkanizing process that releases corn’s nutrients for better human absorption. Pre-hispanic peoples discovered the effect when they began grinding their maize against limestone.

The process worked for thousands of years among humans in what is now Mexico. But nixtamalization, being labor-intensive and time-consuming, began disappearing after the invention of industrialized corn flour and the resulting market dominance of Maseca.

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