In search of non-GMO corn tortillas – Part One

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One thing leads to another.

There’s that moment you realize diet can actually help heal your child’s chronic ear infections – and before you know it – you own a juicer, use coconut oil for everything, and find yourself making trips to different grocery stores in search of organic potatoes and non-GMO tortillas.  You barely dip your toe into the waters of ‘natural living’ and before long you are swimming in the deep end with fermenting sauerkraut and kombucha in the basement.

At least that’s the way it worked with me.

Leaving processed, convenience food behind has meant embracing some inconvenience: reading labels, planning ahead and a little more time in the kitchen.  Most days I love it, and I know it’s worth it.

I love a soft, warm corn tortilla. I have a tortilla press, but I never learned the right way to use it, and my first attempt at homemade tortillas was a thick, sticky failure.

Realizing that corn is one of the most commonly genetically modified foods, I began the hunt for organic, non-GMO corn tortillas – (good tortilla chips and corn tortillas – we can’t live without them).  The non-GMO tortillas I found were stiff as cardboard (even after steaming), and the chips were getting pricey.

A dear friend recently gifted me a grain mill (insert angels singing).  So I wondered…could I find some organic corn, grind it,  and make some from scratch?  Well, it wouldn’t be quite that easy…  corn tortillas aren’t made from simple ground corn, they are made from Masa Harina – the same thing that tamales are made from.

Masa Harina is corn meal made from dried maize (or field corn) that has been soaked in limewater, then dried again and ground.  The process is called nixtamalization, (the Aztecs used this process).  After being soaked – the corn releases it’s vitamin B3 content, increases in calcium and protein availability and reduces toxins.  Basically – it makes the nutrients available and gives the corn a smoother, creamier texture.

That whole process seemed a bit daunting, so I decided to just buy some organic Masa Harina and try that first.

I was satisfied (from reading up on the Bob’s Red Mill website) that their Masa Harina was indeed, organic and non GMO, though it’s not labeled…(something about the soaking in lime process can’t technically be certified organic – even though lime (calcium hydroxide) is a natural substance).

*We later received this note from a Bob’s Red Mill Customer Service Specialist: “Our Masa Harina is not organic. It is non-GMO as are all our products. This has been the case since the late ‘70s. We only purchase from farmers who do not use GMO derived seeds. This means the conventional, organic, and gluten free are all from non-GMO seeds.”

The recipe for corn tortillas (from the back of the package) was simple: water, masa & some salt.  I got the hang of it pretty quickly … Here’s what I learned.

You really just want it to come together to form a smooth dough, not too wet.  Next, cover your dough and chill in the fridge for an hour.  Don’t skip this.  I tried without chilling, (I’m not the best at reading the WHOLE recipe before I start) and had a hard time handling them.  They were falling apart before I could get them to the pan.

After the dough has been chilled, (amazing what you can do when you follow instructions!) form some of the dough into a 2-3 inch sized ball and get ready to press.

Use a plastic bag (recycled produce bag works well) to keep the dough from sticking to the press (aha! another important tip I was missing the first time!)

Get your skillet or pan nice and hot – and carefully unpeel the plastic, and flip the tortilla into the pan. Don’t worry if they tear or aren’t perfect – I tell myself the uneven edges give them a ‘rustic’ look.

When I took them off the pan at first – I was disappointed. They felt a bit stiff – not as soft as I’d hoped… but after they’d been tucked into a dish towel and kept warm in a covered pot, they steamed and softened nicely.  Whew!

(* As I’ve experimented with this recipe, I found that adding 1 tbs. arrowroot powder as a binder/thickener gives these tortillas an even softer, more flexible texture)

Success!  A delicious, organic tortilla, wonderfully warm and fresh off the griddle.  They tasted great for the meal, but I will admit, the leftovers were not great the next day.  Wonder what preservatives are in the store bought kind to keep them from getting tough…and maybe that’s why the organic store-bought ones were on the tough side as well.

Next… to attempt to find whole corn and see if the soaked, home-ground-Masa-made tortillas are any better.  I’m up for the challenge!  Especially when good food is the reward…

Print Recipe

Corn Tortillas

Source: The back of a Bob’s Red Mill Masa Harina Corn Flour bag (altered a bit)

Cuisine: Mexican

Serves: 12

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Masa Harina Corn Flour
  • 1 Tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
  • .5 Teaspoon Sea Salt
  • 1.5 Cups Hot Water

Directions

  1. Mix the salt and arrowroot powder into the masa harina corn flour.
  2. Slowly pour the water into the dough to get a good consistency. The dough should be firm and springy when touched, not dry or sticky.
  3. Let the dough chill for an hour, covered in the refrigerator.
  4. Preheat a griddle or flat surface.
  5. Divide the dough into 2 inch balls.
  6. Press dough between two pieces of wax paper, or flatten according to tortilla press directions.
  7. Place flattened dough on a hot griddle or flat surface and cook until the top of the tortilla starts to look cooked, about 1 minute.
  8. Flip to the other side and heat for a few seconds.

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29 Responses to In search of non-GMO corn tortillas – Part One

  1. One time when we were in Guatemala, we lived in a remote area with a native family for several days. We ate tortillas for every meal made with corn soaked in lime water, then taken to the community mill and ground. She patted out the tortillas with her hands- perfectly!, and placed them on her open wood fire, on a flat rock that was over the fire. They were great anytime, hot or cold!

  2. I make tortillas as well (and other flat breads… na’an is a favorite around here). :) I like a mix of flour and corn, to be honest. I find they’re softer and nicer for wrapping. I use waxed paper in my press, mostly because I actually leave the tortillas inside their little wax covering until just seconds before they hit the grill – it keeps them moist and easier to handle. ;)

  3. Food For Life makes a sprouted corn tortilla that has just 4 ingredients: Organic Sprouted Corn, Filtered Water, Sea Salt, Lime. I buy them all the time at Whole Foods.

  4. Here’s a little trick we use to keep our tortillas pliable. Line your tortilla warmer with a damp cloth, place the tortillas in after they are finished on the griddle. This helps steam them a bit. I do this with store bought and my homemade tortillas.

  5. I laughed and cried all at once when I read the first paragraph. You sound exactly like me. That was my experience too.

  6. Thank you for this solution, I too love corn tortillas and have determined to replace any and all gmo food products with a non gmo solution, whatever the labor or time involved. Its wonderful to find your efforts and recipe here, you’ve saved me a lot of searching. Thank you again!

  7. Thanks so much! I found a store with Bob’s Red Mill Masa Harina close to my house… I had already started making tortillas from some Masa Harina my Girlfriend bought, but I am SURE its GMO… Now I just need a Tortilla Press :-)

    thanks again…

  8. I understand why it cannot be labeled organic, but how do you know it is from non gmo corn if it isn’t labeled?

  9. Hello! I’m hoping it’s true, that Bob’s Masa is really organic, or at least GMO-free. I’ve looked at their website and haven’t found the reassurance that Sarah did. ? Am I looking in the wrong place? I do not understand why soaking in lime would disallow organic labeling, and certainly they would seem to be eligible to certify with the Non-GMO project? Please advise. Thanks!

  10. Heather and Laura – Here is the statement that I found on Bob’s Red Mill website. It is under the FAQ’s section:

    “Are your products genetically modified?

    No. All of our products originate from identity-preserved, non-GMO seeds. This means that the seed planted in the ground is non-GMO. We do not guarantee the complete absence of GMO materials in our products because of wind drift, pollinators and our lack of testing equipment.”

    As for why the process of nixtamalization can’t technically be certified organic – I’m still trying to understand. Here is another source of Non-GMO Masa Harina Corn Flour that you can purchase online:
    http://www.purcellmountainfarms.com/Masa%20Harina.htm

    Hope that helps!

    • I am not finding that statement on Bob’s site. Not finding FAQ’s either. Maybe they have changed their site since your posting?

      The other link you noted is definitely GMO free! Have you tried it yet?

      Also, is there a part 2 to this post? I don’t see it.
      Maybe my navigating skills are lacking since I have over dosing on research lately! :-)

  11. It was very helpful and interesting reading about making your own corn tortillas. Thanks for posting it. Im going to start doing that myself.
    John

  12. I bought Bobs Red Mill mesa flour, then I read nothing on the bag that said organic, or non gmo . I made tortillas with the mesa from Bobs Red Mill, and sure enough, I woke up with a corn hangover. …………… Like I’d just had a 6 pack of beer the past night. I wrote Bobs Red Mill, and asked if the make their own mesa, I asked if it is organic . I asked if it was non gmo, and I got no answer. I’d suspect the Bobs Red Mill just bought some bulk mesa flour, bagged it, and doubled the price.

    • Dear Robert,

      I am loughing at your comment, where you said you woke up with a corn hang over, as if you’v had a 6-pack beer.
      It’s normal the first times you eat corn tortillas. It feels as if you ate stones.

      With regard to the quality of the corn, I called Red Mill the other day, and they called me back and told me that their corn is not labeled organic because of technicalities, but they assured me it was non GMO.

      They say the reason they cannot say their corn masa is organic is because the process of nixtamilization contains cal, and they say this process contains the chemical which makes them impossible to label organic. That’s what they told me.

      I grew up cooking the corn with cal in order to make tortillas, now I have to research if cal is natural or chemically man-made.

      However, this company, http://www.minsa.com, labels their masa organic. I bought from them a 50-pond bag, and had to return it because the masa harina was so course it would not hold to make a tortilla.

      I thought I would write you this to let you know there is plenty of us trying to come up with solutions to this Monsanto killing.

      My next try is Red Mill.

      Thank you for reading,

      Kindly,
      Leticia

      • That’s so strange, because I had exactly the opposite experience with Minsa’s organic masa harina!

        I’ve bought 50 lb bags of the white, yellow, and blue, and when I did a comparison of Gold Mine Natural Foods vs. Bob’s Red Mill vs. Minsa, I found that Minsa’s flour was by far the finest and easiest to work with, especially if I wanted to handpat a tortilla instead of pressing it.

        After trying all three, these were my results:

        Bob’s Red Mill
        Good flavor but not fine enough, which makes the dough difficult to work with, especially when I wanted to handpat the tortillas; they were easier to press.

        Gold Mine Natural Foods
        Also good flavor but not fine enough, and the tortillas have a tendency to come out rather crunchy.

        Minsa
        Very fine (comparable to Maseca) and I’m able to handpat them and to press them, and my tortillas inflate very well. I believe that the fineness of the flour makes it possible to add more water, which makes the tortilla softer and more pliable; the thicker flours above tended to create drier tortillas.

        And I personally love the flavor of their yellow corn. Of course, as far as I know they only sell in 50 lb quantities which wouldn’t be convenient for a lot of people.

  13. I been on the search for an organic or at least non gmo corn masa or tortillas so un till I find it, what I do for my mixing since for masa you only supposed to add warm water, I do half & half, of organic whole wheat flour & masa mix, & mix it very well & have the skillet hot & ready, try to do thin tortillas with your pres, so they could fluf up easily!.

  14. Dear Plan to Eat,

    I wonder if you have already used the mill which was given to you(“A dear friend recently gifted me a grain mill”).

    I am looking myself for a mill which would grind the nixtamalized corn. One which would grind the corn as fine as Maseca.

    I know how to nixtamalize the corn so the tortillas would be as fine in quality as Maseca makes them. I just need the mill to grind the corn super fine.

    If your grinder does a superfine job, just let me know. I can tell you how to prepare your corn for super soft tortillas. Ones which next day they would be perfect. There is no preservative added to the corn masa or Maseca in this case, it has to do with the cooking of the corn. If you cook the corn to the correct point or time, the tortillas are a asuccess.

    I grew up making tortillas, and grinding the nixtamized corn on a stone, but here in the US those stones are not available. And there are no electric mills where to take the nixtamailzed corn to grind as there are in all Latin America. That’s why Monsanto and Maseca are making a kill.

    I hope to hear from you.

    Kindly,

    Leticia

  15. I am Mexican. At my grandma’s place, the cook always prepared the tortillas with corn harina for masa, and added a little bit of wheat flour as well to make it more soft and elastic. Corn harina alone is not elastic enough. Hope it helps ;)

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