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In search of non-GMO corn tortillas – Part One

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


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


  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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  • I had the same experience with first time debacle and we laughed together as I read your piece! (Clearing tears from eyes)…It all makes for a memorable marriage.
    I since mix salt with Masa and then add in 1 Tablespoon of safflower oil to 2 cups Masa Harina corn tortilla recipe then with very hot water (never seems to be the same amount twice–depends on weather). Made 10 of 6-8 inch ones last night use 1 and one half recipe. Of course this goes through a lot of Masa Harina…but I buy 4 bags at Amazon shipped free to me for about $12.50-$13 for 4 bags.
    I did note that Bob’s Mill package does state best if kept refrigerated or freeze. So downstairs in backup refrigerator they go.

    I also found that these cooked corn tortillas freeze well in zip top bag if you leave them to get cold first in a towel, so after dinner they get frozen (if any are left).
    Speaking of zip top bag…I cut off one zip top zipping edge from heavier or freezer zip top and then slit along 2 sides at seams so that only attached at one folded side–this makes a great re-useable plastic surface for my tortilla press & I keep it in the box w/tortilla press, but you could also use this between two clear 9 or 10 inch Pyrex pie plates to squeeze mixture in between.

    Thanks for sharing!
    BTW–do you have a good direction recipe for Tamales?

    CJ May 2, 2014 AT 10:25 am
  • I didn’t read all the comments but I was thinking you could use parchment paper too. Not using recycle but it would work.

    Lois April 28, 2014 AT 1:10 pm
  • 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 ;)

    Marina February 13, 2014 AT 9:34 pm
  • 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.



    Leticia October 29, 2013 AT 2:59 am
  • 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!.

    Erika October 22, 2013 AT 8:43 pm

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