Categories: nutritions

Corn vs. Flour Tortilla: What’s the Difference?


Frequently featured in Mexican dishes, tortillas are a great main ingredient to consider.

However, you may wonder whether corn or flour tortillas make the healthier choice.

This article explores the differences between corn and flour tortillas to help you decide.

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Tortillas are a thin flatbread, usually made from either corn or wheat flour. Their popularity in the United States has surged, as has the number of health-focused options.

They’re considered a staple in Mexican cuisine. Historically, corn tortillas were passed down from the Aztecs, whereas flour tortillas were first made after Spaniards introduced wheat to Mexico (1, 2).

There is some variation as to how both varieties are made.

Production

Traditionally, corn tortillas begin with a process called nixtamalization. It involves cooking corn, also known as maize, in an alkaline solution of calcium hydroxide, or limewater.

Corn kernels are then stone-ground to create a masa, or corn dough. This is shaped, flattened into thin disks, and baked to create tortillas (1).

Most corn tortillas in stores have been made via an industrial approach to nixtamalization, which utilizes a mill (1, 3).

While traditional tortillas are made from 100% corn, mass-produced versions may be made from dehydrated corn flour, or masa harina, with some wheat flour blended into it (1, 3).

Nixtamalization is an important step that helps enhance the nutritional profile of the corn tortilla. It was traditionally used in Mayan and Aztec cultures (1, 2).

Today, manufacturing practices have adapted this process for larger-scale operations involving dry and fresh masa flours (1, 4).

On the other hand, flour tortillas are typically made of a dough of refined wheat flour, water, shortening or lard, salt, baking soda, and other ingredients to help develop the gluten. This yields a softer and sturdier texture (1).

While they’re usually made with refined wheat flour, more nutritious whole-wheat varieties are available (5).

Nutritional profiles

Given their distinct ingredients, corn and flour tortillas have different nutritional profiles.

Here’s a nutritional comparison of one large corn tortilla (44 grams) and one medium flour tortilla (45 grams) (6, 7):

Corn tortillas are a good source of fiber and magnesium. Fiber is important for digestion and heart health, while magnesium plays vital roles for your brain, heart, and muscles (8, 9).

Studies show that many people in the United States don’t get enough of these crucial nutrients (10, 11).

Corn tortillas are also considered a whole grain and lower in carbs, calories, and fat than flour tortillas (6, 7).

Flour tortillas tend to pack more fat because they’re usually made with lard or shortening.

Still, they provide more iron, which your body needs to properly supply your muscles and other tissues with oxygen (7, 12).

Summary Corn tortillas were made by the Aztecs and involve an important process known as nixtamalization. Nutritionally, they deliver less sodium, carbs, fat, and calories than flour tortillas.

Corn tortillas tend to outshine flour tortillas as the healthier option.

Whole grains

Corn flour is considered a cereal grain. This means that each corn tortilla made from 100% corn delivers 100% whole grains (13).

Whole grains provide more fiber, which is beneficial for your heart and digestive health (13).

It’s worth noting that whole-wheat tortillas also offer some whole grains, but the exact amount depends on the blend used in the product (13).

Gluten

Flour tortillas are made from wheat, which contains gluten⁠ — a collective term referring to many types of proteins found in certain grains like wheat, barley, and rye (14, 15).

If you have a wheat allergy, celiac disease, or gluten intolerance or sensitivity, you should not consume gluten or flour tortillas. Generally, if you have any of these conditions, 100% corn tortillas are your best option, as they’re gluten-free.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune response to gluten, causing damage to your digestive tract. Thus, people with celiac disease should not eat flour tortillas and stick only to 100% corn tortillas (16).

If gluten is a concern for you, keep in mind that you should still read the ingredient list, as some mass-produced corn tortillas may have wheat flour blended into them (3, 14).

Portion control

Corn tortillas are usually smaller in diameter, with a typical tortilla measuring in at about 6 inches (15 cm). Flour tortillas tend to be larger, usually between 8–10 inches (20–25 cm). This means that corn tortillas have built-in portion control.

If you frequent authentic taco shops, be mindful that one taco is often made with a double layer of corn tortillas. This helps make the taco sturdier and more filling but increases the calorie, carb, and fat content.

Flour tortillas are sturdier, which is why they’re usually used for dishes like burritos, which have more fillings. If your dish requires a flour tortilla, opt for a whole-wheat variety. This will pack an extra bit of nutrients like fiber and important minerals.

Summary Corn tortillas are a healthier alternative to flour tortillas. They provide more whole grains and have built-in portion control, as they’re typically smaller than flour tortillas. They’re also gluten-free and thus suitable for people who cannot tolerate gluten.

If you’re looking for the healthier option, corn tortillas outshine their flour alternative.

Corn tortillas deliver fiber, whole grains, and other nutrients while being lower in fat and calories than flour tortillas.

100% corn tortillas are also safe for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Still, you may want to choose flour tortillas for heavier fillings, as they tend to be sturdier.

Whichever you select, be sure to top your tortilla with plenty of veggies and beans to make it a truly nutritious meal.



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