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Bringing back the ancient tradition of the tortilla

Tortillas should never be made with wheat flour – they should only be made of corn
Chef Israel Alvarez shows off a ball of fresh cornmeal and the grinding stone at Maiiz Nixtamal Corn Tortillas. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)

By Nicole Crescenzi

Black Press Media contributor

Many people will recognize the tortilla as a humble flatbread used to hold other ingredients, but its origins are actually divine.

According to ancient Mesoamerican tales from peoples like the Mayans and Aztecs, it was a god or goddess of maize who taught people how to harvest and prepare corn into tortillas, a process which modern mass producers fail to follow.

Chef Israel Alvarez Molina, who once held the role of chef de cuisine at Pujol – one of the top 50 restaurants in North America according to the 2021 San Pellegrino List – is also the owner of Victoria’s Maiiz Nixtamal Tortilleria, located at 540 Fisgard Rd. According to Israel, mass-marketed tortillas or corn flour are produced for speed and profit which ignores the essence of tradition, nutrition and taste.

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For one, tortillas should never be made with wheat flour – they should only be made of corn. Secondly, that corn needs to be slowly prepared through a process called nixtamalization in order to make a dough with proper texture and bioavailability.

This 20-plus-hour process includes soaking the kernels in a mixture of water and food-grade lime (calcium hydroxide) – something which ancient peoples did using limestone or ash. The kernels are then cooked, hulled and ground using lavarock to create a thick dough called masa. The masa not only tastes better, but offers vitamin B, B12, niacin and calcium – nutrients which were difficult for the Aztecs to find when they didn’t have access to dairy.

Untreated corn flour hasn’t gone through the chemical processes needed to bind to itself, resulting in a crumbly tortilla with a bland taste or, even worse, the inclusion of chemical additives, toxins and GMOs.

Mexican corn looks very different from Canadian corn. The traditional Bolita corn is large and comes in many colours, while the Canadian dent corn is small and yellow. Israel now uses organic versions of both of these corns in his tortillas in an effort to merge Mexican and Canadian identities.

At the end of the day, a properly prepared tortilla isn’t just the shell of a meal: it’s the star of the show.


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