It's Homemade Tortillas Or Bust For Chef Rick Martinez

Chef and author of "Mi Cocina: Recipes and Rapture From My Kitchen in Mexico," which won the 2023 James Beard award for best international cookbook, Rick Martinez knows a thing or two about tacos. He shared some of the key mistakes to avoid when making tacos with Tasting Table, including the type of tortillas to avoid. "Store-bought American tortillas are horrible," says Martinez. "Store-bought to homemade tortillas are like sliced white bread to a crusty warm French baguette. There is absolutely no comparison."

The problem with store-bought tortillas, particularly corn tortillas available in grocery stores, is that masa is highly perishable on its own. In order to make them shelf-stable, preservatives are often added to commercially produced corn tortillas. Those preservatives, however, also affect the taste of the tortillas, and not in a good way. "The preservatives add a slight sourness. If you open a package of corn tortillas at the grocery store, they have this weird sour note to them like somebody put a spritz of vinegar in the bag," explains Martinez.

How to get better tasting tortillas

For Martinez, homemade tortillas are the only way to go. However, he acknowledges that making tortillas from scratch isn't always something that the average home cook has time for. "The reality is, we don't often have time to make the homemade version and so we settle for store bought." Settling for store bought doesn't mean having to settle for sour, preservative laden tortillas though. Preservative free tortillas do exist, though it requires venturing beyond your regular grocery store. "You can find good, preservative free tortillas in most major cities," Martinez notes, "just look for Tortillerias (tortilla bakery) in your area."

Martinez adds that, "if you have a little more free time, only about an hour is needed, you can buy the fresh masa (corn dough) from them as well and try your hand at making homemade tortillas." If you can't find fresh masa, you can also use masa harina, an instant corn masa flour that can be mixed with water, though Martinez recommends avoiding the white masa harina typically offered by larger manufacturers and opting for a more flavorful yellow or blue version if possible. There are also ways to make store-bought tortillas taste restaurant quality at least, though homemade will always be the best, if you have the time and the right ingredients, as Martinez always does.