A corn tortilla is a usual type of thin flatbread that is used to make tacos and wraps In North America, Mexico, and Central America. Don’t confuse them with the arepa, a tasty flatbread of ground maize dough, famous in South America particularly in Colombia and Venezuela.
Are they vegan? Yes, most corn tortillas are vegan. Methods vary, but corn tortillas are a combination of ground maize like white, yellow, black or blue, water, and additives such as plant gums, benzoic acid, and enzymes.
We will check some of the normal ingredients and why they’re accepted as vegan, and then also mention commercial tortillas available in the market that are 100% vegan-friendly.
Table of Contents
Why Corn Tortillas Are Generally Considered Vegan
Hominy Flour Is Vegan
Hominy stands for enlarged kernels of hulled corn without the germ and bran. The endosperm (starchy part) of the white hominy is soaked in lye and allowed to grow which increases the size of the corn.
After that, the corn is mixed with an alkalic element in a process known as “nixtamalization” with the pericarp removed. The whole process removes aflatoxins and other contaminants.
The corn is coarsely ground into small particles when it is dry.
The hominy flour makes corn tortilla dough, breakfast grits.
Hence, no animal products are required.
What about a little dark color of a few corn tortillas? No animal products are ever required to get the dark color feature for these corn-based tortillas.
In Guatemala and Mexico, they use various types of maize dough for making tortillas e.g. white, yellow, blue, or black.
The darker color is more usually seen in tortilla chips than in wraps or shells. Blue corn chips are found mostly on the same shelf as the regular potato, corn, and tortilla chips.
But you will see darker corn tortillas at one place or the other and they are as vegan-friendly as the yellow and white variations.
Most Corn Tortillas Use Vegan-Friendly Additives
We use the word ‘mostly’ since these manufacturers can be very creative in finding ways to use non-vegan ingredients, but 99% of the corn tortillas commercially seen in the market are free of any animal products.
But this isn’t true for normally readily available tortillas. It is sometimes heard on the Chowhound boards that some Mexican restaurants use lard in their corn tortillas.
Lard is a shortening derived from an animal called hog’s fat. It sounds so gross. You will find this element in some baked goods and pastries, though vegetable shortening seems to be much more common these days.
This is a rare ingredient, and we have never encountered any corn tortillas with lard in their mixture. This is especially true for commercial corn tortillas. It means you never know about the made-from-scratch tortillas.
It is enough to learn that normal corn tortilla formulation does not include lard. The only fat source you’ll see on the labels is partially or fully hydrogenated plant oils, which are always vegan-friendly.
Commercial Vegan Corn Tortillas
Guerrero White Corn Tortillas
- Corn masa flour
- Cellulose gum
- Propionic and benzoic acid (to preserve freshness)
- Phosphoric acid (another preservative)
- Guar gum
*We have already mentioned at the beginning of the article that enzymes are usually present in corn tortillas. Enzymes are found commonly in all bread products because they provide many useful functions. There are different enzymes that can be added in bread products, and amylase is among the most common.
Amylases break down complex carbohydrates into shorter chains – dextrins and sugars.
In tortillas, enzymes optimize baking properties, improve product quality, and reduce or avoid staling due to chemical and physical changes after baking.
Vegans may avoid enzymes because they can be derived from both plants and animals. Amylase can be produced from animals, but it is usually manufactured microbially via bacteria or fungi.
The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) mentions alpha-amylase as particularly vegan.
Prudent and conscious vegans may avoid this, but products containing amylase are not considered non-vegan.
La Banderita Yellow Corn Tortillas
Ingredients for these include
- Ground corn treated w/ lime
- Calcium propionate
- Carboxymethyl cellulose* (to preserve freshness)
- Monocalcium phosphate
- Potassium sorbate (a preservative)
- Fumaric Acid (a dough conditioner)
Carboxymethyl cellulose, or CMC, is also known as cellulose gum, which is derived from cellulose naturally present in vegetables. Cellulose and its derivatives are always considered vegan.
Mission Extra Thin Yellow Corn Tortillas
- Ground yellow corn treated with lime
- Cellulose gum
- Propionic acid (to preserve freshness)
- Benzoic acid (also for freshness)
- Phosphoric acid (a preservative)
- Guar gum*
*Guar gum is derived from guar beans. It’s used as a thickener and stabilizer bread and ice cream. It has properties similar to gelatin, so people often enquire if it’s vegan.
Yes, guar gum is considered vegan. It’s produced from a bean, so it’s based on plants and thus vegan.
Mission White Corn Tortillas
- Ground white corn treated with lime
- Carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC)
- Propionic and benzoic acids (to preserve freshness)
- Phosphoric acid (a preservative)
- Guar gum
That’s was the fact file of the vegan status of corn tortillas. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Nixtamalization. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nixtamalization
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 353). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 352). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Is Lard Traditional in Corn Tortillas? – General Discussion – https://www.chowhound.com/post/lard-traditional-corn-tortillas-1016316
- Guerrero White Corn Tortillas, 80 Count. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Guerrero-White-Corn-Tortillas-80-Count/12166719
- Bakery Enzymes in Tortilla Applications (Effect of Enzymes on Tortillas). https://www.tortilla-info.com/downloads/Europe%2018/Agha%20-%20Bakery%20Enzymes%20in%20Tortilla%20Applications.pdf
- Amylase. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amylase#%CE%B1-Amylase
- Questions About Food Ingredients. https://www.vrg.org/nutshell/faqingredients.htm#amylase
- Product Of La Banderita, Yellow Corn Tortillas, Count 1 – Mexican Food / Grab Varieties & Flavors. https://www.instacart.com/giant/products/317322-la-banderita-mini-taco-corn-tortillas-80-ct-45-17-oz
- Mission Extra Thin Yellow Corn Tortillas. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Mission-Extra-Thin-Yellow-Corn-Tortillas-24-Count/10309354
- Mission White Corn Tortillas. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Mission-White-Corn-Tortillas-80-Count/12166959