“Pirate” tortillas: This is how you can distinguish between a traditional and a “fake”


Since pre-Hispanic times, corn tortillas have been considered the basis of the diet of Mexicans; however, not even this proudly Mexican invention is safe from being a victim of piracy.

In these times not even corn tortillas are free from being victims of piracy, since every day the ” pirate tortillas” occupy a space in the market, and with the rise in their price; so it is possible that a good part of Mexicans has eaten one of these, at least once, without even knowing it.

Since pre-Hispanic times, tortillas have been considered the basis of the diet of Mexicans, since they have been present on the tables of families from Mesoamerican cultures to the present day.

Recently, businessmen from the industry revealed to Grupo Formula that the phenomenon of ” pirate tortillas” has currently flooded the market with poor-quality products of dubious origin. 

In the opinion of the owners of tortilla factories, as is the case of Blanca Mejía, this situation not only generates conditions of unfair competition in the market; but it could also put the health of Mexicans at risk, who buy tortillas in small stores because they are cheaper without knowing that they could be consuming poor quality products.

There is even currently a project to modify NOM-187, which regulates the preparation of tortillas so that tortilla factories are obliged to inform consumers about the ingredients they use to prepare their tortillas.

Faced with this complaint, at Grupo Formula we took on the task of visiting different tortilla shops and small stores in Mexico City (CDMX) until we managed to find the “pirate tortillas”.

The Battle of the Taco: Traditional Tortillas vs. pirate tortillas 

For this case we will define two types of tortillas: “traditional” tortillas, which are made in formal tortilla factories and with ingredients whose origin is known, and “pirate” tortillas, which in most cases are made in “clandestine” tortilla factories. and with ingredients of dubious origin.

These are the main differences between traditional and “pirate” tortillas:

traditional omelettes 

  • Place of elaboration: The traditional tortillas are elaborated in formally established tortilla factories, which have all the permits and respect the quality norms in the elaboration of food. In your case, they can also be made by hand, as is the case in many towns in Mexico.
  • Point of sale: Tortilla shops.
  • Ingredients: For the preparation of traditional tortillas, 100 percent nixtamalized corn dough is usually used, although the recipe of each miller and tortilla maker differs, so some add a little corn flour to the dough, but this does not change the result much. final.
  • Appearance and taste: The tortillas that are made with this traditional method usually have characteristics that recall the typical image of a tortilla, such as a golden yellow color, with a soft and fluffy texture.
Tortillas made with nixtamal have a characteristic color and flavor. Photo: Martin Rocha

“Pirate” tortillas

  • Place of elaboration: This is perhaps the aspect that makes the difference, because contrary to the traditional ones, pirate tortillas are made by people who in most cases do not have adequate training and in places that may not be appropriate for the production. food preparation, as in homes, in places that are not adapted to operate as tortilla factories and even using supplies and even stolen electricity or gas.
  • Point of sale: Shops, butcher shops, chicken shops, collection offices, pharmacies and practically any type of business other than tortilla shops.
  • Ingredients: It is very difficult to know the origin of the ingredients used to prepare the “pirate tortillas”, however, experienced tortilla makers consider that it is most likely that they use mainly corn flour and not nixtamalized corn, because it is cheaper and more accessible for those who do not have a formal business. In addition, it is not possible to verify whether drinking water, or clean machinery is used to prepare these “pirate tortillas” or whether the minimum sanitary measures for food preparation are respected.
  • Appearance and taste: Although at first glance they seem the same, upon reviewing them carefully you can see that the pirate tortillas have a slightly paler color compared to the traditional ones, in addition to the fact that their flavor and texture are also different.

In order to verify if there is indeed a notable difference between traditional tortillas and pirate tortillas, the Grupo Formula Digital team carried out “The taco test”, in which we subjected different types of tortillas to strict quality tests and these were the results:

Who makes the “pirate tortillas” and how do they sell them?

Although it is practically impossible to know the origin and the conditions in which pirate tortillas are made, because in most cases they are made in “clandestine” tortilla factories, in this case, the Grupo Formula Digital team managed to trace them to their place originally.

According to what was reported by a source who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity, the pirate tortillas we tried were made inside the home of a couple who decided to enter the business after losing their jobs in a pharmacy.

Despite not having any experience in making tortillas, the young people decided to buy everything they needed to set up their own tortilla shop, however, something they did not get was the permits and a suitable place to settle.

Due to the above, they decided not to sell their tortillas at a counter and instead use their car to distribute them in the small shops, butcher shops, and other businesses that exist in the surroundings of their home.

As it is not a formally established business, the couple does not have to cover costs such as the payment of permits, the rent of a premises, employee salaries and other expenses, so they can offer their tortillas at 15 pesos per kilo, a price considerably lower compared to the 20 pesos that a kilo costs in duly established tortilla shops.

This has caused a direct impact on the stability of the market, as it has caused some tortilla shops to lose customers who prefer to pay 5 pesos less, especially as a result of the recent increases in the price of a kilo of tortillas from 16 to 20 pesos.

But without a doubt, the main risk of pirate tortillas is the possible health damage that they can cause to Mexicans who consume them since it is not possible to ensure that they are made in healthy conditions or that they are made with quality ingredients.

NOM-187 project against pirate tortillas 

It is becoming more and more common for tortilla factories to use industrialized nixtamalized corn flour and not nixtamalized corn made in traditional mills, which is why there is currently a project to modify the Official Mexican Standard (NOM) and for consumers to be informed about this situation.

According to the Alliance for Food Health, currently, most of the tortillas that Mexicans consume daily are made with corn flour or with a mixture of nixtamal with flour, so they can be considered as “pirates”. ”.

Due to the above, the NOM-187-SSA1/SE-2021 project proposes new regulations so that tortilla factories are obliged to inform consumers about the ingredients they use to make their tortillas.

These are some of the most relevant modifications proposed by the NOM-187 project:

  • Labeling of tortillas 

All tortillas must have a label to inform consumers about the ingredients with which they are made; for example, if they are made only with nixtamalized corn, with corn flour or with a mixture of both.

Tortillas that are made with 100 percent nixtamalized corn may include the legend “100% corn” or “Natural”; however, due to the ambiguity of the standard, this labeling can also be applied to products made with corn flour or a mixture of both.

Tortillas that are made with native corn may also include a legend to indicate it.

In the case of tortillas that also include additional ingredients, such as nopal, chiles, etc., they must indicate the percentage of each ingredient they contain.

  • tortilla shops 

Tortilla shops must display posters detailing the ingredients, additives or adjuvants that they use in the preparation of their tortillas.

The “Blanquita Tortilleria” informs its customers about the ingredients it uses. Photo: Martin Rocha
  • Use of additives and colorants 

It prohibits the use of dyes or whiteners to imitate the color of corn or tortillas, a method commonly used so that tortillas that are not made with nixtamalized corn acquire their characteristic color.

Tortilla shops that use additives or adjuvants to improve the texture of their tortillas made with corn flour so that they resemble those made with nixtamal, must inform them on their label.

Thus, although the pirate and traditional tortillas seem identical, there is a big difference between the two, and that is that while the original ones use the recipe that is closest to the ancestral way to turn corn into nixtamal, the “fake” ones are made with flour of corn and in not very clear conditions; and although it seems the same, it is not the same.

Most formal tortilla shops use nixtamalized corn dough. Photo: Martin Rocha

Source: radioformula.com.mx

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