Ormond Beach Restaurant Blog

The History of Tortillas, Tacos & More


Most people take the existence of tortillas for granted. They’re the wonderful clothing of flavorful Mexican food, including burritos, fajitas, and more. In fact, tortillas are such an important part of Mexican cuisine that you probably can’t picture the food without them. They are believed to have been part of the regular diet for thousands of years. Join us in learning more about their history here.

Where Did Tortillas Come From?

Some historians believe that tortillas were around 10,000 B.C. Back then, you couldn’t purchase them at the store nor were you able to order them conveniently at a restaurant. If you wanted to eat a tortilla, you would have to do much of the hard work yourself, including prepping the corn into corn meal, which could take quite some time.

Tortillas didn’t receive their name until they were discovered by the Spanish. Originally in search of gold, the Spanish came to America in 1519. It was the Aztecs were the ones that were eating what the Spanish called flat bread. The term tortilla itself comes from the Spanish name ‘torta’. It literally means ‘round cake’. That doesn’t mean it taste like cake, as you already know, but it does kind of look like one. On the other hand, the Aztecs call this flatbread ‘tlaxcalli’.

Ingredients of a Tortilla

Considering how important tortillas are for Mexican dishes, it’s surprising how simple they are to make. The original tortillas the Aztecs made used corn meal as the main ingredient. It took a long time to get it ready, because the corn had to soak in a lime solution to make it easier to remove the corn skin. When Europeans came to Mesoamerica, they used the Aztec recipe to make tortillas. Nowadays, they are made with wheat flour although corn tortillas continue to be very popular.

A tortilla includes flour, salt, vegetable shortening or oil, baking powder, and warm water. As such, there are only few ingredients to make them. After they are shaped and formed, they are cooked on a griddle to perfection. Then they are added to dishes like burritos, quesedillas, and delicious fajitas.

The History of the Taco

One would think that tacos are irrevocably linked with tortillas, but their name and origin is quite different. In fact, the word ‘taco’ was used by miners excavating ore. A taco was made with paper wrapped around gunpowder, which would be inserted into the holes inside the rock. Nowadays, the word taco is not associated with the stick of dynamite, although it could be lovingly referred to as that when filled with delicious hot sauce.

Tacos were first sold by a group of women in San Antonio, TX, at the beginning of the 20th century – at least that’s when they received their first mention in a national newspaper. These women provided spicy food on tamale pushcarts and called themselves the Chili Queens. These tacos included chicken or beef with hot sauce that was potentially very spicy and represented a thrill of its own. It wasn’t until the 1940s that a Mexican restaurateur applied for a patent for making hard taco shells – and that person wasn’t Glen Bell, although he spread their popularity throughout the country with his national chain of Tex-Mex dishes.

How Are Tacos Made?

A taco is using many of the same ingredients as a tortilla. But instead of eating it as a soft, warm bread product, tacos are fried and bent into a U-shape. The resulting flavor is crunchy. Naturally, these tacos are still better when they’re made fresh although they can sometimes be kept longer if you wrap them in foil. This is especially true for corn tacos, as they don’t keep as long.

Cooking Methods

Mexican food has evolved a lot over the years. Naturally, the Aztec didn’t prepare their food using the oven. Instead, they used an open fire, but they even learned to slow-cook meats by wrapping them in banana or cactus leaves. They also used a molcajete, which is a traditional mortar and pestle, to prepare foods like guacamole. At Agave, we still use a molcajete to provide authentic experiences and taste at our Mexican restaurant.

Are you hungry for tortillas, tacos, and more? At Agave Mexican Restaurant, we offer authentic Mexican cuisine utilizing only the freshest ingredients. Whether you order a burrito or a taco or something off the menu today, your dinner will be savory and delicious. Now that you know more about the history of tacos and tortillas, you’re more than qualified to eat them. Bon appetit!