Making your own flour tortillas answers several nagging questions. For starters: Why are some grocery store tortillas kept in a refrigerated case, while others are stacked in the aisle with the salsa and refried beans?
And this: Are intentionally bland and mostly featureless discs worth the homemade effort?
Finally: Can they thwart bored kids?
A little research uncovered answers that were variously obvious and inconclusive.
Turns out tortillas don’t need refrigeration (just as a loaf of bread doesn’t), but once refrigerated, they should stay refrigerated. Also, because refrigeration does extend the life of many foods, it’s possible that some shoppers regard a chilled tortilla as a better-kept tortilla.
Yet because refrigeration does indeed help keep foods fresher longer, the chilled packages actually may be older than the room-temperature packages in the international aisle, which (theoretically) turn over faster.
To be sure, always check the “Use by” dates. Of course, the fact that the date on some packages is months out can be mildly unnerving. What’s in these things anyway?
Which brings us to the second question about time spent: A big reason to make your own flour tortillas is that you know exactly what’s in them.
The most authentic tortillas are made with lard, which isn’t the end of the world, or your arteries. But you can achieve excellent results with shortening (think trans-fat-free Crisco). But don’t be tempted to explore further by subbing in oils; you’ll lose some tenderness.
With that in mind, we also prefer using milk instead of the usual water in many recipes. (Low-fat milk is fine.)
The increasing availability of white whole-wheat flour also lets you boost a tortilla’s nutrition, while it still looks like your usual white food. The Whole Grains Council says to think of this flour as “a sort of albino wheat.” The bran of white wheat is lighter in color and milder in flavor, enabling you to substitute it for a portion of all-purpose flour without tripping anyone’s health-food detectors.
Finally, tortilla-making is so easy, it’s almost child’s play. As the first syllable of that summer lament, “I’m sooooo bored,” begins to form in kids’ mouths, announce that they can help provide the centerpiece for tonight’s easy summer supper of fajitas, or fish tacos, or burritos. This is how life skills are born.
Mostly, though, a freshly made flour tortilla is just that: Fresh. Warm, supple and simply fresher than anything from the store.
Sometimes, the best answer doesn’t even require a question.