Every cuisine has its version of bread, like the Pandesal in the Philippines, Naan in India, Bagels in Poland, Baguettes in France, and Tortillas in Mexico. But you may wonder if all of them are exact substitutes for bread. Take tortillas, for instance. Are tortillas bread?
It depends. Bread recipes use flour, water, yeast, and salt to make a dough that gets baked in an oven. Tortillas don’t have yeast, aren’t baked in an oven, and differ from bread in appearance. However, tortillas have similar nutritional qualities as bread. So you can use tortillas instead of bread.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into this now.
What Are Tortillas?
Tortillas are a staple component of Mexican cuisine.
However, their origins go back to Spain, where they were used as early as the mid-1600s.
Today, tortillas are an icon of Mexican food, and you will find them at all Mexican restaurants.
Basically, tortillas are unleavened, round, flatbread made of corn.
They are the base of various dishes like tacos, burritos, tostadas, enchiladas, and even tortilla soups.
Variations of traditional tortilla recipes use wheat instead of corn as the base ingredient.
However, the preparation and cooking process is similar.
The preparation of tortillas begins by curing maize or corn and removing their skins.
Once the peels come off the corn kernels, they are ready to be ground, cooked, and transformed into dough.
This dough is then separated into individual portions.
Each portion is flattened with a rolling pin or tortilla press and made into a circular bread.
Finally, the tortillas are cooked on a hot griddle.
If cooking tortillas is too difficult, you can find store-bought versions.
They will even hold up longer than homemade tortillas because they contain preservatives.
How Are Tortillas Different From Bread?
Traditionally, bread is made of flour, yeast, salt, and water. All these ingredients are mixed and baked in an oven.
Regardless of whether the flour is wheat, whole grain, refined flour, or multigrain, we call the end product “bread” because of the process used for preparation.
Bread dough is a “leavened dough” because it contains yeast.
Yeast makes the dough rise. It also gives the bread its fluffy, soft texture.
Tortillas use the same ingredients like bread, except yeast. Hence, they are unleavened bread.
Since tortillas don’t contain a rising agent, they don’t rise like traditional bread. They are soft but flat.
The main ingredient in a tortilla is corn. Modern varieties also use wheat flour instead of corn.
Tortilla dough and bread dough have some similarities.
To prepare both doughs, you would have to knead the flour. They also look similar.
However, if you inspect either dough, you will notice that tortilla dough is compact and thick.
This is because of the absence of yeast. Bread dough is lighter because the yeast makes it rise.
Another significant difference is in the way you prepare bread and tortillas.
To make bread, the entire dough is transferred into a loaf tin for baking.
Meanwhile, tortilla dough is separated into individual portions and rolled into thin flat discs.
So, bread comes out of the oven as a single unit which you can later slice into individual portions.
However, you cook each tortilla separately on the stove.
There is no slicing involved after the tortillas are done.
Due to the method used to prepare tortillas and their shape and structure, they resemble flatbreads like Indian Rotis and Middle-eastern Pita bread than traditional bread loaves.
The flavor of tortillas is also different from that of bread.
The corn used to make tortillas has a more complex and earthy flavor than bread.
So we can conclude that tortillas don’t fit the definition of bread in the traditional sense.
Nonetheless, they resemble bread in some ways. Let’s find out what they are.
How Are Tortillas Like Bread?
If we overlook the fact that tortillas don’t use yeast, the rest of the ingredients used to make tortillas and bread are quite similar.
Tortillas are also grain-based products. Traditional bread recipes use wheat flour, but tortillas use corn or wheat.
If you compare the nutritional profile of tortillas and bread, they are similar.
One slice of bread typically has 75 to 100 calories. Meanwhile, a corn tortilla has 60 to 65 calories.
Flour tortillas deliver a few extra calories, usually in the range of 90 to 100 calories.
Nevertheless, the exact calorie count would depend on the recipe used to make the bread and tortilla.
The size of the bread slice and tortilla would also affect this data.
For store-bought tortillas, those with vegetable oils usually have fewer calories and are comparable to store-bought bread.
More importantly, you can use tortillas like bread in many ways.
For instance, one of the most popular uses of bread is in sandwiches where different fillings are placed between two slices of bread.
You can use tortillas for similar purposes.
However, tortillas aren’t as sturdy as bread slices. They are soft and easily malleable.
Hence, you would have to wrap the ingredients inside a tortilla instead of sandwiching them.
So technically, tacos or burritos are just like sandwiches, but with tortillas replacing the bread.
Another similarity is that you can mop up liquid ingredients like gravies or curries using tortillas instead of bread.
Tortillas will soak up the liquid in the same way bread does.
However, they hold up better than bread and don’t become as much mushy.
Which Is Better—Tortillas Or Bread?
It’s difficult to establish whether tortillas are better than bread or the other way around.
You would have to compare factors like the size of the bread slice and tortilla and the ingredients used to prepare both.
Nevertheless, tortillas usually have fewer calories than bread.
They also make it easier to reduce the portion size and hence cut down on food consumption.
Another important factor is that traditional tortillas use cornflour.
It’s better than refined flour because it doesn’t strip the grain of its nutritional qualities.
However, whole-grain bread varieties are also available. They provide better nutritional benefits than regular bread.
Nevertheless, some tortilla wraps will have more calories than bread.
It depends on the ingredients that go into making the tortilla.
Although cornmeal, water, and salt are the main ingredients in tortillas, some recipes use oil, butter, and other rich ingredients.
Nutrition experts suggest that tortilla wraps in certain delis and restaurants can pack as much as 300 calories, just for the wraps.
The calorie count further increases when you add fillings.
So you may end up eating a very high-calorie meal when you choose a tortilla wrap instead of a sandwich.
To make sure that you stay within the limit, it’s best to read the nutrition labels accompanying the wrap or sandwich.
The number of calories in each wrap would be mentioned there.
If you’re eating at a deli or restaurant, enquire about the nutrition facts before making your decision.
Opting for whole-grain varieties is usually the healthier choice.
You can also offset some calories by loading up on fresh vegetables and cutting down on processed spreads, relishes, and pickles.