"Tortillas are a gift from Mexico to the world. The process of making tortillas dates to about 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. Since then, tortillas have been essential to the soul of Mexican cuisine...Each region in Mexico grows a different type of corn and colors can range from blue to yellow to white to reddish and brown."
- Mariana Nuño Ruiz
Welcome to the kitchen! Find out how to make corn tortillas using masa harina, along with some tortilla history, using this free tutorial with pics for kids and adults to try at home.
This tutorial is the perfect opportunity to explore colors with kids as you mix, match, and create your own unique corn tortillas. Grab your free printable with pics at the bottom.
Learn more about cooking with kids.
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What is Masa Harina?
As described by Masienda:
Masa is the Spanish word for dough, specifically, the special, nutrient-rich dough prepared from stone-ground alkalized (aka nixtamalized) corn used for tortillas, tamales, and more.
To take corn from kernel to masa, there are six key steps to follow:
- Cooking with Cal
- Nixtamal rinsing
- Nixtamal Grinding
- Masa Mixing
..masa harina is pre-made masa that has been dehydrated for shelf stability. To prepare, just add water and, buen provecho, masa is served. Here at Masienda, we make a special masa harina that’s nixtamalized, finely ground and slowly dried to preserve its natural aromas and flavors.
Since 2014, we have steadily become the go-to masa brand for top chefs and in-the-know home cooks around the world, built on equitable farming, ancestral techniques, and delicious recipes from across the masa map.- Masienda
Why is Nixtamalization Important in Mexican Cuisine?
In Dining With the Dead: A Feast for the Souls on Day of the Dead, Mariana Nuño Ruiz talks about nixtamalization:
Corn in the Nahuatl language is tlayolli. Indigenous people in Mexico domesticated and cultivated corn as far back as about 8,000 years ago. Corn evolved and was crossbred from a sylvan plant belonging to a family of grasses called teocintle. This wild grass, endemic in the Mexican territory, has two rows of large kernels, and can still be found growing wild in Mexico. Domesticating this plant led to the corn as we know it today. Cultivating corn has been essential to all of the pre-Hispanic groups in Mexico, to the core of their sustenance, and their devoted relationship to nature and their gods. Mexican cuisine relies on corn and a special way to process it. This is what separates Mexican cuisine, its flavors, and its corn culture from the rest of the world.
Nixtamalization has been used for thousands of years by Indigenous people in Mexico to precook dry corn, and the process has not changed since ancient times. This process improves and enhances flavor, as well as releases amino acids and niacin in the corn, increasing its nutritional value. Combined with beans, chiles, and vegetables, nixtamal provided a greater balance of amino acids and protein in the ancient Mexican diet.
How Long Do Corn Tortillas Last?
You can store the tortillas in an airtight container or plastic bag for several days. To reheat the tortillas, Masienda recommends giving "each side of the tortilla a spritz of water before heating on a hot comal or griddle, and allowing to steam in a tortilla warmer."
How to Make Corn Tortillas Without a Press
If you want to get started making your own delicious tortillas, the tortilla starter kit has everything you need, including blue and white heirloom corn masa harina, the Doña Rosa Tortilla Press, and reusable liners.
As mentioned on the masa harina packaging, if you don't have a tortilla press, no worries. You can also use a pair of books to press the masa harina into tortillas.
How to Make Corn Tortillas From Masa Harina
- masa harina - Masienda has four types of heirloom corn masa harina: blue, white, yellow, and red. Feel free to mix and match to create your own unique tortillas
- water - the water should be warm
- prep bowls
- kitchen scale or measuring cup
- measuring cup
- tortilla press
- tortilla press liners - the liners come with your purchase of the tortilla press, but you can also order separately
- tortilla warmer
1. Add Water to the Masa Harina
Wash your hands with soap and water. Weigh the masa harina in a bowl using a kitchen scale. Measure the water needed using a measuring cup.
We kept the masa colors separate until ready to press but you do you. Kids can experiment with the process and see the results.
Pour the water into the bowl with the masa harina.
2. Mix it by Hand
Use your hands to mix the masa harina and water. Knead the masa until it is smooth. If it's too sticky and sticks to the bowl still, add a bit more masa harina. If it's crumbly, you can add a bit more water.
Once you've worked with the masa harina a couple of times, it's fairly easy to tell if you have the right consistency.
3. Preheat a Griddle or Comal
Turn the stove on medium-low. If you're using a griddle like this, turn on both burners. You'll be able to cook 2 or 3 tortillas at a time.
4. Press the Masa into Tortillas
Place the bottom liner on the open tortilla press. Grab some masa with your fingers and roll it into a ball that's about the size of a ping-pong ball.
Place the masa on top of the bottom liner.
Place the top liner over it.
Close the lid on the tortilla press. Pull the lever down to flatten the masa ball. Depending on the strength and effort, you may want to push down a couple times to get the desired thickness.
Lift the lid on the tortilla press.
Open the tortilla press and carefully remove the tortilla from the liner.
Place it on the griddle or comal using a backhanded motion to prevent tearing.
5. Sear the Tortilla on the Griddle
Allow the tortilla to sear on the griddle for about 20 seconds.
6. Flip and Sear the Other Side
Grab the tortilla carefully with your fingers and flip it over. Allow it to sear for about 20 seconds. Finally, flip the tortilla once more. Allow it to cook until it puffs up or is cooked through.
If your tortilla doesn't puff, no big deal. Still tastes great. The puff can be tricky starting out.
Sometimes we puff, sometimes we don't.
Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Turn off the stove when finished.
You can place your tortillas in a tortilla warmer to keep them warm for an hour or so. To keep them warmer longer, we place the tortilla warmer in a reusable plastic bag until ready to use.
FREE Corn Tortillas Recipe
For you to try at home!
Free How to Make Corn Tortillas Tutorial for Pre-Readers and Up
Grab your free printable recipe cards above. Kids can gather ingredients using the ingredient list, gather their equipment with the tools list, and prepare the tortillas using the step-by-step recipe cards, with assistance as needed.
The cards are easy to use, include pictures, and encourage confidence and independence in the kitchen. They also make an excellent addition to your Montessori continent box for North America.
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FREE Spanish & English Language Cards
Includes a sorting activity!
Free Food & Equipment Spanish - English Language Cards
Grab your free food and equipment Spanish - English Language Cards, complete with a sorting extension.
Kids can sort the cards into rows or columns using the heading cards: food and equipment. The colors of the cards provide a control of error so that kids can self-correct when completing this work independently.
These sorting cards also make excellent three-part cards for introducing new vocabulary. To use these as 3-part cards, simply print two copies of the printable and then cut the labels off the cards on one of the copies. Children can match the picture and then match the label as they show readiness.
How to Make Corn Tortillas
- 1 cup masa harina
- 1 cup warm water
- Add water to the masa harina: Wash your hands with soap and water. Weigh the masa harina in a bowl using a kitchen scale. Measure the water needed using a measuring cup. Pour the water into the bowl with the masa harina.
- Mix it by hand: Use your hands to mix the masa harina and water. Knead the masa until it is smooth. If it's too sticky and sticks to the bowl still, add a bit more masa harina. If it's crumbly, you can add a bit more water.
- Preheat a Griddle: Turn the stove on medium-low.
- Press the masa into tortillas: Place the bottom liner on the open tortilla press. Grab some masa with your fingers and roll it into a ball that's about the size of a ping-pong ball. Place the masa on top of the bottom liner. Place the top liner over it. Close the lid on the tortilla press. Pull the lever down to flatten the masa. Depending on the strength and effort, you may want to push down a couple times to get the desired thickness.
- Sear the tortilla on the griddle: Open the tortilla press and carefully remove the tortilla from the liner. Place it on the griddle or comal using a backhanded motion to prevent tearing. Allow the tortilla to sear for about 20 seconds.
- Flip and sear the other side: Grab the tortilla carefully with your fingers and flip it over. Allow it to sear for about 20 seconds. Finally, flip the tortilla once more. Allow it to cook until it puffs up or is cooked through. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Place them in a tortilla warmer as they come off the griddle. Turn off the stove when finished.
Estimated nutrition information is provided as a courtesy and is not guaranteed.