Tortillas, the Mexican and Central American food used to wrap up other foods, are historically made from corn. In Tex-Mex and Cal-Mex cuisines, however, flour tortillas are used to make Burritos as Big as Your Head. Corn tortillas are healthier, with about a tenth as much fat as flour tortillas. But, the market says that tortillas should be soft and easy to wrap, so at least twice as many flour tortillas are sold in grocery stores as corn tortillas.
National Geographic News has an interesting story today about efforts to select and possibly breed flour varieties especially for flour tortillas. There are several types of wheat flours already available, of course. Bread is made with high-gluten flour, which builds strong structures (bubbles) in bread, while pastries and cakes are made from low-gluten flours which give a softer texture. Flour tortillas, according to the article, require high protein content, but less of that protein should be gluten. In order to get good textures (not to mention shelf lives), manufacturers of flour tortillas often add a number of additives. If the wheat were naturally lower in glutens, some of those additives could be omitted, making flour tortillas a little more natural. The new research shows that the average temperature in the fields affects just this property of the wheat. In cooler climes, hard red winter wheat has a higher gluten level than when the same grain is grown in hotter areas, such as Texas. Genetic factors also play a role, which is under study. Given the increase in flour tortilla consumption in the US, the suggestion is that there should be a new category of wheat flours, to add to bread, pastry, cake, and so on -- the tortilla flour. Interesting...
In my posting earlier this month about low-carb wheat, I grumbled about GMO wheat specifically designed for vague and unlikely health reasons. In this case, the research is for better food, and that's something I can get behind. (Even if I prefer the authenticity of corn tortillas...)