So you've cooked up your rice, you've got your salsa ready to go, the avocado is sliced, you've got your favorite vegan burrito vegetables seasoned and prepared, and you're all set for a Mexican night feast. All that's left to do is to wrap your burrito up in a large tortilla, but suddenly, you're wondering: are tortillas vegan?
For vegans, this is the essential question, and like with many classic products, the answer isn't always a straight yes or no. There are many different types of tortillas that are made from different ingredients, and some are vegan, and some are not. Increasingly, however, store-bought tortillas and those served in restaurants are vegan, but there are also a few non-vegan brands and non-vegan ingredients you need to look out for.
In this article, we look at which tortilla brands and ingredients are vegan and which aren't. Of course, you can always make your own homemade vegan tortillas using a tortilla presser; that way, you know you're safe!
Keep reading to find out the answer to the ultimate question: are tortillas vegan?
So you might think you know what a tortilla is, but there are, in fact, many different types of tortillas that you can make at home or purchase in the store.
Tortillas are circular flatbreads that we commonly associate with Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine. They are produced from flour and water at their most basic form, which is kneaded into dough before being cooked with dry heat. The word 'tortilla' is Spanish for 'little cake', and tortillas are used to wrap up delicious savory fillings and make those fillings easier to eat with the hands.
But tortillas have been around for many more thousands of years than the Spanish language has, and it's thought that some variant of the tortilla has been a staple in indigenous American cultures since as long ago as 10,000 BC. Over the years, the tortilla has evolved, and today, there are several major types of tortillas that are popular.
Tortillas are small, and tortillas are big. Some tortillas are used for burritos; others are used for tacos, fajitas, quesadillas, enchiladas, and wraps.
The major types of tortilla you'll likely encounter include the following:
White flour tortillas are associated with Tex-Mex cuisine, as they originated in Mexico's northern states and moved across the border to the USA. These are the tortillas that are used for burritos and enchiladas, and other Tex-Mex favorites. Whole wheat tortillas are a variant of white flour tortillas, offering a more natural flour base that has fewer preservatives and is seen as healthier.
Corn tortillas aren't as popular in the USA, but they are the most authentic type of tortilla you can cook with. Corn tortillas are the original tortilla, and they are a staple across much of Mexico and Central America. Corn tortillas are prepared using ground maize, or cornflour, which has to be mixed with a special nixtamalization agent (which contains lime) to produce a type of dough known as masa harina. This ancient preparation process unlocks many of the healthy nutrients and vitamins found inside the corn.
If you're preparing tortillas at home, then all you need to get started is your flour of choice (or masa harina), a little salt, and some warm water (a tortilla press makes life easier too). At home, it's easy to make vegan tortillas. However, where things get complicated is adding different oils or butter into the recipe, alongside different cooking techniques that you might find in restaurants or food trucks.
Let's take a look at which ingredients in tortillas are vegan (vegan ingredients being products without animal or dairy products).
In most cases, flour is vegan, as is the salt and water you need for your dough. If you use vegetable oil, then this should be vegan too. This, however, is only guaranteed if you're preparing your vegan flour tortillas at home, from scratch.
Many store-bought tortillas will also be vegan, but you need to check the packaging. Often they only say vegetarian, but after examining the ingredients, you'll see that they are vegan-friendly too.
Things get complicated when we start to examine the preservatives found in some brands of store-bought tortillas and the conditions in which the tortillas may have been cooked if you're eating out at a restaurant.
So, where are these potentially non-vegan ingredients that vegans should be wary of? There are a few non-vegan ingredients that you need to look out for on the packaging or ask about at the restaurant:
These ingredients might not always be obvious, so always double-check before making a purchase or placing your order.
In most cases, lard isn't a problem these days, but it is traditionally used to cook tortillas in Mexico. If you're buying authentic Mexican food, you might want to be careful that it hasn't been cooked in lard or with any other meat products. Butter is the same, as this is often used for cooking, rather than being found in the tortilla ingredients themselves.
Whey products will be labeled as such, but not everyone realizes they aren't vegan, as they are sourced from animal proteins (think whey and curds in cheese making!). Glycerin and animal enzymes are where things get really confusing. Some preservatives make use of these products, and they can be found in store-bought tortillas. However, not every vegan worries about these in their diet, so that's up to you.
There are several famous tortilla brands that you find in most stores, as well as famous restaurants (we're looking at you, Taco Bell!), where you'll commonly be eating tortillas. Let's take a look at which ones are vegan and which ones aren't vegan!
Taco Bell is the go-to fast-food chain for cheap burritos and tacos, but you might be surprised to learn that their tortillas are totally vegan. That's right, they have vegan tortilla wraps, and you can easily customize existing items on the menu to ensure that you're ordering vegan products.
Taco Bell aims to be inclusive and so its vegan menu may be expanding in the future. When you're ordering, just say no to cheese and sour cream, and double up on the beans!
Chipotle is another go-to Tex-Mex brand that has made sure that their tortillas are all vegan friendly. That's right, you can safely order both flour and vegan corn tortillas at Chipotle, and they even have a few non-dairy kinds of cheese to go with it!
Many of Chipotle's other ingredients and dishes are all plant-based, too, and you can easily customize your burritos for a vegan-friendly meal alongside your vegan tortilla of choice.
Mission flour tortillas are one of the most popular tortilla brands in the world, and you'll find these not only in shops but often being served up in restaurants and food trucks too.
Like many other brands, Mission has ensured that their tortillas are all vegan friendly, so if you see them in the shop, don't be afraid to buy them.
As with anything, though, be careful when selecting your tortillas from a store or restaurant, as recipes can change. If you're in doubt, then always check with the brand or the restaurant before buying!
Tortilla chips are one of the most popular tortilla-based products you can make or buy. Tortilla chips are essentially just tortillas that have been cut up into chips then baked or fried. Like tortillas, many of these products are now also vegan.
Again, you need to check the packaging because tortilla chips can be seasoned with non-vegan products or cooked in non-vegan conditions. You can prepare your own tortilla chips at home if you want to be sure!
Are flour tortillas vegan? In most cases, flour tortillas are vegan. However, they might be cooked with lard or butter, or they may contain non-vegan preservatives.
Always check before purchasing if it's a vegan tortilla you're buying!
Like flour tortillas, your average corn tortilla is also going to be vegan. However, it can be cooked in lard or butter, so always check with the chef if you are ordering. Many authentic Mexican food stands and restaurants might still cook with a heavy dose of lard, so be careful in this respect.
Generally speaking, tortillas don't contain any dairy products. However, be careful when ordering in restaurants because cheese and cream are staple ingredients of Tex-Mex food. While your tortilla might not have any dairy in it, that sour cream and nacho cheese topping definitely does!
These days, it's more likely that your four tortillas and corn tortillas are going to be vegan rather than not vegan. Most major brands are striving towards vegan-friendly products, and this trend is only likely to continue.
If you're preparing tortillas at home, then you can be certain that you're not using animal products, but be careful when ordering tortillas at restaurants. You can bookmark our guide to vegan tortillas to help you out when you're next ordering!
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