If you like Mexican food (trust me when I say that there are some people who do not), corn tortillas are a must-have in your pantry.
But being a vegan, you can’t just take them off the aisle and put in your basket without looking at the ingredients label and wondering if they are suitable for a plant diet. Are corn tortillas vegan?
Corn tortillas are generally vegan. While the recipes may vary, corn tortillas are typically free of animal ingredients and hence, suitable for a vegan diet.
You should, however, be a little careful of crispy corn tortillas as they may sometimes be fried in lard.
Let’s dig a little deeper into corn tortillas’ ingredients and manufacturing process to determine when this Mexican food mainstay could possibly be not vegan and what you should look for to figure that out.
How are Corn Tortillas Made?
The traditional method of making corn tortillas is called ‘nixtamalization.’ It sounds too complex, but it is essentially a process of removing the indigestible outer cover of dried corn kernels and contaminants and making their nutrients more readily available to the body.
Nixtamalization involves soaking and cooking corn kernels in an alkaline solution, followed by rinsing and milling them to make the dough for corn tortillas. This is the most basic recipe for corn tortillas and is totally vegan-friendly.
Commercial brands, however, also add emulsifiers and preservatives, and some may add or cook tortillas in lard, which is where things can go wrong for vegans.
What are Corn Tortillas Made Of?
Corn tortillas are essentially just ground maize kneaded into a dough using water and rolled in small flatbreads. The commercial varieties, however, include some additives and enzymes.
Let’s quickly go over these ingredients to better understand why they are mostly vegan.
Don’t let the name confuse you. Hominy flour is just another word for corn flour made with kernels subjected to the nixtamalization process that we have discussed above. No animal ingredient is used in it, making hominy flour vegan-friendly.
Some tortilla varieties have ‘masa flour’ listed on the label, which is another name for specialized corn flour used to make tortillas. It contains no animal ingredients and is different from regular corn flour in that it’s treated with lime water.
Most additives in corn tortillas are plant-based, making the majority of commercial varieties vegan-friendly. However, the ones made fresh from scratch at Mexican stories and eateries might contain animal fat.
Following are some of the most commonly used additives in corn tortillas, and they are all vegan-friendly:
- Cellulose Gum
- Guar Gum
- Propionic Acid
- Phosphoric Acid
- Benzoic Acid
Enzymes are common ingredients in breads, and they serve several vital functions in them. For example, amylase, which is the most common enzyme used in bread products, including corn tortillas, breaks down complex carbs into simple sugars.
Enzymes are also used to improve product quality and increase shelf life. They help prevent staling and keep bread (and tortillas) fresh for longer.
Most of the enzymes can come from both animal and plant sources. For this reason, some highly strict vegans choose (or prefer) to avoid them. However, others find it okay to consume them as they are found in almost every packaged product and are impossible to avoid.
Amylase, found in many corn tortillas, can come from animals but is mostly made from microbes –bacteria or fungi – in the commercial food industry. For this reason, products containing amylase are considered vegan-friendly by most.
Having said that, not all enzymes are vegan-friendly. Therefore, it’s best to check the food label and confirm the vegan status of enzymes present in the product you’re considering buying.
What Can Make Corn Tortillas Non-Vegan?
Although commercial brands add emulsifiers and preservatives in corn tortillas to enhance flavor and make them last longer, no animal-based ingredient is typically used at this stage. The step where things may go wrong for vegans is when these tortillas are fried.
Crispy corn tortillas may sometimes be cooked in lard, making them unsuitable for vegans. This is no longer as common a practice as it was in the 1990s, but some places may still use animal fat to fry corn tortillas or add them to the dough to enhance the flavor.
Therefore, it’s better to be careful, especially when buying from or dining at authentic Mexican places.
Other ingredients that you should look out for (applies to packaged tortillas) are:
- Vitamin D
- Monoglycerides/ Diglycerides
These ingredients aren’t always present in packaged corn tortillas, but when they are, they are most often not vegan unless otherwise specified.
While these are often the only potentially non-vegan ingredients found in store-bought corn tortillas, some might have one or more controversial ingredients as well. Therefore, it’s better to look for them on the label, too. These include:
- Palm Oil – Avoided by many vegans due to exploitative practices involved in the manufacturing process and the environmental damage they cause.
- Refined Sugar – The refining process involves the use of bone char.
Vegan Corn Tortilla Varieties
To save you the hassle of checking ingredient lists of all tortilla varieties available at your local grocery store to find the ones suitable for your lifestyle, here’s a list of brands that make vegan-friendly corn tortillas that you can buy safely from without having to worry about hidden animal ingredients.
Here are some of the best vegan corn tortilla varieties on the market:
- Guerrero White Corn Tortillas
- Mission White Corn Tortillas
- Mission Extra Thin Yellow Corn Tortillas
- La Banderita Yellow Corn Tortillas
- Rudi’s Gluten-Free Tortillas
- Food for Life Sprouted Corn Tortillas
- 365 Everyday Value Organic Corn Tortillas
- La Tortilla Factory Organic Yellow Corn Tortillas
- La Tortilla Factory Sonoma Organic Yellow Corn Tortillas
- Maria and Ricardos Soft Yellow Corn Tortillas
- Maria and Ricardos White Corn Tortillas
- Maria and Ricardos Organic Blue Corn Tortillas
- Mi Rancho Organic Corn Tortillas
- Mi Rancho Organic Artisan Corn Tortillas
Vegan Tortillas FAQs
· Are wheat tortillas vegan?
Wheat flour tortillas are generally vegan. However, it’s important to consider if there is any fat used in them. If it is present, make sure it’s not animal fat.
Tired of your usual vegan filling and looking for new ideas? Check out the following video for a few quick vegan tortilla wrap recipes…
· Do tortillas have dairy?
Tortillas are almost always dairy-free. Only in rare cases do manufacturers use whey or butter to enhance the flavor of tortillas, which makes them non-vegan.
· Do tortillas have eggs?
No. Eggs are never used in tortillas.
· Are tortilla chips vegan?
Tortilla chips are baked or fried tortilla pieces. They are vegan unless cooked in animal fat and/or flavored with animal-derived ingredients.
· Are Chipotle tortillas vegan?
Chipotle tortillas are 100% vegan, and so are their rice, beans, salsa, and several other components. Check out my article Chipotle Vegan Options for a full list of vegan items they offer.
· Are Taco Bell tortillas vegan?
Taco Bell has quite a few options for its vegan customers, and they include tortillas, too. Taco Bell tortillas do not contain any animal ingredients and hence, are considered suitable for vegans.
Most corn tortilla varieties available on the market are vegan-friendly. However, it’s best to glance over the ingredients list to ensure the one you’re considering buying doesn’t have any animal components.
When buying fresh tortillas or dining at an authentic Mexican eatery, do ask if there is any lard in them, as some might.
Want to know more vegan bread options? Check out my article Best Vegan Naan Brands, to know what companies make these Indian flatbreads the vegan way.