Contents - Click a link to skip to the section you want to read
If you’ve had a quesadilla, a burrito, a taco, or almost anything from a Mexican restaurant in your lifetime, chances are you’ve had a tortilla. These delicious circles are the perfect transporter of beans, (vegan) cheese, guacamole, salsa, and rice.
But are they safe to continue eating now that you’re following a vegan lifestyle? As with most questions about whether a product is vegan, the answer to “are tortillas vegan?” is “sometimes.”
Don’t worry, though. I’m going to go over all of the information you need to know in order to determine whether the tortilla you’re about to eat is vegan or not.
Keep reading to learn about the differences between vegan tortillas and non-vegan tortillas.
Types of tortillas
The first thing we need to go over is the different types of tortillas. And I don’t mean non-vegan vs vegan tortillas, either.
Believe it or not, there are a few different types to be aware of. Saying you want a tortilla in Spain will get you something very different than if you said the same thing in Mexico.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
Flour tortillas are perhaps the ones we are most familiar with. These soft, chewy, wonderfully stretchy “pancakes” (click the link for some real pancake action) are usually made from flour, salt, water, and some sort of fat. More on this fat source later (it’s important for us vegans).
Puffy tortillas used for Tex-Mex style foods can also contain baking powder to give them a bit more rise and fluff compared to plain tortillas.
You’ll often find flour tortillas used to make burritos, quesadillas, and tacos. While most are made from white flour, you can also find whole wheat varieties.
Unsurprisingly, corn tortillas are made from corn flour instead of wheat flour.
To make corn tortillas, you need a particular kind of corn flour called “masa harina.” Masa harina is made by taking dried corn kernels and boiling them in lime water. I don’t mean the citrus lime: I mean calcium hydroxide.
The calcium hydroxide in the water used to make masa harina essentially makes the corn easier to digest. Once you make this the corn flour (or purchase masa harina pre-made), you simply mix it with water to make the dough, throw it on a griddle or a tortilla press, and voila! Corn tortillas!
When you compare a Spanish tortilla to the Mexican-originated tortillas I’ve already described, the only thing you’ll see overlapping is the circular shape. A Spanish tortilla is more along the lines of what we would call an omelette in English.
To make a Spanish tortilla, you take potatoes and eggs and cook them in olive oil with onions and scallions until it creates an open-faced omelette-type meal.
Are tortillas vegan?
Now that we’ve broken down what we mean by “tortilla,” we can finally get into the real questions: are tortillas vegan?
It’s safe to say that if you’re talking about a Spanish tortilla, it’s a resounding no. A Spanish tortilla is an egg-based dish, which is definitely not vegan.
When it comes to the two varieties of Mexican tortillas, there’s a bit of ambiguity. Most all Mexican tortillas are vegan, but there are a few sneaky ingredients you need to be aware of.
Non-vegan tortilla ingredients
Most Mexican tortillas, whether they’re flour or corn, are made from a few simple ingredients. Some type of flour (typically wheat, whole wheat, or corn), salt, water, and sometimes baking powder.
But some tortillas use non-vegan ingredients, such as…
Traditionally, the fat source used to make flour tortillas is lard. Lard is a type of pig fat taken from the stomach of the pig (usually around the kidneys and abdomen) that is then rendered to make lard.
When at a restaurant, especially a traditional Mexican restaurant, be sure to ask whether the flour tortillas contain lard or if they use a different vegan fat source (like vegetable shortening or oil) to make their tortillas.
Sometimes butter or margarine will be used instead of lard when making flour tortillas. Or it may be used on the flat-top where tortillas are made. Butter obviously isn’t vegan and many margarines aren’t vegan, either.
Always check the ingredients of tortillas and ask your server if butter or lard it used at any point.
Whey is a protein derived from dairy that’s found in everything from protein powders to dairy products to, you guessed it, tortillas.
Whey is a non-vegan ingredient that you need to check for and ask about.
You can read more about whey in my whey protein article.
Other animal-derived products
When buying pre-made tortillas, there are some other sneaky ingredients that might be derived from animals. These include:
- Animal-derived enzymes
Not all vegans are concerned with these types of animal-derived products; it’s totally up to your own personal choice. However, many vegans consider any animal product, whether that’s milk or an enzyme, to be not compatible with a vegan lifestyle.
While not all enzymes and/or glycerides are animal-derived, many are. And with some of these ingredients, it’s impossible to tell unless you contact the company and ask.
Do your research on whether different brands do use animal-derived enzymes and glycerides. Check out my article on veganism and glycerin for more info!
Non-vegan tortilla brands?
Two of the most common and popular tortilla brands available have questionably vegan ingredients: Mission Tortillas and Old El Paso Tortillas.
Even though Mission says they don’t use animal derived products, some of the enzymes and ingredients included in their ingredients lists are possibly animal-derived (like glycerin and mono/diglycerides). Old El Paso also list these ingredients, too.
Vegan tortilla brands
Many pre-packaged tortillas just happen to be vegan. But since there are so many, how do you choose? Let me give you a few of the best options:
Whole Foods 365 Brand Tortillas. The 365 brand of tortillas come in a variety of styles (corn, whole wheat, multigrain, etc), are all organic, and all vegan.
Rudi’s Gluten-Free Tortillas. If you’re gluten-free, Rudi’s tortillas are an excellent option. They’re organic, gluten-free, and vegan.
Food for Life Sprouted Corn Tortillas. Looking for a delicious corn tortilla option? The Food for Life brand tortillas are all organic and contain just 4 simple ingredients: organic corn flour, water, lime, and salt.
So, vegan tortillas anyone?
Now that you know what makes tortillas vegan (and to be extra clear when talking about tortillas in Spain or a Spanish restaurant!), it’s time for an epic burrito night. Check out some of my favorite vegan burrito recipes to get you started!
Have a favorite recipe that uses tortillas? Let me know with a comment!