February 4, 2013

By Kathleen Furore

When customers visit Tortilleria Nixtamel in  Corona, N.Y, they find tortillas and tamales prepared the Old World way—with fresh masa made from grain that has been soaked and ground on-site.

The Nixtamal tortillas are made from white corn cooked in water with a little

calcium hydroxide (also known as lime or cal), and without additives, preservatives, msg or other artificial ingredients. Masa is ground fine for the tortillas, and coarse for the tamales.

Customers who happen by in the early morning or late afternoon can watch some culinary theater as a bright green machine spews out tortillas on-site.

Nothing goes to waste at this authentic Mexican eatery. The restaurant sells its tortillas and masa, plus the nachos and tostadas made with left-over tortillas that are cooked in 100 percent corn oil, by the pound for patrons who want to prepare Mexican meals at home.

Across the country, a similar scenario plays out at at El Indio, a Sonoran-style San Diego mainstay launched as a tortilla factory in August of 1940. The flour and corn tortillas, thick and spicy tortilla chips, and tamales for which the restaurant is known are all made fresh daily and are so popular that customers often stop in to buy bags of the homemade chips and tortillas the  eatery purveys.

These two establishments are tapping into customers’ love of tortillas, which are fast becoming a mainstay not only on Mexican restaurant menus but throughout the foodservice industry.

INDUSTRY DATA

One glance at tortilla usage and consumption data shows consumers are embracing this versatile ethnic bread.

Forty-nine percent of all foodservice menus include tortillas, according to the MenuMine database from the Oak Park, Ill.-based Foodservice Research Institute. In terms of the prevalance among other breads on the menu, tortillas make up 12.8 percent of the so-called Bread Bowl, research shows.

The overall market is growing, as well. In 1997, the total market size was approximately $2.5 billion; by 2011, that number had quadrupled to more than $10 billion, according to the Arlington, Va.-based Tortilla Industry Association (TIA).

And according to Ibis World’s  “Tortilla Production in the U.S.” report, released in August 2012, “The tortilla production industry has experienced strong growth in the last five years, making it the fastest growing segment within the entire baking industry.

Investing in the equipment, ingredients and supplies to make in-house tortillas is one way Mexican and other Latin-themed restaurants can differentiate themselves, creating hot-off-the  press products and culinary theater in the process.

According to Acadio Rodriguez, sales manager at BE&SCO Manufacturing, restaurants are beginning to embrace that approach.

“The trend is that more established restaurants are starting to look toward making fresh tortillas instead of buying them for two reasons: cost savings and the fact the public is starting to demand freshness,” Rodriguez reports.

Charlie Smith, owner of X-Press Manufacturing in New Braunfels, Texas, also reports more inquiries from restaurants interested in making fresh tortillas. “They appeal to restaurants’ clientele because it shows they are serving fresh food—and the customers like to see the machines running,” Smith says.

Interest in making tortillas has picked up despite the economic challenges of the past few years, Tony Marino, sales manager at Dutchess Bakers, notes. “Freshness is the big thing, without a doubt,” he says. “The refrigerated, packaged products don’t deliver the same freshness and flavor.”

Another benefit is that restaurants can turn the tortillas into an additional revenue stream, just the way Tortilleria Nixtamal and El India have done. “They can make enough tortillas to bag and sell them by the dozen,” Smith suggests.

And Manuel Villagomez Rodriguez, director of Grupo Villamex, says making corn tortillas and wheat flour tortillas on site allows chefs to serve products free of the preservatives found in some prepared tortillas.

PREPARING FOR EQUIPMENT PURCHASES

Once you’ve decided to add house-made tortillas to your menu, selecting the right equipment is key. The kind of tortillas you want to make (flour or corn); the volume of tortillas you’ll need, especially during peak business hours; the amount of space you have for tortilla production; and the cost of equipment, maintenance and ingredient costs are among the most important things to consider.

Other questions you should be able to answer include:

*Do you want to make variety tortillas—flavored products like sun-dried tomato or spinach tortillas? If so, you might need additional space.

*Do you want to make the tortillas in open view of customers, in the kitchen/ back of house, or possibly off-site?

*How much space do you want to allocate for the tortilla-making process?

*Do you want to make tortillas daily, weekly, or somewhere in between?

Once you’ve determined the equipment you’ll need, you’ll have to decide which machines offer the best value for your operation. Be sure to check references from other restaurateurs and chefs who own the same equipment, and try to view the equipment in use if possible to determine if it is right for your operation.

For a list of companies that offer a wide variety of equipments and supplies for making tortillas and tamales and for storing fresh-made chips, see the source guide below:

SOURCE GUIDE

BE&SCO Manufacturing. The company offers a variety of high-performance, fresh flour tortilla machines, Minom premium flour tortilla base, plus equipment for tamale-making, as well.

800-683-0928; www.bescomfg.com

Bridgford Foods. Tortilla dough balls let you serve fresh tortillas without the fuss of making your own masa—consistent flavor, no mixing!

800-527-2105; www.bridgford.com

Carter Hoffmann. Hot chips = happy customers! Keep them  coming back with Carter-Hoffmann chip warmers! They come 

in 20-, 22- and 44-gallon capacity models.

800-323-9793;  www.carter-hoffmann.com

C.T. Beavers/Tio Carlos’ Tamale King. Equipment and supplies for all your tamale-making needs including tamale makers,  pots, spices, corn husks and masa. 800-531-1799;  www.tamaleking.com

Dutchess Bakers. Makers of high-quality dough dividers, dough rounders and tortilla presses specially designed for the foodservice industry.

800-777-4498; www.dutchessbakers.com

Grupo Villamex. Make tortillas from corn or wheat with state-of-the-art machines and accessories designed for all sizes and style of Mexican restaurants.

888-301-8607; www.g-villamex.com

Texican. Tortilla chip serving cabinets and hot food drawers are available in sizes, styles and capacities for all restaurants, large and small alike.

800-869-5918; www.texicanspecialty.com

X-Press Manufacturing. This company’s specialty is display cooking center that lets one employee make 900 flour tortillas per hour in just 4’ x 4’ of space.

800-365-9440; www.x-pressmfg.com

Nixtamal

Nixtamal is an Aztec word to describe corn that has been partially cooked and soaked with calcium hydroxide, otherwise referred to as cal or lime. Calcium hydroxide is simply the dust that results from scraping a limestone rock. The Aztec would grind corn against the limestone found in the riverbeds, and hence discovered the benefit of the interaction of this natural element with corn. The process of nixtamalization was first developed in Mesoamerica where maize was originally cultivated. There is no precise date for when the technology was developed, but the earliest evidence of nixtamalization is found in Guatamala’s southern coast, with equipment dating from 1200-1500BCE. Nixtamal can be ground into masa (a corn dough) for making tortillas or similar patted disk (finely ground) or tamales (coursely ground), or can be kept in its whole form to make pozole, otherwise known as hominy.

—Source: Tortilleria Nixtamal (www.tortillerianixtamal.com)

DO YOU MAKE TORTILLAS IN-HOUSE?

The tortilla consumption and  usage data available today doesn’t include information about tortillas restaurants make in-house.  el Restaurante Mexicano wants to know how many of our readers  make their own tortillas. Our new subscription form asks if you make your own tortillas—so please fill out the form on page 24 or at  www.restex.com/subscribe. You  can also email Editor Kathleen Furore and tell her if  you make your own tortillas.

February 4, 2013

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