The miracle of tortilla – Karime López

How important is corn to the world? According to Karime López, the second Speaker on Food Meet Science 2023, it connects cultures, being a staple of the diet or the basis of popular dishes around the world. With over 9,000 years of history, first used as teosinte, today it requires the work of human hands for cultivation. The presenter drew attention to a pressing issue regarding the cultivation of corn – nowadays, unlike in the past, not much of it is grown in polyculture. 

The men from the corn

If this is not enough to illustrate the importance of corn, Karime tells the Mayan legend of the creation of man. According to this myth, each part of the human body was created from a particular type of corn or corn dough. This shows that this product was not only the basis of culture, but also part of the individual as well as collective identity of the Maya. According to the Speaker, it is difficult to imagine the direction of evolution of this civilization without corn. However, many other cultures use corn to prepare their typical dishes – some of them are from the other side of the world. Italians, Peruvians, Colombians, Venezuelans, Japanese, Basques – they all have their traditional corn-based dishes.

The science of tortilla

Nixtamalization has been known for a long time in Mexican cuisine, but nowadays it seems that the world of fine dining is discovering, or rediscovering it. It is the process in which the corn is cooked in an alkaline product (it may be lime, sea shells, or even ashes from the firewood) and left to rest for 12 hours. During the presentation, Karime was accompanied by Josephina, an expert in Maíz from Traspatio Maya. Together they started to grind the corn in the mill – this activity needed to be done a couple of times so that the flour was fine. Then, from previously prepared three types of corn dough (it needs to rest) they skilfully started to form tortillas.

Karime pointed out how important it was to show the audience how the corn is ground. We’ve all eaten a taco or a quesadilla, but we usually have no idea how they are made. It is crucial to appreciate and understand the great technique of nixtamalization and to convey all the work behind our favorite meal, especially when manual crafts are getting lost over the years.

The cost 

Another crucial aspect of making a corn-based product is the cost. According to workers from Traspatio Maya, producing one kilo of corn – planting, harvesting, etc. costs around 80 pesos. Meanwhile, the big companies usually offer 40 pesos, which shows that people do not value the producers enough. We are used to the fact that tortillas are cheap, but it is important to think about why the price is so low. The problem with underpaying producers led to young people avoiding this job. Chef Karime said she wishes to leave this legacy to her daughter – so she could fall in love with a good tortilla.

Preparing a meal

Now, all that was left was to add the ingredients to the tortilla. Karmie was inspired by Italian cuisine, but she used Mexican products. She decided to put marinated in bergamot Mexican tuna instead of bonito, green sauce, Chipotle instead of Chinese pepper mayonnaise,  avocado and hibiscus powder. The dish looked fresh and colorful – a true homage to Mexican cuisine. After all, the culinary tradition of her homeland is over 6,000 years old and included in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

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