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Beware the corn tortilla, it could have wheat!

Posted on September 29th, 2008 by Alison Read 29 Comments - Add Your Own »


I’ve got bad news for you wheat-free and gluten-free people out there: some corn tortillas are now being made with WHEAT GLUTEN! It is a disappointing trend that makes dining out even more difficult. And it’s just another example of how wheat is added to almost everything our society eats… no wonder more and more people are suffering from gluten intolerance and don’t even know it.

I first encountered this at Mamacita restaurant in San Francisco when they opened a few years ago. After it replaced the delicious regular restaurant of mine, Marimba (I still miss it), my husband and I ventured in for brunch one time to see what all the hype was about. After informing our waitperson that we could not eat gluten, he returned to tell us that there was nothing on the menu that we could have. NOTHING! The “corn” tortillas and the tortilla chips had wheat in them. I was seriously shocked (and hungry and really mad and I think I almost cried – I was pregnant at the time!) I checked that restaurant off my list but didn’t suspect that this would be a problem in other places.

A few weeks ago, I received a call from my friend Karen who has been gluten-free for 2 years now. She had eaten at Guaymas restaurant in Tiburon, just north of San Francisco. After she ate one and a half corn tortillas, she stopped. She thought they tasted a little different, kind of sweet, and continued the rest of the meal. Her stomach cramped a little throughout dinner, but she brushed it off, not realizing what she had eaten. The next morning she didn’t feel well. But, since the weather was so beautiful, and the restaurant has a great a view of San Francisco, she and her husband returned the following night. After pressing the waitperson to talk to the chef to find out if there was wheat in the corn tortillas, she found out that indeed there was! Since that night, she has found yet another restaurant using corn tortillas with added wheat.

And then yesterday, I was in a grocery store and saw new tortillas being made my La Tortilla Factory, who makes the gluten-free wraps. I love La Tortilla Factory for going out of their way to create something for the gluten-free community, but now they are making new “handmade style corn tortillas” called De la Cocina (From the Kitchen), that contain WHEAT GLUTEN.

All of these restaurants and makers of tortillas claim that they have “authentic” food. First of all, putting wheat gluten in corn tortillas in not authentic. Authentic corn tortillas are made of corn. Second of all, it is misleading to call it a corn tortilla. How is anyone supposed to know now whether a corn tortilla really means a corn tortilla?

Call them Cornwheat tortillas or at least put a big warning that says “Contains wheat”, so there is no confusion for those of us that count on corn tortillas every time we go out for Mexican food, or, more importantly, to warn those who would have a serious reaction to wheat. Just when I thought food companies were starting to get it…

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  1. oh this is horrible!
    NOT happy.

  2. We spend a lot of time in New Mexico as daughter lives there and I have gotten sick several times eating at Mexican restaurants and after talking with owners-managers have found out that they add wheat flour to their corn masa to make their homemade tortillas and tortilla chips. I got deathly sick once after eating enchiladas — it is disgusting that we gluten intolerant people cannot trust eating corn products anymore and it is so hard to find other gluten-free products anymore – like cereal — of the hundreds on the shelves there are only two or three that are gluten free. I, too, thought that the US was getting “with it” but guess not.
    Thank goodness for Whole Foods Gluten Free Pantry Bakehouse goods — too bad we don’t have a Whole Foods near where I live — so have to stock up when I go to visit daughter in VA. Everything they have is delicious — including bread, muffins, scones, pizza crusts, cookies etc. Couldn’t survive without their products…..

  3. Dear fellow gluten intolerant consumers (celiacs and all others following a gluten free diet),

    Recently the following statement was made about corn tortillas on http://surefoodsliving.com/2008/09/29/beware-the-corn-tortilla-it-could-have-wheat/ : “…And then yesterday, I was in a grocery store and saw new tortillas being made my La Tortilla Factory, who makes the gluten-free wraps. I love La Tortilla Factory for going out of their way to create something for the gluten-free community, but now they are making new “handmade style corn tortillas” called De la Cocina (From the Kitchen), that contain WHEAT GLUTEN.”

    This post is an excellent example of why it is important to read labels carefully and every time you shop, as well as ask questions when dining away from home.

    When shopping you have to read labels and can not assume that a special variety or style of a product does not contain gluten. The “Certified Gluten-Free” mark on packages does assure consumers that the product meets the standard of less than 10 ppm gluten, twice as strict as the proposed FDA definition (and adopted Codex definition) for gluten-free.

    It is also important to ask questions when dining. Not only what ingredients do they contain but also how are they prepared and handled in the restaurant to prevent cross contamination.

    In the US many authentic ethnic foods are ‘Americanized’ so that they will appeal to our palate or suit a specific purpose. The term ‘authentic’ is used liberally and could relate to anything – the ingredients used, the preparation method, etc.

    GIG through the Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO) works very closely with La Tortilla. The De la Cocina “handmade style corn tortillas” brand clearly states on the front of the package “a unique blend of corn and wheat”. It does not bare the “Certified Gluten-Free” logo. Here are some facts you should know:
    1) The De la Cocina corn tortillas are made on the same lines as the wheat-containing products. They are not intended to be used by people with wheat or gluten allergies and intolerances.
    2) There is a controlled dedicated line and environment where (pure) corn tortillas are made. Nothing containing gluten runs on this line.
    3) The gluten-free wraps are also run in a controlled environment and line, where no gluten is allowed.

    For more information about GFCO and certified products visit http://www.GFCO.org

  4. Thank you Cynthia,
    I certainly didn’t mean to scare people away from La Tortilla Factory – I eat both their plain corn (see? I have to add “plain” in front of corn now) and their gluten-free wraps.

    I always read labels. What I am mostly worried about is how this new kind of tortilla is sold and marketed to restaurants. I highly doubt that a waiter, or other people working in Mexican food restaurants, are going to know that there is wheat in corn tortillas if they are sold as and called corn tortillas. So when we ask, they are going to say they are corn. Most people at this point, unless they have read my post or discovered it on their own, do not know that this is even happening. And people are going to get sick. They already have. I just hope that someone severely allergic to wheat doesn’t make this mistake.

    I am disappointed that a food that has been for a long time considered safe is now on our watch list.

  5. Alison
    The news is out – which is not a bad thing. A number of people forwarded your post to me from various sources. I just wanted to add some feedback about LaTortilla. they have worked so hard to do things right.

    This just reminds us we have to be ever vigilant about the choices we make in foods. I agree that restaurants are the hardest to be confident that the staff knows what they are talking about. It is a never-ending education opportunity. the turnoverrate is so high in food service.

    Have a good weekend

  6. This is wrong on so many levels. We should vote with our purchases and these restaurants will understand they need to make this information clear. Support those who provide a safe meal for you. – Diane

  7. This is very disappointing. Corn tortillas are my staple. I survive on them. I have found it difficult to eat at most Mexican restaurants because they put wheat in just about every thing. And now for them to add it to the tortillas. That is just to much. I have always asked about the chips because they often contain flour but now I have to ask about the tortillas as well.

  8. Just found your blog–it’s great! I lead a celiac/gluten intolerance support group, so I will definitely make folks aware of this concern. I agree that the inclusion of wheat in corn tortillas is VERY disappointing. I was aware of it in many tortilla chips at restaurants though. And, the question is why, when tortillas and tortilla chips can be made with 100% corn.I had just told our 20-year old son who has resolved to eat gluten free once again (he’s gluten sensitive) to count on corn toritillas as one of his staples. Ugh.

  9. Oh dear.

    Yeah–I’m not surprised.

    Don’t forget–enchilada sauce often contains wheat, too. I found this out one time after buying some.

    Good luck…


  10. Mission Corn Tortillas state they are gluten-free on the back. I eat them all the time. Their website also mentions the tortillas are made on dedicated lines. For those of us not fortunate enough to get La Tortilla products, these are fairly good and convenient.

  11. Oh, this is just awful. I never would have known this if I hadn’t read this post. I think we all just assumed corn tortillas meant that – corn! I know there are some people who are sensitive to corn but it is a great alternative for many.
    I will keep my eyes out for gluten in the corn tortillas I buy,
    thanks again,

  12. I always eat white corn tortillas. the package says gluten free.so far so good…. is there a difference between white corn tortillas and yellow corn tortillas? Thank you, Elaine

  13. My husband was finally diagnosed with celiac in May (after losing 35 lbs from constant diarrhea). He lived on the corn tortillas I bought, eating 2 a day. When they ran out, he bought a different brand and landed in the hospital again, twice, with dehydration due to diarrhea again. We were sure that he had no gluten exposure. When he got a little better, I brought him lunch from home: chicken tacos. Within 30 min, he was back in the bathroom and had diarrhea for another 5 hrs. That is when I stopped trusing corn tortillas and the listed ingredients!

  14. How misleading! I wish I had seen this article before I ate those tortillas. I am breastfeeding, so this means that my baby boy will have his first exposure to gluten now. I hope he and I will be ok.

  15. OK, that was interesting! Obviously I’m not alone with the corn tortilla problem!
    Anybody know for sure, if ‘Food For Life’ Sprouted Corn Tortillas are safe?
    Apparently, some companies actually ‘dust’ their products in flour, to prevent them sticking together! Presumably they follow the horrifyingly prevalent assumption, that ‘minimal’ is insignificant enough to be of no consequence!
    To those people, (which sadly includes Doctors). I tell them; SURE…A ‘LITTLE BIT’ of POISON WON’T KILL YOU!


  17. re: tortilla chips

    Casa Chicas and Casa Sanchez brands both make restaurant-style tortilla chips, salsas and guacamoles – all are gluten-free – both companies are smaller, bay-area cos. and have verified that they don’t allow any wheat/flour products in the facilities!!!! yeah!!

  18. Thanks Donna – good info for people to know!

  19. Hi all
    I’ve just been diagnosed with Celiac desease so I’m totally new to this and I almost live on mexican food so this is very disturbing, Now my ? is what about the beans and rice At mexican resturants and taco shops are they infected too?


  20. Shaggy,
    For the most part, I believe that almost all corn tortillas do not contain wheat, but it is good to check. Beans and rice are, in my experience, fine. I have never had a problem with this.

  21. Another brand to try, if you have a local Mexican store, is El Milagro. Not only are they gluten-free, they’re also salt-free.

  22. I just returned from a vacation in northern Mexico and discovered that where I was the corn tortillas that came from tortilla factories all appeared to contain enough gluten to make me sick. The corn tortillas from mom and pop operations or those made by my host did not. I have encountered the same problem where I live in Portland Oregon. Gluten is apparently added to corn tortillas to extend their shelf life, although I can’t imagine why anyone would want to eat a two week old corn tortilla!

    My own solution is to start making all my own corn tortillas using a tortilla press I brought back. Close to where I live is the Portland area’s crown jewel for gluten free baking ingredients, Bob’s Red Mill in Milwaukee Oregon. Bob’s Red Mill carries certified gluten-free Masa Harina. Add some water and you are ready to start turning them out. I think it will be fun, and not really time consuming. If you want to try it yourself you should get a cast iron griddle (relatively cheap) that is large enough – about 11″ x 19″ – to cover two burners on your stove top. That will allow you to cook two fresh corn tortillas in about 2 minutes.

  23. Mexican restaurants are also adding gluten to the meat that is served. It is either in the rub or the marinade used. Chain restaurants, like Freebirds, also adds it to their beef. Just have to ask everywhere these days.

    And as far as “why” use it instead of corn – it’s the same as sugar substitutes/additives like high fructose corn syrup – it’s cheaper! Usually the motivation for the food/restaurant industry for switching……..

    And Allison, A LOT of beans at restaurants have gluten. Gluten is used as a thickening agent among other reasons, so many and most sauces (including soy), soups, gravy, etc have it. So while the beans themselves may be okay, it’s more about what they add to them.

    If any of you guys venture much to Boulder, Colorado, TONS of options with GF menus. IT’s the norm…..

  24. BEWARE Maria & Ricardo’s “corn” tortillas! They are labeled as “corn” tortillas, but when you look at the actual ingredient list, they’re FULL of gluten and wheat. The ingredients include: wheat gluten, wheat flour, and wheat fiber.

    They should be labeled, “Corn & Wheat Tortillas” on the front of the package, but instead they’re just labeled, “Soft Corn Tortillas.” What a joke.

    Apparently they have a line of gluten-free tortillas available in some stores, but I didn’t see them in Whole Foods. I’m kinda disappointed that Whole Foods would allow this misleading advertising to get buy.

  25. I know this is an old post, but THANK YOU! I’m newly GF. We are moving and took our kids and their friends who have been helping to a Mexican place (which was delicious) specifically because I could eat the corn products. But last night, not an hour after we ate, I had a migraine (why I’m GF), and by 12:30 it was a pounder. I suspected the corn tortillas! I’ll ask next time we’re there – I don’t mind eating fajitas with rice, I just want to know! (It didn’t even occur to me to ask if the corn tortillas had flour….ugh)

  26. I agree, completely. This should not be called “corn tortilla”, as it is VERY misleading, as there are a lot of genuine 100% corn tortillas are selling as “corn tortilla”. I had to go to emergency hospital because of this deceptive label. I was totally under impression that corn tortillas are 100% corn till today. (I bought La Tortilla Factory, White Corn tortilla”. Let us know if there are any class action lawsuits against them.

  27. My mom and I almost got glutened yesterday due to this product! The waitstaff had no idea that these were not pure corn tortillas because of the misleading packaging. I knew the texture was not right and questioned them again, asking to see the packaging. They were shocked! Now at least they are informed for the sake of the next person.

  28. Seems most people without the allergy don’t totally understand, if I told someone I had a peanut allergy they’d get it or a onion allergy but because I don’t break out in hives or start being choked because my thought is closing means no real attention to the allergy, wait staff has no clue to what is in the ingredients them selves let alone what a dish is even made from, managers act like your outta hand and then you have manufacturers trying to capitalize from using a gluten free label without actually taking extra steps to insure the health of the people eating them, if we could sue for miss leading one into a sick episode bet your ass things would change. They wouldn’t dare make a product on the same machine as peanut and put peanuts on possible traces amounts list, wish I new more about politics. Maybe someone can start something that forces company’s to be more specific and restaurants to be properly aware and procedures

  29. That is my thoughts exactly on the last paragraph. Why call something a corn tortilla when it’s not corn, most of it is wheat.
    And then, there’s these baking-mixes, one of which is: “Sweet potato” but when you LOOK at the ingredients the first is either wheat flour, or wheat flour is mixed in with the dried sweet potato puree.
    Can’t even buy a pumpkin pie filling, just the filling, without there being wheat in it.
    And I’m supposed to trust “sprouted grain wheat bread”? When even that has wheat gluten in it! because they were impatient to let it properly ferment to be able to rise without gluten and without yeasts.
    I hate the food industry for ruining food.

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