Clean Label Flour Tortilla Formulation

To assist you in your tortilla production, we thought we’d share some of the basic information you need for good flour tortilla formulation.

Looking for a clean label formulation for your bakeshop or tortilla shop? Panhandle Milling has been famous for its tortilla flour since 1985. We pride ourselves on producing the best quality tortilla flour with consistent results every single time. To assist you in your tortilla production, we thought we’d share some of the basic information you need for good flour tortilla formulation. This is the regular tortilla section. We’ll add more flavors and formulas as time moves onward.

There are three methods generally used for the formation of circular tortillas: hot-press, die-cut, and the traditional hand stretch. The hot-pressing method is increasing in popularity, mainly because it is ideal for automated tortilla production and it gives the consistent quality and characteristics that customers are trying to achieve. At home or in smaller production tortilla shops, hand stretching is still the preferred method. We know that it is the preferred method of our Panhandle culinary staff as well as any Mexican grandmother. That’s not a bad thing! It’s tradition. In this post, we’ll share a larger scale formulation as well as a more “family-friendly” recipe. You decide how many tortillas you want to make!

Flour Tortilla Ingredients

Flour is the most important ingredient for perfect tortillas. Panhandle Tortilla Flour for hot-press tortillas has a protein content around 11.5 percent. Never use weak flours with low gluten content. They will give you tortillas of inferior quality that split, crack and tear easily after overnight storage. Overly strong protein flours need longer resting times before they can be pressed.

Fat. The use of fat makes it easier to manipulate the dough by reducing the stickiness of the dough. They are also more extensible and less elastic, therefore easier to press into tortillas. High levels of shortening are also essential to prevent the tortillas from losing their ability to be folded without cracking.

Preservatives are generally added to extend mold-free shelf life. It is important to control the final pH of the tortilla since preservatives like propionates and sorbates lose their effectiveness above pH 6.0 to 6.5. Since sorbates are more effective than propionates from pH 5.5 to 6.5, it is advised to use sorbates instead of propionates in this pH range. When using baking powder, it is best to use sodium propionate instead of calcium propionate, because calcium can interfere with the baking powder salts.

Baking powders affect the fluff of the tortilla while baking and influence the final pH of the baked product. Baking powders are based on sodium bicarbonate and “just right” amounts of leavening acids. They are generally used in tortilla formulations at levels between 1 and 3 percent, depending on how puffy the tortilla is intended to turn out. It is a fine balance. Why? Because a low pH is needed to extend the shelf-life of tortillas and prevent mold, but a higher pH improves the quality and consistency of the tortillas. Some bakers insist on using yeast in tortillas for the leavening, as they believe it improves the flavor of the tortilla. This method is most popular in fat-free tortilla production when there isn’t the mouthfeel of the fat in the dough.

Reducing agents are used to improve dough. They reduce the elasticity of the dough and make it easier to roll. This is done by the addition of compounds that block the bonds in the gluten proteins. These include L-cysteine, glutathione (present in non-leavening yeast), fumaric acid, sorbic acid, and sodium (bi)sulfite. In this formulation, we use Sorbic acid both as a reducing agent and as a preservative. It is a preservative originally derived from the berries of the rowan tree. The tree is also known as the mountain ash tree or by its scientific name of Sorbus aucuparia. Sorbic acid can also be produced synthetically. It slows the growth of yeast and mold and is widely used as a preservative in foods and skin products. It is considered nontoxic.

Other ingredients are used for tortillas such as salt (usually 1 to 2 percent of flour weight) and fat replacers. Gums, starches and non-leavening yeast increase water absorption and keep the tortillas from getting too dry during baking. We use a little xanthan gum in our recipe. It is natural and does add to the finished shelf-life of the tortillas as well as the pliability.

Large Scale Hot-press Process

  • Mixing the ingredients first requires mixing all the dry ingredients and then adding the shortening. The shortening is cut into the dry mixture, ideally, until a very fine texture is achieved. Only then is the water added and the dough is kneaded into a smooth consistency (water absorption around 750 Farinograph Units). Less water absorption will make the dough very stiff and difficult to press, yielding inferior quality tortillas. Higher water-absorption levels result in tortillas with a silky soft texture and many layers. However, this may cause rolling problems, as the dough tends to become sticky and too slack. Depending on the mixer, be very careful. You don’t want to undermix the dough, as it will result in smaller blisters in the tortillas. Conversely, overmixing the dough causes the dough to be overly sticky and hard to roll. Normal dough temperatures for hot-press wheat flour tortillas are 90° to 100°F. Lower dough temperatures increase water absorption and yield softer tortillas but also slow down dough relaxation and increase resting time. Plan accordingly.
  • Dough dividing, rounding, and resting takes place immediately after mixing. Scaling weights normally vary from 1 to 2 ounces. This will depend entirely on how large the tortilla’s diameter is intended to be in the finished product. Dough pieces are transported to a proofer to rest for a short time. This allows them to become more extensible and less elastic. Gluten needs to rest. Relaxation is key to facilitate pressing. Don’t let them rest long enough and there will be translucent spots in the final product, less fluff, and funny-shaped tortillas.
  • Pressing occurs by transporting the relaxed dough on heated conveyor. It moves under a hydraulic press. The presses operate at 350°-450° and vary in pressure depending on your facility between 400-1100psi. During pressing, a thin skin is formed on the surface of the raw tortilla. The skin seals it to limit the expulsion of carbon dioxide and steam which causes the tortilla to expand and puff into a balloon-shape during the baking process.
  • Baking takes place in a three-level tortilla oven. The tortillas are baked for approximately 40 seconds at temperatures of 375° to 500°F. The tortillas start at the top level of the oven, then are flipped over to the middle oven level, and then are flipped again onto the lower conveyor before they leave the oven.
  • Cooling is necessary to keep tortillas from sticking together in the finished packaging as well as keeping condensation from forming that would cause the growth of mold. Tortillas are mold-free directly after baking. Avoid contamination during the cooling and packaging process. Also, proper cooling will limit how much moisture is lost after the tortillas are baked. Generally, this is achieved by moving the tortillas over multilevel conveyers.

Just want to Make Some at Home?

Our Chef’s Homemade Tortillas

5 cups Panhandle Milling Tortilla Flour

1 Tbsp. salt

1 Tbsp. baking powder

1 cup shortening or lard

2 cups boiling water


  • Cut shortening into flour, baking powder, salt, and seasoning with the paddle in an electric mixer, Mix until the shortening is in fine pieces smaller than peas.
  • BOIL 2 cups water and dump boiling water into the flour mixture and combine with paddle or spoon by hand about 1 minute.
  • Remove dough from the bowl and form into 12-18 balls, depending on the size of the tortillas you want. 12 will make 8-10 inch tortillas, 18 will make 4-6 inch tortillas. Roll the tortillas into rounds. Using boiling water eliminates the need to use flour on the board. Just roll out into a 6-8 inch tortilla.
  • Cook on a moderate skillet (medium heat) until done (about 2 minutes on each side). It should bubble up. Cover with a moist dishcloth to keep tender. Serve immediately.

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