Handmade Comal Tortillas in Michoacán: Traditional Practices along the Rural-Urban Gradient

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Sep 3;16(17):3211. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16173211.


Certain components of global food security continue to be threatened. Globalization has impacted food patterns, leading to greater homogenization of diets and the standardization of processes of food transformation, both in the countryside and in the cities. In Mexico, this has led to a drop in the use of native corn landraces and in the value associated with traditional practices around their growing and the processing and consumption of tortillas. The aim of this work was to analyze the main characteristics of the handmade comal tortilla system along the rural-urban gradient taking into account: (1) The type of seed and production, (2) manufacturing processes, (3) marketing channels and purpose of sales, and (4) perceptions regarding the quality of the product. Research was conducted on 41 handmade tortilla workshops located in rural areas in the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin and in urban and peri-urban areas of a medium-sized city in Michoacán (Mexico). Results showed that the origin of the grain follows a gradient-like pattern: In rural areas, tortillas are made with local and native corn predominate, while in urban contexts most tortillas come from hybrid corn produced in Sinaloa or Jalisco. There is a generalized preference for white tortillas, but blue tortillas are used for personal consumption in rural areas and as a gourmet product in the city. 100% of the rural workshops make their own nixtamal, while almost 50% of the peri-urban and urban businesses buy pre-made nixtamal dough. Surprisingly, 50% of the rural handmade tortilla workshops admit that they add nixtamalized corn flour and/or wheat flour to their tortilla mix. We conclude that not all handmade comal tortillas are produced equally and, although in rural areas traditions are better preserved, these also have contradictions. We also conclude that it is important to promote the revaluation of agrobiodiversity, traditional gastronomy, and food security without sacrificing quality, nutrition, and flavor.

Keywords: agrobiodiversity; cultural practices; food security; local knowledge; maize; sustainable agriculture; traditional food systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bread*
  • Edible Grain*
  • Flour
  • Food Handling / methods*
  • Humans
  • Mexico
  • Rural Population
  • Triticum
  • Urban Population
  • Zea mays*