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Tortilla means "little cake" in Spanish, and refers to several different foods eaten in various Spanish speaking countries and parts of the United States.

In Mexico, Central America, as well as in English, "tortilla" refers to a flatbread made from corn or wheat originally made by Mesoamerican peoples.  

In Spain, South America, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, "tortilla" refers to an omelets, with variations that can include vegetables such as onions and potatoes.

Tortillas have been used for many centuries in Mexico, where they are consumed year round. More recently other countries have begun producing them to serve the expatriate Mexican market and the growing demand for Mexican food, particularly in North America, Europe and Eastern Asia. 

Mexican tortillas are most commonly prepared with meat to make dishes such as tacos, burritos, and enchiladas, however, there are many alternate versions without meat.

Different meanings of tortilla
The Spanish word tortilla denotes two different classes of foods, depending on where the term is encountered.

In Spain, Puerto Rico, Cuba, South America, a tortilla is any omelet, often a round, layered omelette (i.e., not folded over), most typically made with chopped potatoes (Tortilla de patatas) cooked in vegetable oil, mixed with beaten eggs and such seasonings as the chef desires, and cooked very slowly on the stove.

It is usually served cold as an appetizer, tapas, or bar snack. The terms Spanish tortilla, tortilla espa�ola or tortilla de patatas all refer to a common recipe in Spain, an omelette with fried potatoes and chopped onion, often served in Spanish bars and caf�s. 

American versions of Spanish and South American tortilla are usually cooked in vegetable shortening, commonly with bell pepper and/or onion and/or chives; and typically served warm instead of cold.

In Panama, a tortilla is a deep fried cornmeal disk, slightly smaller than a hockey puck.

But it is the Mexican meaning of "tortilla" that may be most familiar throughout the world. The corn tortilla (tortilla de maze), made from specially treated (nixtamalized) maize flour, have been a staple food of the Mexican region since pre-Columbian times; these are also now commonly made from wheat flour (tortilla de harina or tortilla de trigo).

The two versions of the Mexican tortilla have different textures owing to the grains from which they originate: the maize version is somewhat thicker and heartier in texture, while the wheat version is less easily broken, due to its elevated gluten content, and therefore often larger in circumference.

Corn tortillas are commonly eaten throughout the western world as tortilla chips, and are an essential ingredient in many popular Mexican and dishes such as enchiladas, tostadas, and flautas.  Tacos, while commonly made with corn tortillas in Mexico, are made with either maize or wheat tortillas in the US.

The flour tortilla is probably best known as the tortilla used to make burritos, a dish originating in northern Mexico. Wheat tortillas have also become a staple of the peoples of northwestern Mexican states (such as Sonora and Chihuahua) and many southwestern US American Indian tribes.

Maize tortillas are known in the Basque region of Spain as talo and were a traditional Basque farmers' staple until the introduction of rail borne wheat flour suitable for bread. There are maize tortillas in other regions of Northern Spain, such as Asturias, where they are called frixuelos, and Galicia, where they receive the name of filloas.

The South American tortilla of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, is inspired by the Mexican food, but is a small flat cake, usually salty, made with wheat or corn flour, and cooked over embers.

Use in Mexican cuisine
Tortillas are used to prepare many Mexican and, more generally, Latin American dishes.  Traditionally, all these dishes (except burritos) are made with corn, not flour, tortillas. The dishes include:

  • burritos
  • chalupas
  • chilaquiles
  • enchiladas
  • enfrijoladas
  • entomatadas
  • flautas
  • gorditas
  • quesadillas
  • sincronizadas
  • sopes
  • tacos
  • tacos dorados
  • taquitos
  • tlayudas
  • tortilla chips
  • tortilla soup
  • tostadas

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