Chipotle's Tricky Quest: a Tortilla From 4 Ingredients

Making one with whole-wheat flour, water, oil, and salt, isn't easy
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 16, 2015 9:24 AM CDT
Chipotle's Tasty Quest: A Tortilla From 4 Ingredients
In this June 6, 2008 file photo, Martijn Maaskant, left, a rider with Slipstream-Chipotle, makes burritos with Steve Ells, CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, in New York.   (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file)

Two months after cutting GMO ingredients from its menu, Chipotle has moved on to making "artisanal tortillas on an industrial scale," says founder Steve Ells. The chain has teamed up with the Bread Lab at Washington State University—who says research isn't appetizing?—in the pursuit of a tortilla that is soft, pliant, mouth-watering, and able to be mass-produced. The kicker: Ells wants it to contain just four ingredients: whole-wheat flour, water, oil, and salt, reports the New York Times. The 800,000 tortillas Chipotle currently uses daily contain flour, water, whole-wheat flour, canola oil, salt, baking soda, wheat bran, fumaric acid, calcium propionate, sorbic acid, and sodium metabisulfite. The extra ingredients "make them easier to produce by the millions and give them a longer shelf life," notes the Times.

A wheat expert says the Bread Lab is using "hard, white wheats," as many as 100 of them, to fool the eyes of those who favor white breads. A baker has developed a sourdough leavening agent to take the place of yeast, which should provide the right flavor, a smooth dough, and a lengthy shelf life. It needs to be properly added to dough and given time to ferment at a consistent temperature—not always possible at tortilla factories—but a test supplier gave it its own temperature- and humidity-controlled room. The result? Tortillas that are "golden brown with a slight nutty taste and a bit of elasticity," per the Times. "The next step is to put it into production to supply a small group of restaurants," Ells says. Chipotle was just named among the top 10 most-reputable companies, USA Today notes. (Hungry? Dig in to Chipotle guacamole at home.)

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