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Nachos and tortilla chips originated from Mexico, but today are enjoyed all over the world, with the United States undoubtedly being the largest market for tortilla chips and is the favorite snack that is consumed during America’s super bowl Sunday, selling over 8 million pounds of tortilla chips for the occasion.
Nacho chips were accidentally discovered in 1940 when Rebecca Webb Carranza took rejected tortilla chips from her automated tortilla machine from the El Zarape Tortilla factory in Los Angeles, cut them into wedges, and fried them. These became popular snacks and sold for a dime a bag.
Nacho chips have become one of America’s most popular snacks, but do you know how it came about? The story of nachos and how they come to their pleasing shape is a twofold story that demystifies the reason why nachos become triangular.
Why Are Nacho Chips Triangular?
The true reason why nachos are triangular is thanks to the ingenious thinking of a businesswoman named Rebecca Webb Carranza.
Rebecca Webb Carranza was born in Durango, Mexico, in 1907 to a mining engineer and his Mexican-born wife. The mining company moved her family to El-Paso, Texas, when she was just a teenager after her parents divorced her mother, and she moved to Los Angeles, where she later found and married her husband, Mario Carranza.
They set up a tortilla factory in the southern parts of Los Angeles and started producing tortillas in the early 1940s. However, the startup was rough, and as the first automated tortilla manufacturing machine produced twelve times the number of tortillas that could be produced by hand, there were a lot of rejects and misshaped tortillas that were thrown away.
Apart from misshaped forms, there was nothing wrong with the tortillas, and Rebecca took the rejected forms home for snacks for her family dinner party. She cut the misshaped circles into four which resembled triangles, and fried them before serving them as snacks to the much-enthused family.
The snack was an instant success at the party, and Rebecca took her innovative idea back to work and cut up all the rejected tortilla chips into a triangle, fried them, and sold them in their Mexican delicatessen shop for a dime a bag to recover lost profits from the rejected stock. They were an instant hit with her clients, and the tortilla chip was born.
Rebecca Carranza was awarded the Golden Tortilla Award in 1994, one of about 20 innovators that revolutionized the Mexican food industry, and was recognized as one of the pioneers of the commercial tortilla chip.
Are Nachos And Tortillas The Same?
What is the difference between nachos and tortillas? Did you know that tortillas can be nachos, but nachos cannot be tortillas? Confusing, isn’t it?
Tortilla chips are the triangular forms that make the base of any nachos dish. Nachos is a dish that combines some of our favorite ingredients such as cheese, salsa, jalapeños, sour cream, and guacamole; they can also incorporate some meat such as ground beef, chicken, or turkey.
So, even keeping it in its simplest form, if you add some cheese to a tortilla chip, it becomes nachos, but nachos can only ever be nachos, remove the cheese, and you’re left with tortilla chips.
Today you can find many forms of tortilla chips, such as triangles, rounds, and rectangle chips, but don’t get that mixed up with corn chips. Tortilla and corn chips may both be made from corn, but tortillas have a secret ingredient.
The basic method of making tortillas has changed little since ancient times, except for the introduction of machines that facilitate the process. Today, tortillas and tortilla chips are still made with the same recipe as when bisabuela (great grandma) would make it and probably all the grandmas before that.
Tortillas, and hence tortilla chips, are made from a nixtamalized process of corn which gives us masa dough. Nixtamalization is a long process that includes soaking and boiling the corn in food-grade lime and water solutions to break down the hulls. The corn is then ground down into a dry powdered flour called masa harina.
So, in short, what separates tortilla chips and corn chips, even though both are made from corn meal, is the Nixtamalization process that tortilla meal goes through.
How Did The Term Nachos Come To Be?
Just like tortillas were invented quite by mistake, nachos were invented by chance by a man named Ignacio Anaya, nicknamed Nacho.
Ignacio worked as a manager for a restaurant called Club Victoria in Piedras Negras, México, just beyond Eagle Pass, Texas, where a group of US army wives local to the establishment walked in after a day of shopping and asked for an appetizer to enjoy as a snack.
Here is where the story is a little blurred, and it is unknown if they asked for something different from the normal appetizers or if the restaurant did not have the ingredients needed to make the normal items on the menu.
Thanks to Ignacio’s innovative thinking under pressure, he chopped up some tortillas into triangles, fried them, and served them with cheese and chopped jalapeños, which he placed in the oven to melt and served the dish to the ladies.
The ladies were smitten with the dish and enthusiastically asked Ignacio what the dish’s name was, to which he simply replied, a Nachos special. And so, in 1943, the nachos were born.
Why Do Nachos Always Taste Better At Restaurants?
I’m a huge fan of nachos and make a mean plate of nachos, but have you ever wondered why nachos always taste better at Mexican restaurants?
That is mostly thanks to the fact that the tortillas are homemade and fresh out of the pan. Nothing beats a freshly made batch of tortillas fried and served warm with a delicious salsa; that’s the restaurant’s secret.
Store-bought tortilla chips are packed with preservatives and flavoring and will be nowhere near as fresh as a restaurant dish.
My advice to up the level of your homemade nachos would be to find a good Mexican restaurant close to you and buy bags of tortilla chips fresh from them when you want to whip up another delicious plate of nachos for that super bowl or for that perfect comfort food.
The Point Of The Matter
The point of the matter is that the misshaped tortillas from Rebecca Webb Carranza tortilla factory were chopped into four to recover lost profits from the discarded and rejected tortillas; they became known as tortilla chips. Nacho, on the other hand, was a dish invented using tortilla chips and adorned with cheese and jalapeños by a Mexican restaurant manager named Ignacio Anaya.
Although the term nachos is more frequently used to describe the triangular chip, the real term is tortilla chip, and even keeping it at its simplest by only adding cheese; the tortilla is converted to the nacho.