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Collection Tier:
Tier 3

Food ➔ Tortilla Press

A tortilla press such as this is used to press balls of corn dough into flat tortillas for traditional Mexican dishes such as tacos and tamales. A round ball of dough is placed in the center between plastic sheets or corn leaves while the metal plate is closed on top. Once the dough is inside, the handle is pressed to the center until a thin tortilla forms.

The history of the tortilla began thousands of years ago when, according to Mayan legend, the peasants used tortilla bread to feed their king and win his favor. When Hernan Cortes and Spanish conquistadors arrived in the early 1500s, they discovered that Mexican Aztecs made flat cornbreads from dried and ground cornmeal, called masa. They named the food tortilla or “little cake.” For the next four centuries, hand pressing continued until the demand grew too great, especially in the United States. In the 1940s, small gas engines and electric motors helped grind the maize corn quickly into a dough which was then flattened by hand or a metal press. By the 1960s, tortilla machines were introduced, producing a shell in only two seconds. Today, the use of tortilla presses continues as this food grows from a Mexican staple to the US table.     
circa 2018
Current Location Status:
Education Program
Museum Purchase

Discovery Kit: Foodways (October 25 2019)
Discovery Kits include a variety of artifacts and specimens from the Museum’s Collection that allow students to investigate global and local objects. The Collections support the Museum’s mission of inspiring curiosity and discovery around science, history, and culture. Each kit includes objects from the Museums archives, helpful resources and suggested activities. Discovery Kits are a great way for teachers to incorporate primary source and object-based learning into the classroom or as a way to prepare for or extend a Museum visit.    

Virtual Discovery Kit: Foodways (May 2020)
Food is a universal language. Discover how cultures around the world work in the kitchen.