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Take a closer look at the humble chips on the table with Groupon’s look into the origins of a favorite triangular snack.
Whether dipped in salsa, buried in nacho toppings, or smelted into piquant chilaquilles, tortilla chips serve as a cornerstone of Mexican-American cuisine. The versatile, lightly salted crisps can take many forms: light and airy or thick and crunchy, blue or yellow, round or triangular, baked or fried. However, the chips do have a canonical preparation. Chefs must first cook corn in water with ash or quicklime, then grind the mixture to produce a substance called masa. Coarser-grained masa is fried to form crispy tortilla chips, and finer masa is used for table tortillas (or wrapped around tacos, burritos, and other popular items). The texture of a chip can be more distinctive than the rush of salt and starch on your tongue; tortillerias and industrial manufacturers carefully engineer the density of chips, the number of air pockets they contain, and their overall texture profile.
Tortilla chips may be related to the Oaxacan snack totopos, a baked (not fried) tortilla made from masa that is mixed with salt. Modern tortilla chips first became popular in the 1940s, when, according to legend, a tortilla-factory owner named Rebecca Carranza decided to try frying a batch of malformed tortillas. However, researchers have found advertisements for tortilla-chip sales dating back to the 1930s, so the exact origins of the chip remain a delicious mystery.