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How to make corn tortillas soft without oil?

Corn tortillas are a staple of Mexican cuisine and an integral part of dishes like tacos, enchiladas, tostadas and more. They are made from masa harina, which is a special corn flour made from treated corn. Authentic corn tortillas have a rich corn flavor and soft, pliable texture that works well for wrapping around fillings.

However, corn tortillas often dry out and become stiff quite quickly after cooking. This can make them crack or break when you try to roll or fold them around a filling. The most common solution is to add a small amount of oil or lard to the masa dough before cooking, which helps keep the tortillas soft and pliable.

But what if you want to avoid adding extra fat and calories from oil? Is there a way to get soft, pliable corn tortillas without frying them in oil? Let’s take a look at some simple tricks and techniques for keeping your tortillas supple and easy to work with, even without added fats.

Tips for Soft Corn Tortillas without Oil

Here are some of the best tips and methods for making soft corn tortillas without needing to fry them in oil:

Cook Them One at a Time

Cooking the tortillas individually helps prevent them from drying out. Stacked warm tortillas will steam each other, causing the top ones to stiffen up. Cook them one after another and keep each tortilla wrapped in a clean kitchen towel to stay warm and moist until serving.

Use Warm Water in the Dough

Using warm or even hot tap water (around 110°F/43°C) to mix your masa dough can help make more pliable tortillas. The warm water softens the corn flour more thoroughly and allows the dough to stretch easier into thinner tortillas.

Press Between Damp Towels

After cooking each tortilla, press it between two damp paper towels or clean cloths. The moisture helps soften the warm tortilla and prevents it from drying out too quickly.

Wrap in Damp Paper Towels

You can also wrap the freshly cooked tortillas in a damp paper towel before stacking them up to steam and stay soft. The towel absorbs excess moisture and keeps them from losing flexibility.

Steam Them

After cooking your tortillas, stack them up and wrap them in foil or a clean kitchen towel. Let them steam together for 5-10 minutes. This helps them retain moisture and stay warm and pliable longer.

Use Wax Paper Between Layers

When stacking up tortillas after cooking, slip pieces of wax paper in between each one. This prevents them from sticking together so they don’t steam and stiffen up.

Add Wheat Flour

Mixing just a bit of all-purpose or wheat flour into your masa dough can help make softer tortillas. About 1-2 tablespoons per cup of masa harina adds structure without losing the corn flavor.

Rest the Dough Longer

Allowing your masa to hydrate for 30 minutes or more gives the corn flour time to fully absorb the moisture for more flexible tortillas. Don’t rush the process.

Use the Back of a Spoon to Press

When pressing out the tortillas, try using the back of a soup spoon instead of a tortilla press between two sheets of plastic. The rounded back helps stretch the dough thinner than pinching with fingers.

Corn Tortilla Ingredients

To make classic corn tortillas at home, you’ll need:

  • 2 cups masa harina (special corn flour for tortillas)
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • Pinch of salt

That’s it! Simple, quick ingredients that come together easily by hand. Now let’s look at the proper technique for mixing and cooking.

How to Make Soft Corn Tortillas Step-by-Step

Follow these steps for homemade corn tortillas with a tender texture:

  1. Mix the dough: Place the masa harina in a mixing bowl. Add the salt and warm water. Use your hands to bring it all together into a soft, pliable dough. It should feel smooth, not too sticky.
  2. Knead briefly: Turn out the dough onto a clean work surface and knead gently just until smooth and well incorporated. Only a minute or two of kneading is needed.
  3. Let it rest: Shape the dough into a ball and place it back in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes to fully hydrate.
  4. Divide into balls: Cut the rested dough into 16 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a smooth ball between your palms.
  5. Press into tortillas: Working with one ball at a time, place it between two sheets of plastic. Use a tortilla press or the back of a spoon to press each ball into a thin, round tortilla. Leave the rest covered.
  6. Cook on a hot griddle: Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Once hot, cook each tortilla for about 1 minute per side until lightly browned with some dark speckles.
  7. Wrap in towels: Immediately remove each cooked tortilla and wrap in a clean kitchen towel to keep warm and moist until ready to serve.

It takes a bit of practice, but making your own corn tortillas is very rewarding and well worth the effort. The fresh masa flavor and soft texture when warm cannot be beat!

Troubleshooting Softness

Here are some common issues that can lead to stiff, cracking tortillas and how to troubleshoot them:

Problem Solution
Tortillas dry out too quickly Wrap in damp towel after cooking while still hot
Tortillas crack when pressing Knead dough softer or rest longer before pressing
Tortillas are thick and stiff Press thinner between plastic sheets
Tortillas stick to griddle Ensure hot griddle is greased lightly before cooking
Masa dough won’t come together Add more warm water a tablespoon at a time

Adjusting your technique based on the issue you’re having can help you achieve soft, pliable homemade tortillas every time.

Storing Your Tortillas

For best results, corn tortillas are always best fresh and warm. But you can store leftover cooked tortillas to reheat later.

At Room Temperature: Place tortillas in a zip-top bag with a damp paper towel up to 5 days. The towel helps retain moisture.

In the Fridge: In a sealed container lined with a lightly damp towel, they will keep 2-3 weeks.

In the Freezer: Layer tortillas between parchment paper in a freezer bag. Keeps for 2-3 months. Thaw before reheating.

Reheat tortillas wrapped in a damp towel in the microwave in 30 second increments until warm and pliable again. Steaming them is best to restore moisture and soften.

Serving Suggestions

Homemade corn tortillas can be served soft, warm and flexible in lots of different ways:

  • For tacos – fill with meat, lettuce, cheese, salsa
  • For enchiladas – roll up filled tortillas and bake with sauce
  • For tostadas – fry flat until crispy then top with toppings
  • For chilaquiles – fry into chips and bake with sauce and cheese
  • For quesadillas – stuff two tortillas with cheese then grill

So don’t be afraid to make your own corn tortillas at home for all your Mexican dishes. With a few simple tricks, you can keep them soft, pliable and ready to use in place of store-bought.


Achieving soft, flexible homemade corn tortillas without oil is easy when you follow some simple tips:

  • Cook each tortilla individually
  • Use very warm water in the masa dough
  • Press thinner tortillas between plastic
  • Wrap cooked tortillas in a damp towel
  • Allow the dough to rest 30+ minutes before pressing
  • Steam in a foil packet to finish cooking

With practice, you can perfect your technique for oil-free corn tortillas that are soft and tasty. Resting the masa sufficiently and keeping the cooked tortillas moist are the keys to success. Serve your handmade tortillas warm, and enjoy them in a variety of different dishes from enchiladas to tacos.