Five Reasons to Hate GRUMA, Makers of Mission and Guerrero Tortillas, Maseca, and Other Tortilla Evil

Spawn of Satan
Spawn of Satan
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If you're a fan of Mexican food in this country, you're most likely a consumer one way or another of GRUMA, the world's largest tortilla maker. Their American brands, Mission and Guerrero, are the top-selling brand in the United States and a favorite of Mexican households, respectively. Their masa, Maseca, dominates the industry as well, allowing anyone to make tortillas at home, in factories, or restaurants with their dried corn flour you can reconstitute with water.

Captain of industry, right? WRONG. Fact is, GRUMA is one of the most evil companies in the world, with every product they make a threat to tortillas as we know them. If it was up to GRUMA (whose American base is in the Dallas suburb of Irving), everyone would either eat their tortillas or eat tortillas made from Maseca. Monopolize an industry that predates the Olmecs? GRUMA is getting there, unless we do something about it.

GRUMA epitomizes everything wrong with Mexican capitalism, and also exposes the continued stupidity of Americans when it comes to Mexican food--if Mexicans make it, it must be authentic, right? WRONG. Behold five reasons why you should avoid GRUMA's products forever.

5. GRUMA Lies About Having Invented Processed Corn Flour
1927 renewal of trademark for Tamalina; got the original 1909 application, too!
1927 renewal of trademark for Tamalina; got the original 1909 application, too!

"On May 3, 1949, the first processed corn flour production plant in the world was inaugurated in Cerralvo, Nuevo León, signaling the beginning of GRUMA," writes GRUMA on their website. "Molinos Azteca (Aztec Mills'), the parent company of gruma, was launched as the first producer of processed corn flour in the world."

Almost none of this is true. As I point out in my book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, the first documented corn flour ("masa harina" in Spanish) plant in the world was actually opened nearly 50 years earlier in San Antonio, by Jose Bartolomé Martinez. Marketed as Tamalina, it earned Martinez and his sons instant riches. And the name of their processing plant? Azteca Mills. So not only does the GRUMA family lie, they seemingly borrow names of their competitors, too.

4. GRUMA Has Put Thousands of Tortillerias Out of Business...

These beauties are from Northgate Gonzalez Markets, and a trillion times better than Mission or Guerrero
These beauties are from Northgate Gonzalez Markets, and a trillion times better than Mission or Guerrero

The reality is that corn flour made the tortilla-making process much easier for Mexican households who stuck to the traditional way. The traditional way, for you gabas, was to grown the corn, pick the corn, nixtamalize the kernels (which means treating them with lye), smush the results into masa in the unenviable workout that is a metate, pat down a masa ball into a tortilla, heat it, and serve it--and do the same process the following morning, as masa did not keep. The process was simplified in the early 1900s with the rise of molinos (mills) that made fresh masa out of everyone's corn (my dad's rancho of Jomulquillo in Zacatecas has one), but corn flour makes the tortilla-making process even easier: add water, and you have masa. But the process didn't become widespread until the rise of Maseca, and when it did, thousands of local tortillerias and molinos across Mexico shut down. That sad process started in the late 1980s, when Gruma really asserted itself.
3. ...Because of Subsidies from Corrupt Mexican Government Officials

Masks in Carlos Salinas de Gortari's mask are as ubiquitous in Mexico as Occupy masks in the U.S., except used to ridicule power
Masks in Carlos Salinas de Gortari's mask are as ubiquitous in Mexico as Occupy masks in the U.S., except used to ridicule power

You can read about GRUMA's sordid rise to power in this brilliant 1996 New York Times article with the telling title, "How a Tortilla Empire Was Built on Favoritism," but the short answer is this: during the reign 1988-1992 of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the most-reviled Mexican president in modern times, GRUMA grew rapidly because the Gonzalez family that founded GRUMA and the Gortaris were longtime friends, both being from the state of Nuevo León. Here's a sample of the piece:

"In 1990, the Commerce Department signed an accord with Mr. Gonzalez in which the rules of the market were fundamentally changed. The agreement froze the amount of corn that would be given to traditional tortilla makers and declared that all growth in the market be filled by corn flour. At the time the only producers of corn flour were the Government itself, and Maseca."

Even Microsoft was never that craven.

2. GRUMA is Also Trying to Game the American Market as Well

Every couple of years, a small tortilla-maker sues GRUMA, accusing them of monopolistic practices. And while none have been successful, do you really believe that GRUMA is going to be a model corporation here in the United States given their Mexican record?

1. Maseca-Derived/Mission/Guerrero Tortillas are TERRIBLE

Fine: so you don't buy the above four arguments because you're a lover of the free market, one who celebrates companies that are successful. I can live with that. But the horrific taste of GRUMA products trumps all the reasons I just offered combined. When Maseca-derived tortillas first hit Mexican markets in the 1990s, consumers rejected them, saying they tasted like dirt. I wished they taste like dirt, as at least soil has flavor. Guerrero corn tortillas like those above? Lifeless. Guerrero flour tortillas? Like wax paper. And Mission tortillas are even viler--even before I became an anti-GRUMA zealot, I thought Mission brand was one step above concrete. And even concrete has more flavor than Mission.

Instead of buying GRUMA, buy local--you can find options in our Tortilla Tuesday series. Sure, the product will be a bit more expensive, but much more flavorful--and by not buying from GRUMA, you're not supporting the tortilla devil.

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