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Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

Do Corn Tortillas Expire?



Made with Masa Harina flour, a special corn flour with kernels soaked in lime for easier grinding, corn tortillas seem like they might last forever. So, do corn tortillas expire over time or does the special flour make them last indefinitely?

Well, while Masa Harina flour comes with a lot of health benefits, it won’t actually make your corn tortillas last dramatically longer. Like any food, they are indeed perishable, and store-bought corn tortillas will last longer than homemade ones.

Typically, they’ll last about a week over the ‘use by’ date in your pantry or 7-10 days after opening and resealing, 4 to 6 weeks in your refrigerator, and 6 to 8 months in the freezer.

To have a better idea of the ‘why’ of it, today we’re going to explore this topic in a little more detail. We’ll talk a little more about Masa Harina flour to help you better understand its shelf life, explore your various storing options for extending that, and also show you how easy it is to whip them up ‘on-demand’ if you love corn tortillas.

Do corn tortillas expire? Certainly – but you can definitely ‘game’ the system a little, so let’s take a look at what you’ll need to know!

Corn tortillas – A little history for a better understanding of their shelf life

Homemade corn tortillas stacked together
Homemade corn tortillas stacked together.

While the name ‘corn tortillas’ seems to point to cornmeal as being the major ingredient involved, this is definitely not the case. Corn tortillas are ‘old school’ Mexican cuisine and there’s a lot of emphasis on ‘old’ here – we believe they may date all the way back to 10,000 years B.C.E. (before common era, or you can just think of it as ‘B.C.’ if you prefer).

Their origins are traced back to the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico when the first flatbread corn tortillas were made through a fascinating process. You see, corn kernels are pretty rough to work with, and in Europe, the solution boiled down to using machines to grind those pesky, tough kernels. In early Mesoamerica, however, field corn (maize) was made more pliable by soaking it in a clever solution of calcium hydroxide, aka ‘slaked lime’ and water.

The softened kernels could then be easily ground up and made into a dough called ‘Masa’, which was simply dried and powdered to make Masa Harina flour for corn tortillas. It was a very pretty solution and it WORKED – both the Mayans and Aztecs ate corn tortillas all the time, and the Aztecs used to dip them in chili sauce for snacking or stuff them with goodies like beans, squash, and meat, rather like corn tortilla equivalents of our modern day flour tortilla burritos.

Masa Harina was really a sort of superfood and it still is – compared to wheat flour, it’s higher in magnesium and fiber, and it’s also quite rich in niacin. Best of all, the process for making it makes it easier for humans to digest, so this really was quite a revolutionary moment in world cuisine and it made such an impact that we still snack on corn tortillas made from Masa Harina to this very day.

So the Masa Harina flour really doesn’t make corn tortillas last longer?

Masa Harina flour in a bowl next to corn husks
Masa Harina flour in a bowl next to corn husks.

While the process to make Masa Harina keeps a lot of vitamins and makes it easier to digest, the flour that you get will last a little longer than wheat flour – but not by a huge amount. Refined wheat flour can usually be stored for 6 to 8 months at room temperature and by contrast, Masa Harina may be stored in the same conditions for 9 to 12 months.

It’s definitely hardier, but it’s still food and so it’s going to break down and there’s always the danger of pests finding it and gobbling it up before that happens.

With that in mind, let’s look at storage options so that you can set some realistic expectations as to how long your tortillas may stay delicious in the right conditions.

How long can I store corn tortillas?

Corn tortillas stacked on a wooden board
Corn tortillas stacked on a wooden board.

The longevity of your corn tortillas will depend completely on how you store them – they’re just flatbread when you get down to it, after all.

Cold will definitely make a huge difference and you can also employ vacuum sealing if you are really dead-set on storing them as long as possible. We’ll talk about each storage method briefly so that you can see the perks and make an informed decision on your preferred home storage strategy.

Refrigerator storage

While the ‘use by’ date gives you a pretty large window of pantry storage, once you’ve opened them up then the timer begins and you’ve got 7 to 10 days before even nicely re-sealed corn tortillas will likely start to go bad. So, once you open them, you need to at least stick them in the refrigerator.

Properly sealed in a plastic container such as Tupperware, a tortilla holder, or even a Ziploc baggie, your corn tortillas can last 4 to 6 weeks. This is pretty impressive in the world of tortillas – whole wheat, regular flour, and spinach tortillas will only make it 3 – 4 weeks, but the ancient recipe for corn tortillas is pretty mighty stuff. It gets even better if you stick ‘em in the freezer, tho!

Freezing corn tortillas

You can freeze your corn tortillas and really ramp up the shelf life – by 6 to 8 months, to be exact. The trick to doing this without harming them is to do it with small, individually sealed stacks. This applies to homemade or store-bought tortillas, but what you do is put them in stacks of 5 to 10, wrap them in plastic wrap or foil, and then stick them in a resealable Ziplock or comparable bag.

Mark the date on them and be sure to put them somewhere that they won’t be jostled around too much – tortillas may be frozen, but if they get bumped a lot then pieces may chip off, and finally consider quartering one batch if you like to make nachos – this makes them super easy to fry up later and you’ll be happy that you made that ‘quarter-batch’ later!

When you take them out of the freezer, the fastest way to restore them to their former glory is to simply steam them on paper towels in your microwave, otherwise you can just let them sit to defrost at room temperature. For best results, when they are done with the ‘slow defrost’, a quick trip to an oiled skillet to fry them a little will result in the best flavor.

Before we move on to vacuum sealing, one last freezing tip for homemade tortillas is to make sure that they cool down before you freeze them – fast changes in temperature may affect the flavor, so if you intend to freeze a homemade batch then always let them cool first.

Vacuum-sealing corn tortillas

While you could certainly vacuum seal your corn tortillas, it’s really not going to make an enormous difference in storage time so it might be something to consider skipping. Vacuum-sealed corn tortillas may be frozen for a longer shelf life, but they’ll only be good for approximately 1 year.

While that technically gets you 4 more months than regular freezing, frozen tortillas are pretty fragile, so you’re basically taking up freezer space that you could otherwise use and hoping that none of the tortillas get broken for an entire year.

So, can you vacuum seal tortillas to get a longer shelf life? Certainly – but is it really worth it? This brings us to a final possibility that you might want to consider: You can make fresh corn tortillas with a tortilla press in approximately 15 minutes, so why even freeze them at all?!

Why store when you can have fresh corn tortillas in 15 minutes?

Corn tortillas stacked on a cream cloth
Corn tortillas stacked on a cream cloth.

While refrigeration tech can keep your corn tortillas fresh for quite some time, if you REALLY love corn tortillas, then you might consider investing in a handy kitchen tool like this 8-inch Bellemain Corn Tortilla press. With a press, all you need is Masa Harina flour, water, and salt to whip up fresh tortillas whenever you like, and this recipe from the Sous Chef can tell you how it’s done!

Reheating your tortillas as tortilla chips or warming it to use as a tortilla wrap can also be a great option.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 200 grams of Masa Harina Flour (a little over half a cup)
  • 250 grams of hot water (a touch under ¾ cup)
  • 1 tsp salt


  1. Mix your Masa Harina flour with your water, kneading it well until you’ve got 1 big ball of dough. Separate this into 10 equal dough balls and we’re ready for the next step.
  2. Place 1 dough ball between two sheets of parchment paper that you’ve cut to the same size as your tortilla press. Put this in your press and mash it down to press your tortilla.
  3. In a frying pan, fry up each tortilla on both sides – without the use of any oil, just the ‘bare’ pan. You’ll cook each one for approximately 1 ½ minutes on each side.
  4. As you finish each tortilla, you can load them into a sealable plastic container or tortilla holder and separate each one with parchment paper you’ve cut to size. You can let them cool and load them or eat them however you like or store them away.
  5. For reheating, brush each tortilla with a little water and dry fry again for a few seconds on both sides!


That’s just about all of the time that we have for today, but before we go, we have some frequently asked questions about corn tortillas that we think you’ll find useful. Let’s take a peek and then we’ll get to wrapping things up!

How can you tell if corn tortillas are bad?

A simple sniff will usually tell you all that you need to know about corn tortillas. Most often, when they start going bad it’s going to be a mold issue, and you’ll be able to tell that the scent is off right away. Corn tortillas should simply smell like corn and the next time that you open a package of them, just give one a quick sniff and you’ll see what we mean.

If they don’t smell like that, don’t eat them – it’s not worth the bellyaches and time you’ll spend on the toilet if you eat a bad tortilla!

Should tortillas be stored in the fridge or pantry?

The best practice is to move them straight to the fridge when you get them home, although some people prefer to store them in the pantry so that they are room temperature for eating. It’s up to you, but once the package is opened, then you’ll definitely need to stick them in the fridge as you’ll have 7 to 10 days (and possibly less, depending on where they’re stored) before they’ll go bad.

How long do Mission corn tortillas last?

If you like Mission corn tortillas, then you’re in luck when it comes to storing a package in the pantry. Mission’s corn tortillas will last up to 45 days as long as you haven’t opened the package. Once you do, it’s best to stick them in the refrigerator, but just know with this brand you’ve got a pretty enormous window of time in place before you’ll have to do that!

‘Wrapping things up’ with corn tortillas!

Today we’ve answered the question ‘do corn tortillas expire?’ and the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. While they are among the hardiest tortillas around, thanks to a recipe that dates back to antiquity, corn tortillas are nonetheless perishable and should be treated that way.

Once opened, you should stick them in the fridge to get 4 to 6 weeks of time left to still eat them while they’re tasty, or you could freeze them and get 6 to 8 months of corn tortillas ready and waiting to be eaten.

Finally, consider investing in a tortilla press – in just 15 minutes of time, you could have fresh pressed corn tortillas and the difference is truly out of this world. Thanks so much for reading today, folks, and we look forward to your comments and feedback on one of Mexico’s oldest traditional snacks!

Kitchen Professor author
About the Author: David McLemore

David learned to cook at an early age after his mother told him that he couldn't live on pizza forever, Dave uses his modest kitchen skills to recreate sorely-missed recipes from home and to occasionally make new favorite ones from places he is visiting.

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