for National Geographic News
Tortillas may be flat, but their popularity among Americans is rising faster than any other bread product.
Once considered a novelty item, tortillas have become the second most popular bread type in the United States after white bread.
Tortillas and related products, such as tortilla chips and taco shells, generated more than 6 billion U.S. dollars in sales in 2004.
Yet the quest goes on for the perfect tortilla.
Geneticists are now working on improving flour tortillas by breeding a new type of Texas-grown wheat just for making the ethnic edible.
"We've been breeding wheat for bread-baking quality for 50 years," said Jackie Rudd, a geneticist with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Amarillo.
"But so far there has been very little research into breeding wheat for tortilla baking. That is now changing."
Rudd and his colleagues are researching how new wheat products could improve everything from dough "rollability" to the shelf life of tortillas.
Tortillas are made from either flour or corn.
Corn tortillas are preferred in Latin America, where they may date back thousands of years.
Flour tortillas, on the other hand, were invented in Arizona or California in the 1930s.
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