One of the most popular taco chains in New York City, Tacombi is so serious about serving up the perfect taco that they opened their own taco factory, Vista Hermosa, in Piscataway, NJ. Here, workers make 100,000 tortillas and 30,000 flour tortillas a day for restaurants and independent grocery stores across the country.

Surgery isn’t always this big, though. In 2015, they started producing nixtamal tortillas exclusively for taco restaurants. “We were cooking maybe six or seven bags a week at the time,” says Vista Hermosa owner Jason Debriere. “Now we cook 72 bags a day.”

To start the process of making tortillas and nixtamal, they start with white grains, corn, water, calcium hydroxide, and heat.

Thousands of years ago, the Mayans and Aztecs developed the process of making nixtamal, grinding it into a powder to make tortillas.

“It’s incredible that they were able to do this thousands of years ago and understand the kind of science and chemistry behind it,” commented de Briere.

Thoroughly rinsed corn soaked in water and calcium hydroxide before placing it in a mill made of 16-inch stone plays a vital role in making a good mash.

“What the stone really does is really emulsify the oil, starch and fat,” explains Debriere.

The result is an airy masa, which is then placed in a blender with some salt and water as needed.

The finished masa goes into a machine called a “paper cutter” that allows the team to “print” the tortilla. It pulls out the masa and cuts the tortilla into the desired size, which for this team is 14cm. The cut tortillas are rolled onto the oven and baked on what is basically a mechanized komal, heated between 500 and 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Each tortilla goes through the machine three times.

“I have observed women in the Mexican market…and how they are placed [the tortillas] On a different hotspot on their komal,” Debriere said. “It’s the same concept, we just mechanized it. ”

The tortillas are then placed on a cooling conveyor belt, which is essential for preventing dampness and mold, as they do not have any preservatives or additives. Once off the cooling conveyor, they enter a stacker that stacks the tortillas so they can be easily packaged and sent to retail or food service establishments.

But for Debriere, the process never ends: “I feel like I’m always on a quest for the perfect tortilla.”