After Ditching GMOs, Chipotle Sets Sights on Healthier ‘Artisan’ Tortillas

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Making headlines with its recent big announcement that its menu is now 100-percent free from genetically modified organisms, Chipotle Mexican Grill isn’t shying away from the spotlight. The chain has more big news earning quite a bit of praise: plans to launch a revised flour tortilla, this one with only four ingredients.

The tortillas used in Chipotle’s popular burritos currently contain 11 ingredients: Flour, water, whole-wheat flour, canola oil, salt, baking soda, wheat bran, fumaric acid, calcium propionate, sorbic acid and sodium metabisulfite. But the fast-casual chain says it can get that down to four ingredients: whole-wheat flour, water, oil and salt—a recipe free from preservatives like tortillas are made traditionally.

“We aspire to make artisanal tortillas on an industrial scale,” Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle, told the New York Times. Currently, the chain uses more than 800,000 tortillas daily, and it will be closer to one million by the time the company has reconfigured its manufacturing process to create the simplified recipe.

“Not only did we need to change ingredients, we needed to get most of them out,” Mr. Ells said. “We also would have to go back to the tortilla bakery and really change the whole way tortillas are made en masse.”

According to the Times, traditional tortillas typically only contain four or five ingredients. “But mass-market tortillas, the kind used in the food-service business or purchased in the grocery store, have a lot of other ingredients to make them easier to produce by the millions and to give them a longer shelf life.”

The goal, says Chipotle, isn’t just to shorten the ingredients list and remove the preservatives, but to also make a nutritionally superior product—one that’s based on whole grain wheat, rather than fortified bleached flour, which is nutritionally inferior.

The chain is currently testing small batches with plans to test market in select restaurants soon. “We’ll be increasing the batch size, and the next step is to put it into production to supply a small group of restaurants,” Mr. Ells told the Times. “As we prove that’s successful, we’ll expand until we’re supplying the whole region with tortillas, and then move on to the next region.”

If successful, it would be another major victory for Chipotle, raising the bar for the fast food industry. The fast-food chain has made a name for itself not just in ditching GMOs, but also with commitments to healthier meat and dairy products, as well as sourcing locally-grown fruits and vegetables.

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