Chipotle uses more than 800,000 tortillas a day. Right now, those tortillas are made from 11 ingredients. Any cook worth her salt knows that you need just a handful of ingredients (including salt) to make home-made tortillas. The extra ingredients are only required when making tortillas on an industrial scale.
Now, Chipotle wants to change that. The company is teaming up with the Bread Lab — an offshoot of the Washington State University’s ag program that is one part cutting-edge science lab, one part bakery — to come up with a mass-producible tortilla that uses just whole-wheat flour, water, oil, and salt.
Of Chipotle’s recent (sometimes controversial) moves — including offering better employee benefits, going GMO-free, and dropping a pork supplier that didn’t meet the company’s animal welfare standards — this one registers on the good/bad meter as: Hell Yes, Chipotle!
Chipotle wants to raise the nutrition in fast food, so its tortillas are made from whole wheat. Dr. Stephen Jones, a plant geneticist who is the director of the Bread Lab said: “The skilled baker can make the perfect anything with white flour. Whole wheat is more challenging.”
Bethany Econopouly, a doctoral student whose research in wheat breeding is underwritten by the Clif Bar Family Foundation and, now, Chipotle, was enlisted. From the beginning, she understood that there was a certain degree of consumer stealth required. “We’re working with hard, white wheats,” Ms. Econopouly said. “Those are really great because they’re light in color, so people who are naturally averse to whole wheat are less aware of them.”
She has identified a couple of varieties that work well for the tortilla and is evaluating about 100 more in the field now that will be harvested in August.
If the Bread Lab can crack the code, and if Chipotle offers better prices for the winning strain of wheat, this could be huge for wheat farmers.
For more on the Bread Lab, watch our explainer on why it’s on the cutting edge of wheat science: