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Bad Wraps

April 16, 2014

“I eat my lunch with my hands /
From food trucks not hotdog stands /
But greasy diners and dives and cockroach traps /
All have one thing in common [insert beatbox] bad wraps /
Word.”

- The Profussor

Sorry. I couldn’t resist starting of today’s post with a bad rap. Groan all you like. But I thought it was good to try and lighten the mood a bit, because today I’m really going to let my fussy flag fly.

Somehow in all of these years of writing the FLB, I’ve never taken on the subject of wraps. Let’s not mince words. I’ve never had one that I liked. They are an insult to sandwiches everywhere. And their growing ubiquity has me greatly concerned for America’s culinary future. In my heart of hearts I know they weren’t put on this planet to punish me. But sometimes it feels that way. Why? WHY!

Okay. Deep breaths. Let’s break this down.

Burritos are clearly to blame. When push comes to shove, I don’t take umbrage with a well made Mission-style burrito. Surely someone out there is confused by this. Isn’t a burrito just a Mexican wrap? No. No, it’s not.

Taquerias employ a critical piece of machinery to transform flour tortillas into something fit for human consumption. It’s a giant steamer. And it takes what is otherwise a tough, dense, and pasty flour shell and transforms it into something soft and pliable. A well-steamed tortilla is sturdy enough to securely hold its contents, yet tender enough to offer no resistance to a gentle bite. It’s the miracle of the gluten.

In a well-made burrito the flour tortilla receives additional help along the way. It’s stuffed primarily with warm ingredients. These help keep the tortilla warm and pliable throughout the eating experience. Perhaps the very best part of a burrito is its heart, the last few bites at the bottom where all of the juices have gathered for a party of pure deliciousness.

I don’t know who came up with trying to take this burrito concept and applying it to typical American lunch foods. But none of the above happens when you take a turkey and havarti sandwich and roll it up in a whole wheat tortilla.

Even writing those words makes me shake my head in disgust.

Those tortillas are just so hard. So brittle. So dull. So devoid of life. The biggest complaint I have by far is the folly of taking a cold tortilla and filling it with cold ingredients. Sure, it may feel good in your hand, and maybe you can get it into your mouth without making a mess. But the very thought of biting into one makes me want to cringe.

To some, wraps are considered a more healthful option. Bread has been vilified by the carb police, and these seem to have less of the bad stuff. Heck, some of them are even made with spinach. Sure, they may be colored green with a token amount of spinach, but don’t fool yourself into thinking they are good for you. This is what goes into the Mission “garden spinach” herb wraps:

Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour
-Wheat Flour
-Niacin
-Reduced Iron
-Thiamine Mononitrate
-Riboflavin
-Folic Acid
Water
Vegetable Shortening
-Interesterified Soybean Oil
-Hydrogenated Soybean Oil and/or Palm Oil

And contains 2% or less of:
Seasoning
-Spinach Powder
-Onion Powder
-Spice
-Salt
-Garlic Powder
-Soybean Oil
-FD&C Yellow #5 Lake
-FD&C Blue #1 Lake
-Natural Flavor
-Artificial Flavor
-Silicon Dioxide
Salt
Sugar
Leavening
-Sodium Bicarbonate
-Sodium Aluminum Sulfate
-Corn Starch
-Monocalcium Phosphate and/or Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate
-Calcium Sulfate
Preservatives
-Calcium Propionate
-Sorbic Acid and/or Citric Acid
Distilled Monoglycerides
Enzymes
Wheat Starch
Calcium Carbonate
Antioxidants
-Tocopherols
-Ascorbic Acid
Cellulose Gum
Dough Conditioners
-Fumaric Acid
-Sodium Metabisulfite and/or Mono- and Diglycerides

Yep. It’s the FD&C Yellow and FD&C Blue that really make them green. Yeah, I know these wraps look healthy, but looks can be deceiving.

But it doesn’t stop there. Because restaurants take liberties with their wraps that border on the criminal. You cannot put corned beef and swiss cheese inside a tortilla and call it a Reuben wrap. A Reuben is a thing, dammit, and it comes on grilled rye bread. Same goes for Cuban sandwiches and banh mi. The breads that surrounds these classic combinations are intrinsic to their identities.

It has come to the point where when I see a wrap on a restaurant menu I roll my eyes just a little bit. How could they subject their customers to this monstrosity? And I have to admit to being completely perplexed that one item on Peter Genovese’s 2013 list of “Best Jersey eats” was a wrap.

18. Grilled chicken whole wheat wrap with chickpea and bean salad, Americana Diner, East Windsor. The best item sampled at our Jersey Diner Showdown winner.

The rest of that list looks pretty solid. And this is a guy who I trust. So I’m going to have to put aside my preconceived notions and prejudices and give it a try once Passover is over.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. adkamanda permalink
    April 16, 2014 10:36 am

    You didn’t touch on how with some wraps the dense, oddly moist wrap material sticks to the back of your front teeth requiring significant tongue acrobatics to remove the sludge.

  2. Josh K. permalink
    April 16, 2014 10:59 am

    I am perplexed as you are as to how many people love wraps (usually women – generally speaking as the “health conscious” alternative marketing for them has been amazing).

    I agree that they are pretty vile things – and I too have yet to have a wrap that was good.

    • llcwine permalink
      April 16, 2014 12:32 pm

      I’ve had some pretty good grilled veggie wraps…I don’t think I would enjoy them the same on a sandwich. Also…you have to really look…but there are some healthier wraps out there with a higher fiber count…but they are not always easy to find.

  3. Rosemarie permalink
    April 16, 2014 3:08 pm

    Thank you for spelling out the ingredients in a typical spinach wrap. That did for me. I do find wraps to be too tough and gummy to compliment the filling, even when heated. You answered my question about why flour tortillas are so tough and thick in many restaurants.
    Time to find a genuine taqueria in the capital district.

  4. April 16, 2014 9:22 pm

    I’ve made some good wraps, but they’ve involved melted cheese & an oiled sandwich press…so I suppose the health benefits were a victim. The best I can say for your average wrap is that when you slice them the cross section is attractive.

  5. April 16, 2014 10:33 pm

    I once made the mistake of trying one of those ‘healthier’ super high fiber wraps. I will just say that the mouth feel was so awful that I could not get it down.

    About two years ago, my mom told me she was eating healthy now. She described a buffalo chicken wrap with blue cheese dressing (ROLLS EYES). I still love you mom.

  6. Deedee permalink
    April 18, 2014 1:06 am

    Thank you. I thought I was the only one who felt this way about wraps. I’m so glad to know I am not alone. When a wrap was the only choice I’ve been known to deconstruct them and just eat the insides causing embarrassment to my companions.

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