Mayra Esquivel, center, is creating her own tortilla factory called Y Las Tortillas, which is dedicated to creating health-forward tortillas.

Tortillas are typically used to hold chopped-up pieces of carne asada or be filled with gooey, melted cheese, but for Mayra Esquivel, tortillas are so much more.

Tortillas are what she uses to help improve her mother’s health.

When her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Esquivel took matters into her own hands, researching what foods would help with her mother’s condition. After learning nuts and seeds were good for the brain, her family began implementing more of those nutrients in her diet.

Soon, Esquivel’s father raised concerns about her diet. While she was eating more nuts and seeds, she wasn’t hungry for her meals.

That’s when a lightbulb went off: what if Esquivel could create something that went along with her mother’s meals, but also included all the necessary nutrients?

With the help of Startup Tucson, Esquivel is working to create her own tortilla shop called Y Las Tortillas, dedicated to creating tortillas that not only taste good, but are good for you.

“My goal is to benefit somebody's health or improve somebody's health,” Esquivel said.

Originally from Mexico, Esquivel moved to Tucson in 2009 for school. When she initially moved here, she didn’t know how to cook since her mom had made all the meals.

As she began to study English in school, she became interested in the culinary program and eventually enrolled. When she was in the program, she noticed the recipes weren’t the healthiest. The chefs told her if you want to sell food, it has to taste good.

That belief stuck with Esquivel when it came time to create her own product.

Years later when Esquivel got the idea to create something to help her mother, she decided tortillas were the best way since her parents ate them often.

She started to play with different recipes and ingredients to make the tastiest tortillas. She also did lots of research on nutrition and what foods are good for specific illnesses. She read research papers from Mayo Clinic and used her uncle, who is a professor in the food department at a university in Mexico, as a resource.

She even did research on cooking techniques to ensure she was preserving as much of the nutrients as possible in her tortillas.

Mayra Esquivel's tortillas use ingredients that aim to help with brain health, lower sugar, have anti-inflammatory properties or are packed with protein.

To make the tortillas, Esquivel reduces the amount of flour used in a typical tortilla recipe. To make sure the tortillas are still functional, she also mixes in different grains and vegetables, which help the tortilla fold and roll. 

Esquivel’s first round of tortillas were made for her parents. Since her mom likes tomatoes and some spice, she created a tortilla made with roasted tomatoes, almonds and chipotle. Almonds have vitamin E, which is said to be good for brain health.

For her father, who had a chronic kidney disease, Esquivel made a tortilla that featured nopales, chia seeds and resistant starch potatoes. This specific tortilla used ingredients that promote lower sugar.

Inspired by her parents, Esquivel decided to help more people by starting a tortilla business. To help her on the business side, she enrolled in Startup Tucson’s food forward program.

So far, Esquivel has been working on a menu and making sure each recipe is just right. She has three brainspike tortillas, which contain ingredients that have Vitamin E or Omega 3 to help improve brain health. One of the brainspike flavors has dandelion, poblano pepper and walnuts.

Since her mother developed a sweet tooth after her diagnosis, Esquivel also created a sweeter brainspike tortilla that includes butternut squash, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

Her other categories include tortillas that help with gut health and lower sugar, have anti-inflammatory properties or are packed with protein. Each category has three different tortillas with different ingredients that help improve the specific issue they are tackling.

Mayra Esquivel is working with Startup Tucson to get her factory up and running. 

“All my recipes come from me,” Esquivel said. “Something that I do constantly is I check online and I look for recipes. I feel happy that I haven't found any that are the same as mine.”

Like the chefs told her years ago, food has to taste good to get people on board. With that in mind, Esquivel has given out samples, asking people to fill out a survey to rate the tortillas on appearance, aroma, taste and texture. That feedback is able to help Esquivel fix any potential issues and ensure she’s making the best tortillas she can.

Right now, Esquivel is working on getting a commercial space for Y Las Tortillas. She is hoping to find something this summer or in the fall, so she can start selling her tortillas. In the meantime, Esquivel is continuing to perfect her recipe, hoping to help improve people’s health one tortilla at a time.

For more information, you can reach Esquivel at

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Jamie Donnelly is the food writer for #ThisIsTucson. Contact her via e-mail at