A Shocking Ingredient Found In Tortillas

May 17, 2012   38 Comments

Mission came out with "Carb Balance" tortillas to support a growing group of people watching their carbohydrates including diabetics. How did they increase the fiber in a white tortilla?

Cellulose Powder In Tortillas

I was sent this question from a reader and was excited to investigate.

From Jennifer:

I was buying ingredients for fajitas this weekend - they are a staple for me, because they are tasty and (as long as I go easy on the shredded cheese) a very healthy and complete meal. I got stuck in the tortilla section though.

In the past I have not liked the taste of whole wheat tortillas. So I reached for the "carb balance" Mission tortillas, and flipped them over to check out the label. I think I visibly recoiled when I saw the fiber content - I believe the label said each tortilla contained 105% of your daily value of fiber!

Now I'm a huge fan of fiber and getting over 100% is probably not a bad thing - but all in one tortilla?! That just seems unnatural, and I began to wonder how they do it. I had visions of wood pulp and other unappetizing things.

Yeah, right. Wood pulp! HA HA HA! So, I went out a bought a bag of these for $4.19 and guess what I found?

Check this out about five ingredients down the list:


Cellulose powder which is made from WOOD PULP. Yes, Jennifer, you know your food. I found an illuminating article in the Wall Street Journal -Why Wood Pulp Makes Ice Cream Creamier - that contends that cellulose is the same whether it is derived from celery or trees.

Cellulose is an organic compound from the cell wall of plants so you aren't supposed to get squeamish when it is added to your tortillas. Except that I would rather have lettuce on my tortillas that are filled with cellulose and my tortillas not taste like PAPER (which is also made from wood pulp).

Adding wood pulp to the tortillas gives you 11 grams of fiber per serving or a daily value of 44% in each tortilla.

Another thought, does adding wood pulp make them healthier? My opinion is that the less processing and ingredients that you find - the closer it is to the whole food that you want to eat.

After I bought these Woody tortillas, Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value sent me out to buy their new "Organic Whole Wheat Tortillas" ($2.19).


I don't usually write about Whole Foods or Trader Joe's because so many of you don't live near one of these stores. I get a lot of complaints - especially from Canadians when I mention them. Canadians always complain very nicely, though.

But, it was instructive to me that you could buy tortillas that were organic and had a very clean ingredient list for less money than the Mission Low Carb Balance tortillas.

Ingredient List for Whole Foods Tortillas:

organic whole wheat flour, water, organic soybean oil, sea salt, baking powder

And, they have 2 grams of fiber or 9% of your daily value. Add lettuce, beans, brown rice, and you don't need cellulose powder to get your daily value of fiber.

They tasted MUCH better than the chemically tasting paper Mission ones and they are less expensive. Hopefully, you can find a similar product near you.

The Whole Foods product was received for review consideration. No other compensation was provided.

Other posts you might like:


Make Your Own Whole Wheat Tortillas - So Yummy!

See that tortilla up there? I made it! And, yes, I am proud of myself....


McDonald's Attempts Bakery Items: A 420 Calorie Mini Scone and A Multi-Grain Muffin

I know what you are thinking. What is she doing in McDonald's?....

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First 20 Comments: ( See all 38 )

I recently read that cellulose is also used in packaged shredded cheese to keep it from clumping. I think I'll start shredding my own, thanks.

Thanks for the alternative suggestion. As always, thanks for the advice and keeping us healthy! :)

I will note that if you don't try out the food or plan to, you can take a picture of it with your phone in the store. And I've never had an employee hassle me but you could just say you're picking something out for your partner or a friend you're about to go visit, and need the right brand or whatever. You do seem to talk a lot about buying things you'd rather not eat, so a $$ saving idea. :)

I buy those carb balance tortillas a lot for me and my family. Good info - that may be a game changer for me! What I do like about them is that they are very pliable and stretchy and hold up very well to whatever you cram inside them. I tend to cram a LOT of food in one tortilla in attempts to keep veggies and protein high and carbs at a minimum! Whole wheat seem to fall apart and crack and break waaaay too easily! My recent new find, though, is Ezekiel bread tortillas. Who knew?? These bad boys are tough and sturdy and can hold on to anything. I have to warm them to get them pliable but it does the trick. They're very tasty. See if you can hunt some of those down! They're in the refrigerated section of my local Whole Foods with the eggs and such. The other tortillas next to them were also interesting to me and I'd love to hear your thoughts on them sometime.

Okay, so I went to my fridge to double-check the ingredients in my Whole Wheat Smart & Delicious Low-Carb High Fiber (7 grams) 2 Pts+ tortillas (available in most supermarkets). I always check ingredients before buying, so didn't expect anything too bad. Fiber is from oat fiber, don't see any cellulose: water, oat fiber, whole wheat flour, soy flour, expeller pressed canola oil, contains less than 2% of the following: baking powder, sea salt, guar gum, citric acid, yeast, xanthan gum, l-cysteine, to maintain freshness (sorbic acid, calcium propionate). Certainly not as good/simple as the Whole Foods ones, but at least no bad oil or wood pulp! I'm on Weight Watchers so looking for the lower points. I don't eat these often, so willing to accept having them 'less than perfect, but not too bad', as some tortillas are ridiculously high in calories (points)! Thank you as always for your work on our behalf :-)

That's one of the things I really love about Whole Foods and Trader Joe's - I don't have to read ingredients in the same way I do at the conventional grocery store (in that I still read them, but I don't have to feel the same sense of foreboding). Now I want to check my Smart & Delicious tortillas though - they're high fiber, low calorie and carb...and I admit, I haven't really investigated them that carefully. You, Snack Girl? ;)

Hi. Thanks for posting. I recently read ingredients on my low fat Tortillas which really helped me lose a lot of weight. however, the more healthier I got the more I looked at ingredients and was not liking all the fake oils. So, you gave me the idea for the home made tortillas. I bought a press off of ebay and now I make my own corn tortillas. They are wonderful and so authentic. Note, they are quite small. They way the were originally. So thanks for your posting. Lara

Is this the same stuff they add to other foods to bring up the fiber level? For example, Fiber One Honey Clusters. What is in that to bring up the fiber so high but leaves a strange aftertaste. I won't eat it because it seems to be "fake fiber". Heaven only knows what it really is.

The sad thing is that cellulose isn't even the worst ingredient in those tortilla. There are at least 15 other unnatural products, but I'll pick on BHT. Here are some warning about BHT according to the Skin Deep website:

Do NOT let this chemical enter the environment.


Ingestion causes Abdominal pain. Confusion. Dizziness. Nausea. Vomiting.

The substance may have effects on the liver.

The substance is harmful to aquatic organisms.

Gotta read those labels!

I've sworn off store bought tortillas ever since making the ones from the recipe on this site. They are high in points (4), but I eat them so rarely that it doesn't bother me. I may be tempted to get the Whole Foods ones given that they seem to have the same ingredients in your recipe. The major brand ones will not enter my home though. Even if cellulose is a "natural" ingredient, it doesn't belong in tortillas.

"I get a lot of complaints - especially from Canadians when I mention them. Canadians always complain very nicely, though." Too cute! I had to send this to my Canadian friend whom we call "Curtis the friendly Canadian." ;-)

Great info. Wood pulp, huh?

Does anybody know of a good, organic, whole wheat tortilla for those of us who aren't lucky enough to live near a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's? :( There's no Trader Joe's in my state, and the only Whole Foods is about 60 miles away - not feasible for weekly grocery trips. My only options are really Walmart, Homeland, and Crest :(

to JaneG whole wheat smart and delicious- check out L-cysteine you will be amazed has a good explanation of cellulose powder.

It adds insoluble (as opposed to soluble) fiber and that (according to…) adds bulk to the diet, prevents constipation, and speeds up the passage of food/waste through the digestive system.

My hunch (and I think that the USRDA is sadly (but not surprisingly) silent about daily requirements for each type of fiber, only citing a combined daily amount, which some argue is far too low) is that we need a good daily mix of both types of fiber, both soluble (which slows down digestion and increases satiety) and insoluble.

My layperson understanding is that soluble fiber keeps stuff around for a while (presumably so that the body can extract nutrients during the process) and insoluble pushes stuff out (presumably once the body's grabbed the nutrients from the food). I don't think it's surprising that increasing one and not the other would potentially cause problems.

After watching the documentary "Hungry For Change", I've become even more wary of "isolates" of any kind. That is, "ingredients" that have been extracted from their original form, heavily processed (or, as one of the folks in the movie alluded to, "pharmaceuticalized"), and rendered into a result that's all but unrecognizable to the human body. (For example, if I eat an ear of corn, great. However, if I drink a soda with 11% of it being high fructose corn syrup (isolated from who knows how many ears of corn), that's probably not a wise choice.)

As Angie M. mentioned, glad we found Ezekiel's minimally-processed products.

Thanks Lisa! I appreciate the review. I will add tortillas to my list of things to try buying at Whole Foods instead of Safeway. I ended up buying Chi-Chi's whole wheat, which doesn't have a clean ingredient list, but they're whole wheat and not stuffed with an unnatural amount of fiber.

Thanks for the information, as a Canadian I thank-you for the compliment about complaining nicely! It's a jealous thing - we wish we had access to those stores.

I would like to know more about what other ingredients I should avoid, like I do when buying organic produce and making sure I avoid the "dirty dozen".

Thanks for pointing this out...I will make sure that I avoid the Carb Balance product. While I don't know if wood pulp would cause any harm, obviously, it is just not something that I would normally eat...To be on the safe side I think I will avoid it.

While some L-cysteine is directly synthesized in laboratories, most of it is extracted from a cheap and abundant natural protein source: human hair. The hair is dissolved in acid and L-cysteine is isolated through a chemical process, then packaged and shipped off to commercial bread producers. Besides human hair, other sources of L-cysteine include chicken feathers, duck feathers, cow horns and petroleum byproducts.

Learn more:…

@Teresa -- thanks for the education! Ewwwwwwwwwwwwww! :P

"The hair is dissolved in acid and L-cysteine is isolated through a chemical process, then packaged and shipped off to commercial bread producers."

I think I'll stick with my Ezekiel products:

Bread INGREDIENTS: Organic Sprouted Whole Wheat, Filtered Water, Organic Malted Barley, Organic Sprouted Whole Millet, Organic Sprouted Whole Barley, Organic Sprouted Whole Lentils, Organic Sprouted Whole Soybeans, Organic Sprouted Whole Spelt, Fresh Yeast, Organic Wheat Gluten, Sea Salt.

Tortilla INGREDIENTS: Organic Sprouted Whole Wheat, Filtered Water, Organic Unhulled Sesame Seeds, Organic Sprouted Whole Soybeans, Organic Sprouted Whole Barley, Organic Sprouted Whole Millet, Organic Sprouted Whole Lentils, Organic Sprouted Whole Spelt, Sea Salt.

I prefer the Trader Joe's and Whole Foods ones as well. And don't hesitate talking or reviewing those two brands--those are the two nearest grocery stores to my house!

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