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Culinary Question Today — Is a Burrito a Sandwich?

Can we call a burrito a sandwich?

Well, at first glance, it appears to be a simple matter. However, it’s not as easy as it looks. In fact, this question has posed issues in legal disputes. If a burrito is classified as a sandwich, it must follow the same laws and regulations that apply to sandwiches in terms of selling and manufacturing. However, if a burrito is not a sandwich, legislation regarding sandwiches does not apply to it. Today we’ll give an in-depth examination of whether a burrito counts as a sandwich.

What Is a Sandwich?

For the most part, a sandwich is a culinary dish in which one or more items (typically meat, vegetables, cheese, but occasionally ice cream) are placed between two slices of bread or a bread-like product.

Sandwiches precede the birth of Jesus. Rabbi Hillel is said to have invented the first sandwich around 110 B.C., consisting of herbs, nuts, and apples placed between two matzos.

The sandwich was dubbed after the Earl of Sandwich, an aristocrat from the 18th century who was fond of gambling tables. He ate his meals in sandwich fashion so that he wouldn’t have to stop playing or glance away from his opponents.

These days, many sandwiches are the type that you can enjoy at your desk without drawing attention to yourself while others are a feast in their own right.

Is a Burrito a Sandwich?

Different states have different definitions of sandwiches, so the answer varies depending on where you are.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “A sandwich is a meat or poultry filling between two slices of bread, a bun or a biscuit.” As a result, burritos do not qualify as a sandwich.

However, the same does not ring true for New York. The taxes of sandwiches are governed under a unique subclass of sandwich legislation in New York. And they make it clear that the burrito is definitely included in that.

The New York State Department of Finance and Taxation defines sandwiches as: “…cold and hot sandwiches of every kind that are prepared and ready to be eaten, whether made on bread, bagels, on rolls, in pitas, in wraps, or otherwise, and regardless of the filling or number of layers. A sandwich can be as simple as a buttered bagel or roll or as elaborate as a six-foot, toasted submarine sandwich.”

A long list of “common sandwiches” is provided by the department. This list includes:

  • hot dogs and sausages on buns, rolls, and the like;
  • hamburgers on buns, rolls, and the like;
  • bagel sandwiches (served buttered or with spreads, or otherwise as a sandwich);
  • gyros;
  • croissant sandwiches;
  • wraps and pita sandwiches; and
  • burritos.

Surprisingly, the burrito isn’t considered a sandwich in Massachusetts. In 2006, Panera Restaurant filed a lawsuit against its Massachusetts landlord when the landlord agreed to let Qdoba Mexican Grill, a restaurant that serves tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, rent a place in the same shopping center.

Panera includes a condition in its lease that forbids another sandwich restaurant from renting in The White City Shopping Center in Shrewsbury. Panera attempted to exploit this clause to prevent Qdoba from opening.

However, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Locke ruled that Qdoba’s burritos and other items are not sandwiches, citing Webster’s Dictionary along with statements from a chef and a former federal agriculture officer with a high-ranking position.

Kerry J. Byrne, a Boston Herald food and drink columnist since 1998, supplied an expert declaration for the complaint. Byrne states that: “I know of no one in the culinary industry who would consider a burrito to be a sandwich… To put it anecdotally, nobody would say that they are going to the burrito shop to get a sandwich.”

According to the judge, the difference is two pieces of bread vs. one tortilla: “A sandwich is not commonly understood to include burritos, tacos, and quesadillas, which are typically made with a single tortilla and stuffed with a choice filling of meat, rice, and beans.”

The Verdict

So, does a burrito count as a sandwich? It depends. In New York, it’s legally considered a sandwich. But in Massachusetts, and perhaps the rest of the world, it’s a different kind of food item entirely. Nevertheless, we can’t deny that both make for a scrumptious and filling meal or snack.