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Rebecca Carranza, 98; was pioneer of tortilla chip

LOS ANGELES -- Rebecca Webb Carranza, who was recognized by the tortilla industry as one of the pioneers of the commercial tortilla chip, died Jan. 19 at a hospice in Phoenix, her family said. She was 98.

The headline in Popular Mechanics magazine saluted a manufacturing triumph in Los Angeles: ''Tortillas Meet the Machine Age." It was 1950, and the El Zarape Tortilla Factory, among the first to automate the production of tortillas, had used a tortilla-making machine for three years.

Corn-and-flour disks poured off the conveyor belt more than 12 times faster than they could be made by hand. At first many came out ''bent" or misshapen, Ms. Carranza, company president, recalled decades later, and were thrown away.

For a family party in the late 1940s, Ms. Carranza cut some of the discarded tortillas into triangles and fried them. A hit with the relatives, the chips soon sold for a dime a bag at her Mexican delicatessen and factory in southwest Los Angeles.

By the 1960s, the snack the family packaged as Tort Chips and delivered up and down the coast had evolved into El Zarape's primary business.

In 1994 and 1995 -- the only years the award was given -- Ms. Carranza was among the recipients of the Golden Tortilla Award, created to honor about 20 industry innovators, said Mario Orozco, an employee of Irving, Texas-based Azteca Milling, who thought up the celebration.

A native of Durango, Mexico, Ms. Carranza was married four times, twice two to the same man, Augustine Zuniga.

Three years ago, she moved to Phoenix to be near her two sons.

In addition to her sons, Ms. Carranza leaves 12 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren.

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