Taking On the Tortilla Industry

Kernel of Truth Organics, in Los Angeles, is one of several producers trying to get a better, traditionally made tortilla into supermarkets, restaurants and home kitchens.

Comments: 47

  1. Once you've had a real tortilla, like the ones this article describes, the stuff in the store can't compare. The flavor and texture are superior. I wish I could buy these in my store.

  2. @Paula H Agree 100%!

  3. Sounds terrific. Best of luck to them. Mexican food is fantastic - I can't get enough of it.

  4. Kernel of Truth Organics are fantastic. Homemade tortillas from their masa are a revelation.

  5. After planting nine Cochiti heirloom blue corn plants back in April, I have the results -- three ears of dried corn -- sitting on my kitchen counter right now, waiting to be de-kerneled, nixtamalized, and made into masa. I might get three tortillas out of it. They will be the three most interesting tortillas I have ever eaten.

  6. I look forward to the day when Kernel of Truth tortillas appear in my grocery store. I agree most current offerings are inedible, but Southern California Trader Joe’s locations sell decent traditional corn tortillas made solely from ground corn, water and lime. They’re sold under The TJ label, so there’s no way to know the real source. There’s probably a story there -

  7. @MaryS Me too!! I would buy these in a heartbeat. I buy the TJ corn tortillas too, which arent too bad when heated up. I have issues with wheat and am always on the lookout for a good corn tortilla.

  8. I love Corn (the Vegetable). But could never acquire a Taste for Corn Tortillas. I infinitely prefer Whole Wheat Tortillas. All Corn, Flour and Wheat versions, I have used are from Commercial Bakeries (if you can Tortilla makers that). AAR I am going to try out South American Restaurant/Establishments for "traditionally-made" tortillas in the NYC Neighborhoods of: Jackson Heights and Corona. Maybe my mind will be changed and I will love All Things Corn. Even Corn Tortillas.

  9. Great article! Our family is blessed by having several Tortillarias in our vicinity. El Rey Carnitas, La Gloria,and El Rancharita, all within walking distance from the Amtrack train station in Oxnard. Finish it off with a tasty meal at Fresh and Fabulous which has been highlighted in Sunset Magazine.

  10. I'm lucky to live in a city where it's easy to get fresh, warm corn and flour tortillas any day except Sunday, but when I visit my Midwestern family and cook for them using supermarket tortillas I'm stunned by the long, long list of ingredients and disappointed with their artificial taste and gluey texture. The whole meal suffers. Supermarket varieties, especially those pointless corn/wheat hybrids and "low carb" disasters are the Wonder Bread of tortillas.

  11. @Randy where do you get yours in SF, NM? I'm a recent transplant and would love to know! :)

  12. I hope they're successful! Being from NM, I was disappointed to not be able to find good tortillas in NYC-- I bought the TJ's tortillas as well for a long time (sometimes still do) until I found out about Tortilleria Nixtamal in Corona. I get their tortilla share with my farm CSA share and sometimes go to Corona to buy them. But as the article and Ortega and Ahmed point out, they need to be made widely available. I stopped buying flour tortillas altogether since it's nearly impossible to find any without preservatives. This is a wider problem of processed food in general--we can all try to support businesses like these, tortillerias and bakeries, as they get their footing and hopefully make an impact on the food industry!

  13. Would love to know the farm share that includes Tortilleria Nixtamal’s tortillas! Please share

  14. Look for tortillerias wherever you are. Buy them warm and without added junk. You can freeze extras or just keep eating all week long. Happy to see the rise of such good food.

  15. El Milagro tortilleria in Chicago has been making tortillas this way for decades

  16. My bags of Masienda masa flour arrived yesterday so I can make my own tortillas; except when I lived in Arizona, and when I’ve found a local tortilleria in other cities, I have had to make my own for the more than 40 years I have been making Mexican food. The problem with getting good tortillas into grocers outside of major cities is keeping them there: demand. Most people have never tasted a real tortilla or had real Mexican food, and are perfectly happy with the tortillas out there. Also, most people don’t cook: the prepared food counters in most markets are where everyone is. I sincerely wish Kernel of Truth success and hope one day to find their tortillas here in Rhode Island, where most people “don’t like” Mexican food even though they’ve never had it. But I have seen great products quickly disappear from stores after being introduced because no one buys them. A huge challenge for those making authentic, premium products.

  17. It is not that unusual to see tortillas freshly made at restaurants and markets here in Southern California, but the best tortillas I ever had were made at a restaurant in the mountains above Puerta Vallarta, Mexico. An old woman would grind dried corn kernels into a flour, making just enough flour for one tortilla at a time, and then she cooked the tortilla next to where she ground the corn flour. Everything was done by hand, and very quickly. The results were, as I said, the best I have ever had. I have not tasted the tortillas made by Kernel of Truth Organics, but good on them for attempting to improve this staple of Mexican cuisine.

  18. @anonymous - Some of the best I have ever had were made by ancient Mexican women with their gas-heated griddles standing around downtown L.A. And the ones a Mexican babysitter used to make me when I was around 6 years old. This older, blind woman would make fresh ones every morning. I have been rather picky about tortillas every since then.

  19. When I am lucky and they have not sold out, I buy El Milagro (https://www.el-milagro.com) corn tortillas in Poughkeepsie NY at the older, large Mexican grocery on Main St. They come 12 to a package for 99 cents, and have no commercial preservatives and much more flavor and texture than other tortillas I find around here. Yum.

  20. Meanwhile, you can’t even get corn tortillas at Freshdirect anymore. All wheat, flour, spinach, sun dried tomato??? Blech!!!! What gives????

  21. @Max I just checked and they do sell a pure corn tortilla that is the same recipe as in this article. From a small producer in Vermont.

  22. Bravo for them! The sad thing is that most people have no idea how the industrialization of food has made it tasteless Yes, industrialized food is cheap, and no, lower income folks cannot afford artisanal foods. But the overwhelming majority of people can afford quality food and it needs to be on the market. Just watch, the food conglomerates will come after these guys with a vengeance. They will either figure out how to close the market to them or they will scheme to buy them out and slowly but relentlessly ratchet down the quality.

  23. @ Les Bethesda Wholly in agreement with you about the denaturation of consumable products by food industry. Not being a fan of tortilla-based Mexican cuisine, my grudge is directed at the bread baguettes in food makets, as well as small bakeries. They can be as crusty on the outside as the baquettes in France, but their interior is unfortunately almost always denser and less alveolar than of their trans-Atlantic equivalents.

  24. Great article and I wish I had access to this delicious heirloom corn tortillas. Good luck to Ricardo and Ommar and I look foward to buying their tortillas if they take them into supermarkets outside CA.

  25. Is there any surefire way to tell by looking at the packaging as to whether corn tortillas use nixtamalized corn? I’ve seen many different words used by various brands like: corn, corn flour, “trace of lime,” masa flour, but rarely the word “nixtamalized.” For example, can lime be an ingredient without it being nixtamalized?

  26. @Chris J. They all do; nixtamalization is the difference between masa and ordinary ground corn. The question is whether they use fresh masa, or whether they're made from masa harina--a dehydrated, powdered form that just needs water added. The package may not indicate which. If you want to make your own tortillas, you either need to be lucky enough to live near a place that sells fresh masa, or you're going to have to use Maseca. You can't produce fresh masa at home.

  27. Properly made tortillas should only list 3 ingredients: corn, water & lime. Trader Joe’s has them. Other grocers May have them. You have to through all the different brands to check the ingredients.

  28. The writer needs to be better informed. Corn flour that has been nixtamalized is commercial masa. Like in any grocery store. It is a necessary step to make what Americans call hominy and to make the corn proteins more bioavailable. Maybe some of the super big producers side step this part of the process, but even their tortillas list lime as an ingredient. Obviously, this tortilleria and similar ones can take more time to make better tortillas, but it's not like commercial ones are junk. They, too, use corn flour that has been nixtalmized. And, I DO know the differences between low volume high quality tortillas and commercial ones. And hand made in the kitchen. A good tortilla story: A cold, dark Friday night heading from work to home. Stopped at a restaurant that made tortillas to order. Then, to a store in Pacoima, the barrio of the San Fernando Valley. Near the exit of the parking lot was a wet, cold man seeking work or help. (And Republicans and others think these people don't have work ethic? Any one who is willing to stand in the cold rain seeking work has my respect.) Anyway, I opened my foil package of still hot corn tortillas and handed half of them to him. He had tears in his eyes; I could imagine him thinking that for one moment of his miserable existence he was blessed; taken back to a sunny Mexico to his mother's cocina.

  29. Here in North Carolina it's impossible to find decent tortillas. My friend Lolita in Michoacan makes tortillas for part of her income. I remain suspicious of anyone who thinks they can produce what she does. They have the right texture and consistency. One side is always a bit shiny as she stacks them up. Store-bought ones here are mealy. Hope these guys got it right!

  30. This article makes me want to stop by El Toro Bravo in Costa Mesa, CA on my way home from work. They make their own masa, which then becomes spectacular tortillas. They also have 2 different storefronts that they make tacos, burritos, and nachos from these tortillas. They also make and sell bags of tortilla chips from said tortillas. They are quite frankly the best tortilla chips I have ever eaten. I usually need a good salsa to eat tortilla chips. Not with these. I can eat an entire bag unaccompanied by any salsa.

  31. Being able to get a good fresh tortilla would be wonderful to me. Where I live, I can't buy fresh masa--so even if I am willing to make my own tortillas, I would need to use masa harina. Homemade tortillas using it are still better than many packaged shelf stable ones, but they don't compare to a real fresh tortilla. And grinding fresh masa is above the skills of 99% of home cooks, given the required equipment. While we're at it, as much as people often scorn flour tortillas, they can be made well, just like any other bread. But what we can buy in the supermarket is not that.

  32. Folks in the PNW, all the way to Montana, can get Three Sisters Nixtamal products in local stores. They make great, flavorful tortillas. I use them both at home and commercially.

  33. Finally! I hope the effort succeeds. The corn tortillas generally available are a disaster and a scandal; they just fall apart... so wimpy. Growing up in Mexico, we ate fresh tortillas delivered every day. The (wheat) flour tortillas were unusual and mostly combined with sweet fillings. Other ingredients may be good for some dishes, but they don’t count! Bring back the tender but substantial and sturdy delectable original corn tortilla!!! Yes, please.

  34. Can someone recommend a source for fresh tortillas in the Bay Area? And, how about some tacquerias while you are at it.

  35. La Palma Mexicatessen on 24th and Florida in San Francisco (walking distance from 24th St BART) sells fresh tortillas made daily.

  36. nixtalmalization is one of my favorite words.

  37. @ David Konerding San Mateo Thank you for focussing on this wonderful word. I love inveting new words in three languages and using unusual words. But I fear that nixtalmalization is outside of my conersational scope. :-))

  38. NYC could use an upgrade in Mexican food this should help.

  39. La Milpa de Rosa in Yonkers makes traditional nixtamalized tortillas and will deliver yellow or blue masa, tamale masa or tortillas for free, even to residences, in Manhattan. There’s a minimum order but it compares favorably to a restaurant mewl of substandard tortillas. You can order on their web site. They’re amazing, better than making from Bob’s Red Mill masa, which is still leaps and bounds above Guerrero.

  40. What a pleasure to see this this morning! We're down the street from Kernal of Truth and they make ---hands down-- the best tortillas I have eaten anywhere in the world. Their masa is also available in some local markets if you want to try your hand (good luck!). On top of that, Ricardo Ortega is an incredibly lovely human who is just passionate about what he does. If you're in LA, please support these guys and their hard work (and pick up some tamal dough at the holidays!).

  41. This is a nice article about Kernel of Truth, but due to some lax editing, it seems to have provided at least as much confusion as info about nixtamalization. This sentence, in particular: "Most store-bought tortillas are made from Maseca, a leading brand of corn flour, stabilized with gums and preservatives. " implies the Maseca itself is full of gums and preservatives rather than the Gruma commercial tortillas that are made with them. (Maseca is just dried nixtamalized corn.) To my taste, tortilla taste depends on (in order of effect size) 1. freshness from griddling (there is a smell from the lime when a tortilla is griddled from a wet mixture, whether that mixture is "fresh masa" or wet Maseca. Adding to this difficulty is that (according to what I have heard on KCRW's Good Food and my own tastes) some "fresh masa" purveyors are using a large proportion or all Maseca in their masa. 2. corn type (there are some dried nixtamalized flours that aren't Maseca, and tout their "heirloom corn", for example, Masienda). 3. whether there is anything other than corn and lime in the tortilla. As mentioned, the Gruma tortillas have gums and preservatives, but many local tortillerias put out versions without these preservatives. While a bit better than the Gruma versions they do not have the characteristic smell and taste of a freshly griddled version. 3. whether it is from fresh masa vs. Maseca (possibly due to sourcing fresh masa from purveyors less committed than Kernel of Truth)

  42. Unstoppable globalization of food may suggest to the tortilla bakers to diversify into many other kinds of ethno-national breads, from the French baguette to the to the breads of Central Asia and Circumcaspian region. Anything would be better than the tasteless white bread and soft hamburger buns.

  43. Pancho Villa market in San Diego, corn and flour tortillas hot off the griddle...people stand in line waiting for them. And they sell bags of ready to cook masa as well.

  44. I would love, Love, LOVE to have their blue corn tortillas here in the Midwest. Thanks for sharing their story!

  45. Sanitary Tortilla Co. in San Antonio and their nixtamalized tortillas are in my regular rotation. I load up and freeze them.

  46. Mi Tierra Tortillas distributes nixmatlized traditional toritillas throughout the Northeast, including NY, Boston, western Mass, and some CT and VT locations. Their offerings include an organic product. http://www.mitierratortillas.com/places-to-buy.html Like mentioning La Milpa de Rosa, it would be good for the Times to mention east coast options.

  47. I moved to Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco recently and, as irony would have it, the tortillas here are utterly tasteless and fall apart in seconds. I'm used to the incredible chewy yellow tortillas made in the better restaurants in Chicago. Please share your craft with the people of Puerto Vallarta! We need you!