Putting Tortillas on a Pedestal – Not Just a Plate
There is nothing quite like the pride that comes from making something from scratch. And if you haven’t experienced this yet, what are you waiting for?! That said, having the patience and commitment to make something in its purest most authentic way and share it with community, this is something to put on a pedestal. And so, after touring Kernel of Truth Organics in Los Angeles and tasting their delicious tortillas, I couldn’t resist highlighting the beauty behind the rough yet tender texture, and sweet, nutty flavor with a photoshoot.
The owners, Ricardo Ortega and Omar Ahmed have worked hard to bring non-GMO, 100% organic nixtamalized corn tortillas free of any chemical and preservatives to Angelenos from their full-scale production on Cesar Chavez Avenue. There is no question that the nixtamalized corn behind Kernel of Truth’s tortillas are what makes them a standout product. And I would dare to say their passion and perseverance to create an uncompromised tortilla are as essential to the taste as the 3 ingredients used in their recipe – corn, cal, and water.
As Ricardo Ortega beautifully states: “Before, the tortilla was seen just as a plate – not an ingredient. It’s about time we no longer remain in the shadows.”
Most store-bought tortillas are made from Maseca, Gruma dehydrated tortilla flour. You will find their symbol on almost all the instant flour packaging since monopolizing the tortilla industry and forcing producers to only work with them. Their corn flour is stabilized with gums, preservatives, and full of chemicals that you are better off keeping out of your body.
“Choosing to source solely organic corn, instead of commodity corn, is challenging.” Ortega admits. “But my business partner and I said – let’s do it right, and swim upstream – it will suck, it will hurt, but we’re in now almost 7, 8 years.”
Organic corn farmers make up less than 5% of the U.S. corn growers. And growing this grain in California is nearly impossible. But by committing to use protected organic heirloom grains, like Masienda single origin corn, the two are pushing back against a tortilla-making process that became industrialized in the 20th century.
As with Three Sisters Nixtamal in Portland, Oregon, and Tortilleria Nixtamal in New York, Kernel of Truth Organics are improving accessibility to traditionally made tortillas.
Ricardo and Omar have been best friends and entrepreneurs since their days at Marshall High School, when they would sell burgers to afford instruments for their band. Omar grew up in the tortilla business. His aunt and uncle had a tortilla factory in Echo Park, and when he decided to take it over, Ricardo joined the enterprise.
Kernel of Truth Organics was born in 2014, with their mission to fuel families with uncompromised organic nutrition by preserving the skillset of traditionally made tortillas from getting wiped out by corporate manufacturers. Ricardo and Omar believe the purity of the tortillas starts with the nixtamalization process, invented by Mexicans more than 1,000 years ago, turning corn into dough.
The process of nixtamalization is essentially turning an inedible grain edible – and in the process it releases its nutrients – which are niacin, vitamin B, and calcium. By introducing wood ash into the water and cooking the corn in that, an alkaline bath is created which soaks in and softens the outer layer and starches of the kernel, ultimately releasing the nutritional values.
“We tried to introduce native seed from Mexico.” Ortega admits. But in the end, they preferred sourcing dried organic corn from a family farm in Nebraska and Illinois. “We work with American-grown corn versus Mexican-grown,” he says. “That allows for better tracing of the soil.”
So, after warming and soaking the kernels for up to 24 hours, the corn is officially nixtamal. The softened kernels are rinsed to remove their outer skins, a process Ortega refers to as “de-shelling.” Then nixtamal is then loaded into a mechanized molino, ground between wheels of heavy volcanic rock to make masa – a pliable dough.
The design of the etched stones directly impacts the end result texture of the masa. A courser grind warrants wider space in between the grooves. And a fine masa for tortillas, requires super thin spaces. To ensure a consistent masa, the stones are refiled weekly. This tedious practice can be compared to a chef sharpening knives.
Kernel of Truth’s squishy, slightly sticky masa, is then rolled, cut, and par baked as it moves through the production line, producing over 15,000 tortillas the old-fashioned way a day.
Lucky for us, the unparalleled deliciousness of these tortillas can be purchased directly by consumers at the Hollywood Farmers Market and organic markets in Echo Park and East L.A, or found at some of LA’s most beloved restaurants such as Guerrilla Tacos, Gracias Madre, HomeState, CaCao Mexicatessen, and Petty Cash Taqueria.
“From high-end taqueros to everyone’s abuela, people love and deserve a good, honest tortilla.” says Ortega.
A tour of Kernel of Truth Organics: