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Making a Better Tortilla

Working with Mexican farmers, Jorge Gaviria and his company Masienda import heirloom corn for authentic tortillas.

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If you eat at Cosme in New York City, or at Xoco in Chicago, or any number of next-level Mexican restaurants across the country, you might notice something about your tortillas — in that they’re most likely nothing like the tortillas you’re accustomed to. It’s all thanks to Jorge Gaviria, who has dedicated his career to the humblest of vegetables — corn — to revive it in Mexican culinary traditions.

Why corn? Corn is the most widely grown crop in the United States. But like many other industrial crops in the US, corn has been bred with taste and nutrients as an afterthought. Its high starch concentration gave corn an ulterior purpose beyond the kitchen table: Of the 14.5 billion bushels of corn produced in the US in 2016, about 5 billion of them were for corn ethanol. Another 5 billion bushels goes to livestock feed, and the rest of it goes to food and other food products, like high-fructose corn syrup.

Photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

So Gaviria went back to where corn was originally harvested: Mexico. Gaviria’s company, Masienda, is what he likes to call “farm to tortilla.” That means to create the “OG superfood,” Masienda works with smallholder farming communities in Mexico to source the best possible crop of corn to make authentic tortillas. The early days of Masienda were Gaviria bringing surplus heirloom corn back to the US to chefs and restaurants. Chefs like Rick Bayless and Dan Barber were immediate fans, but Gaviria had his aims set higher than the country’s leading restaurants. In his eyes, the way to bring flavorful corn back to American tastebuds was to “democratize it” for all. Last year, Masienda imported more than 1,300 metric tons of corn from 1,200 Mexican farmers.

Molly DeCoudreaux

That has led to Masienda Bodega retail products, which are now available online and at stores like Whole Foods. In Gaviria’s ideal world, “every American is eating this product and they’re better for it,” he says. But for now, he’ll continue to innovate and work to bring the best possible tortilla to your plate. As the company slogan says, it’s “the best thing since (long before) sliced bread.”

Music Credits, Video
Antiphona Zelus domus tuae - Matinas de Quinta feira Santa - Pe Jose Maria Xavier
Music Box Licensing - "Igloo"
Orange Mighty Trio - "Quietest Rag"
Lullatone - "A Runaway Kite"

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