Food by VICE

Why Organic Tortillas Are Revolutionary in LA's Food Scene

Kernel of Truth Organics is the first tortilleria in LA making corn tortillas made from 100-percent organic, American corn. The specimens are transcendently chewy and they are on to something really big.

by Javier Cabral
Sep 30 2016, 11:00pm

All photos by Javier Cabral

"The formula for a great taco isn't much different than [making] the tallest skyscraper in the world. It all starts with the foundation: tortillas, and you build it up from there."

I'm standing inside Kernel of Truth Organics' tortilla factory next to co-owner Omar Ahmed as he's packaging warm tortillas. Along with co-owner Ricardo "Rick" Ortega, he is making Los Angeles' first tortillas made with 100-percent organic, American corn. The duo quietly opened this tiny company a little over two years ago.

Tortillas in Los Angeles generally tend to taste shitty, because tortilla-makers and consumers often choose convenience over quality, but this issue isn't unique to the City of Angels. This is the same reason why it's so difficult to find real tortillas anywhere in the US, which is where companies like Kernel of Truth are trying to change the system. With the emergence of businesses like them and Masienda, this is starting to change, but things still have a long way to go.

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Omar Ahmad and Ricardo Ortega of Kernel of Truth Organics

As I stand inside the walls of this tortilla factory, I can't help but wonder why it's taken so long for this city—which contains some of the best Mexican food in America—to become home to an organic tortilla purveyor.

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Kernel of Truth Organics' Head Tortillero grinding the organic corn

"Cost, cost, and cost again," Ortega yells to me over the powerful tortilla machine in the back. Ortega and Ahmed first met and became friends in high school, but later fell into the tough tortilla business after they noticed how the complexity of the corn industry was impacting disenfranchised Mexican immigrants like their friends and family.

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Organic corn in the process of nixtamalization

"Our mission is to have organic tortillas become the standard." Ahmad smiles as he picks up hot, fresh tortillas. He airs them out, stacks them, and packages them as quickly as the machine pumps them out. Ahmad is a second-generation tortillero by blood who has been making tortillas since he was ten years old.

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"We are from the earth to the earth, by the people, for the people," Ahmad tells me. Their plan is to consistently lower the price of their tortillas until they cost the same as the bigger guys, making their "true tortillas" more accessible. In order to implement this system, Ahmad and Ortega are providing an "aggressive cashback reward" system called The Flow Lox. According to Ahmad, The Flow Lox is a "first-of-its-kind business model designed to redistribute wealth equitably to the consumers that make up the 99 percent."

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Their current masa production lives at El Mercado de Los Angeles, a neighborhood landmark in East LA modeled after a traditional Mexican market, but despite their dedication to strictly working with organic American corn farmers, they have yet to invest into the certification process. El Mercado de Los Angeles is up for sale, creating a very strong sense of uncertainty for all of the small businesses like Kernel of Truth Organics that call the historic building their home.

Ahmad and Ortega are not letting the uncertainty slow them down. Their business is quickly growing through grassroots efforts and establishments that are carrying their goods, from Petty Cash to Plant Food for People, Kitchen Mouse, HomeState, Gracias Madre, and Cafe Gratitude.

"The city of gold is paved with tortillas, and we have only just begun our journey," Ortega tells me, as the duo leaves for the day to make deliveries by hand.