Our Story


Frequently Asked Questions

The dough produced from nixtamalized, stone-ground corn (i.e., maize, the grain kind—not the sweet corn we’re used to eating on the cob) that transforms into hundreds of Mesoamerican food staples, including tortillas, tostadas and tamales.

Nixtamalization (nix-ta-ma-li-za-tion) is the ancient, Mesoamerican process of steeping corn kernels with an alkaline ingredient (e.g., slaked lime, ash, etc.). This process softens the corn, imparts calcium and activates the essential amino acids and vitamin B3 found naturally in each kernel. Pretty incredible stuff and worth trying out, yourself, if you ask us. For helpful, easy-to-follow tips on nixtamalization and masa preparation, check out Nixtamal: A guide to masa production in the United States.

The masa industry is, in fact, a juggernaut. For example, Gruma, the masa behemoth behind Maseca, Azteca Milling, Mission and Guerrero, grossed $3.7 billion in 2017, alone. What’s more, within the last 50 years, the industry’s vast but hyper-consolidated value chain has relied on environmentally damaging agricultural systems and commodity blandness to stake its market and cultural dominance.

As consumers, ourselves, hungry for a holistically-deeper connection to our food, we saw an opportunity to do things differently.

Masa (see above) + Tienda (“store”) = Masienda.

Ah, the mythical puff. The puff can be thought of as equal parts culinary magic and Masienda metaphor.

In the literal sense, the puff is to table tortilla making what the crumb (immortalized by the “crumbshot”) is to bread baking. That’s to say, it’s a sign that your table tortilla (i.e., the pliable kind that you pass around the table and/or make into a taco) was superbly executed.

A puff occurs during the cooking process of a tortilla, wherein, once meeting heat, the trapped moisture at the tortilla’s core expands outward in the form of steam. A ballooning puff is born, as a result. Though a marvel to behold, it’s about far more than just aesthetics. The puff helps to ensure that the tortilla cooks evenly through the center while also maintaining proper moisture and elasticity.

A tortilla puff is made possible when a tortilla’s raw masa is sufficiently elastic, finely ground, well hydrated, evenly compressed and applied to a hot enough surface that can convert its trapped moisture into steam. These five factors must be in equilibrium to achieve that cooking climax, that buoyant bounce, that gravity-defying liftoff.

At Masienda, we find ourselves in perpetual pursuit of the perfect puff. Not just for ourselves, of course; we want to ensure that you, too, are equipped with the ingredients, tools and resources to get the job done.

This brings us to the puff’s metaphoric significance at Masienda.

A puff is achieved through balance–from milpa to mesa and from kernel to masa. It is our internal measure that everything and everyone across the masa value chain is in stasis; our farming partners, their agricultural methods, our teams, logistics providers, masa culture and puff partners like you.

To achieve this kind of end-to-end harmony is to live in the puff. With so many moving parts in such an unprecedented value chain, it’s not always easy. But with learnings consistently acknowledged and intentions sharply focused, the puff is ever present.

May the puff be with you.

It would be our pleasure. First, be sure to check out our videos on achieving the perfect puff at home. For masa harina users, take a look at this 90 second video. For kernel-to-masa users, check out this video on pressing a tortilla that puffs.
Still have questions? Email our dedicated Puff Line at puff@masienda.com and one of our real-life, LA-based team members will be in touch with you shortly.

An heirloom is something of value that has been passed down across multiple generations. In this case, heirloom corn comes from farmer-preserved seeds that have been hand selected for the best flavor and maintained for hundreds (even thousands) of years. Each generation does its own part to further perfect the corn’s flavor and quality before it’s passed on to the next generation. Heirloom corn is totally different than the hybrid corn that makes up 99.9% of what is grown in the US (including virtually all organic corn); it is 100% farmer owned and exists outside of the large-scale value chains that we associate with genetically-modified corn, cattle feed and ethanol. Think of it as expressly culinary, not commodity.

Yes, all Masienda corn is non-GMO (it’s technically illegal to grow genetically-modified corn in Mexico!) and grown with a diversity of regenerative practices. Unlike conventional treatment of non-GMO grains across the world, no pesticides or fumigants are used at any point in Masienda’s post-harvest handling.

While some growers and cooperatives are large enough to justify organic certification (and are indeed certified organic), the truth is that it can be a prohibitively expensive proposition for the scale of farmers with whom we work. The average Masienda farming partner independently manages around 5-10 acres of land—for comparison, the average family farm in Iowa is 351 acres. That said, we are incrementally working to support several of our partner communities’ and cooperatives’ efforts to completing third-party organic certification.

We’re so glad you asked! For our Impact Report in English, read here. Para Español, lea aquí.

Masienda is the first to create a premium, scalable market for surplus corn grown by smallholder subsistence farmers in Mexico. Masienda concentrates its efforts in communities living below the international poverty line, where it can maximize economic impact for at-risk families and the rare varieties they grow. Market demand permitting, those farmers who opt to participate are able to do so at no risk, whatsoever. A radical departure from the informal “coyote” systems that (at best) take farmer surpluses on consignment, payment is immediately issued to farmers, following product quality evaluation. Premiums reach between 2x to 5x more than farmers would otherwise command for hybrid, commodity grain.

Masienda has historically determined its purchase pricing with the input of third-party agencies, community-supported non profits and foundations. Pricing is assessed in the immediate weeks leading up to each harvest cycle. Masienda weighs a wide spectrum of factors affecting farmers and production, with considerations ranging from crop yields to currency exchange and varietal scarcity. Demand permitting, Masienda opens its aggregation season one month after harvest takes place in a given region. This window is intended to provide enough time for farmers to collect and sort materials for surplus, if any. All transactions are documented through a written contract, which certifies price, surplus declaration (i.e., check against sale of subsistence crop), weight (in order to document/track against historical index within a given community/for a particular farmer), etc. Farmers are then paid directly and immediately, according to previously determined price index, after weight has been measured, pathogen testing performed and any rejected materials have been returned.

In lieu of a formal certification program, Masienda has developed a comprehensively equitable approach to sourcing standards, since its founding. To date, no formal fair trade certification program exists for corn, heirloom or otherwise. One would think fair-trade certifiers would be quick to capitalize on a new supply chain opportunity, but our experience has ironically proven otherwise. Despite our best attempts to become fair-trade customers and collaborators, the “leading” fair-trade certifiers have declined our requests, citing the following reasons:

“Thanks for reaching out. While it’s great to hear that you are interested in certifying heirloom corn, we do not currently have the capacity to introduce a new category to our certification.” -Paul Rice, Fair Trade USA

Frustrating, yes, but we really had to laugh at this next one…

“One of the pillars that Fairtrade stands on is that we exist to alleviate trade imbalances and injustices in crops that are undermined. Due to Conventional Corn’s prevalence domestically, the crop may not be viewed to have an imbalance.” -Manager, Fairtrade America

So, while Masienda appreciates the work that fair-trade certifiers have done to raise awareness and standards for equitable markets, the idea of spending several (more) years begging to pay tens of thousands of dollars for certification from these agencies hardly qualifies as a constructive use of our time or resources. Instead, we will continue to refine our standards and lead the way for responsibly sourcing and commercializing identity-preserved corn in economically disadvantaged communities. We take solace in knowing that we’re not alone in blazing our own fair-trade path. Companies such as Counter Culture Coffee have created thoughtful, impactful sustainability models in developing communities across the world.

Masienda uses strictly organic post-harvest handling methods for all of its raw ingredients–that means no pesticides whatsoever.

For this reason, we recommend storing Masienda 5 lb bags of heirloom corn and beans in a cool, dry place and consuming within 30-60 days. For extended storage, we recommend storing in the freezer, where it will keep indefinitely.

For 55 lb bags of heirloom corn and beans, a cool, dry place will suffice for both short and long-term storage. Each bag contains an ultra-hermetic liner that protects against live insects that are commonly attracted to pesticide-free dry ingredients.

For Masienda’s Chef-Grade Masa Harina, we recommend consuming by the recommended “best by” date, however, its low moisture should keep the masa shelf stable for longer periods. For additional shelf life, you may also choose to store in the freezer.


Press

KCRW_LOGO
Chasing the Puff in Modern Tortilla Making
eater-portland-oregon-logo
The Secret to Portland’s Best Tacos Is This Masa Factory
the new york times logo
An Heirloom Masa Harina
chicago-tribune-logo
Chicago’s tortillas are better than ever, thanks to Masienda’s heirloom corn from Oaxaca
the new york times logo
A Tortilla Favored by Chefs Is Now Available Nationwide
the splendid table logo
Episode 647: Mexican Food in America
taste logo
The Tortilla Cartel
grub street logo
A Year of Cooking Again
bon-appetit-logo
In a Land of Tortilla Factories, Enrique Olvera’s New Tortilleria Is Doing It Old School
the new food economy logo
Want to understand the border crisis? Look to American corn policy
eater-washington-dc-logo
A Growing Number of D.C. Restaurants Grind Imported Corn for Perfect Tortillas
pineapple logo
Pantry Pick: Masienda Tortillas
civil eats logo
Ancient Corn is Coming to Whole Foods
taste radio logo
Episode 121: Chef Rick Bayless: “I Want the Real Deal”
the chalkboard logo
These 10 Brands Caught Our Attention At Expo West 2018
spins logo
SPINS Trendwatch: 2018 EXPO WEST Recap
smart brief logo
Masa, Mezcal Reflect Mexico’s Culinary Craft
new hope network logo
Masienda Gets Back to Basics with Heirloom Corn Tortillas
bon-appetit-logo
These 10 Great Online Specialty Food Stores Have Everything
the washington post logo
Shopping Cart: Masienda Bodega corn tortillas
forbes logo
The Man Who Imports Corn (And How He’s Saving Mexican Food)
los angeles times logo
Taco Maria’s Carlos Salgado wants authentic tortillas: That means Mexican maize
the salt logo
Chefs’ Secret For More Flavorful Tortillas? Heirloom Corn From Mexico
the washington post logo
Trump needs money for his wall. You might be paying for it with your guacamole.
forbes 30 under 30 logo
Forbes 30 Under 30 – Food & Drink – 2017
the new york times logo
Oaxaca’s Native Maize Embraced by Top Chefs in U.S. and Europe
wsj logo
How the Authentic Taco Made a Gourmet Comeback
reuters logo
Chase for tastier tortillas starts with age-old ‘Mexican gold’
nbc logo
Why Top U.S. Chefs Seek This Young Latino’s Quality Mexican Corn
financial times logo
Agribusiness eyes Mexico as courts debate lifting GM maize ban
the new york times logo
From Kefir to ‘Cucamelons,’ Sampling the Next Wave of Natural Foods
zagat logo
12 Superheroes of the NYC Dining Scene
eater logo
Christine Rivera: Taking the Craft of Tortilla-Making to the Next Level
munchies logo
This Is Why LA’s Mexican Food Is Still Not the Best In the US
new york magazine logo
Maiz Start-up Masienda Supplies Tortilla-Crazed Chefs With Exotic Breeds of Mexican Corn
edible manhattan logo
Ear and There: From New York to Mexico, Masienda Searches for Real Corn
food republic logo
Jorge Gaviria Has A-Maíz-ing Plans For America’s Tortillas
los angeles magazine logo
Changing the World, One Heirloom Corn Tortilla at a Time
heritage radio network logo
Masienda: Changing the Color of Corn
tasting table logo
Man of La Masa
daily meal logo
Fish Tacos and Purple Corn Ice Cream at Masafest
edible manhattan logo
PHOTOS: Celebrating Corn and Community in the Rockaways

Films