Hecho Con Aloha: Corn Transforms at Raíz Tortillas
Raíz Tortillas brings a rainbow of heirloom corn rounds to Hawai‘i plates from a family-owned tortilleria in Kalihi.
The heat climbs in the 375-square-foot factory in Kalihi where Raíz tortillas are born. Here, Ramón Germán cooks, steeps, grinds, then mixes dough that he coaxes from heirloom corn, before finally pressing the tortillas. “I love it here. This is my second home,” he says. “I’m all about the kitchen life.”
Each package of 10 tortillas lists just three ingredients: corn, water and lime. But nothing about the process is simple. Germán swirls and blends, sniffing the air at each step. Each day, he records temperatures, comments and discoveries in a handwritten diary. Sometimes, the masa develops a quality that’s different from the day before. He writes that down too. The tortillas, reflecting different varietals of corn, are a rainbow of stone-ground rounds. “Each corn has its flavor—the nuttiness of the red, the earthiness of the blue, the sweetness of the yellow,” Germán says. “My goal is to showcase those flavors.”
Though he works solo in the early morning when the air is cooler, his family is always with him. Photographs of his late grandfathers—both corn farmers in Mexico—are on a shelf, next to a jar of heirloom corn safeguarded by his mother. And he feels them watching. In another photo, smiles dance from the eyes of Germán’s two young daughters.
Since 2019, when he worked in a company called Masa, grinding corn then selling hand-pressed tortillas at farmers markets, Germán has doubled down. This past February, he opened Raíz Tortillas (raíz translates loosely to roots in Spanish) as a family business with his wife, Kim. She works full time in public relations at the Four Seasons Resort O‘ahu at Ko Olina, where he was a chef.
Now, production averages 6,000 to 8,000 tortillas each week. Though he started the tortilleria with heirloom corn shipped from California through Mexican suppliers, he’s also working with local farmers in Waimānalo to create a Hawai‘i corn tortilla unique to the Islands, but crafted with the wisdom passed down through his family and nurtured by his own process. Hecho con aloha, his packages of tortillas say. Made with aloha.