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Bread-makers and pasta machines were once the hot new gadets in the kitchen, but today they serve primarily as a reminder of '80s white elephant parties. Of course, new specialty devices are popping up all the time to fill your cupboards. Here, we found a new one this week: How about an ethnic countertop oven to slide between your Vitamix and Cuisinart?
If we sound cynical, we are. And yet we can’t wait to try fresh tortillas out of a Flatev tortilla maker.
Feed a dough-filled pod into the Flatev and the simple, slightly retro-looking device flattens the dough, grills it, and slides a fresh, fully cooked tortilla into a tray on the bottom. It can pump them out at the rate of one tortilla per minute.
You might think the humble tortilla is too niche an item to warrant a dedicated device. If so, no one would blame you for moving on to the next article. But according to the Flatev team, in the U.S. tortillas are consumed more than any type of bread—it's a $12 billion market with 10 percent annual growth. That’s a lot of masa.
And there's no doubt fresh-made tortillas put store-bought tortillas to shame. The char is more pronounced, the warm dough is redolent of maize, and the imperfections lend authenticity.
Unlike most store-bought tortillas, Flatev’s dough is free of preservatives or artificial colors or flavors. The ingredients for corn tortillas are simply water, ground corn, and a dash of lime. Or, for tortillas de harina, just flour, baking soda and salt.
But if tortillas are so easy to make, why do we need another machine hogging up precious counter space in our kitchen? Simple: Because tortillas (corn, in particular) require attention that makes fresh pasta look like child’s play.
Even starting from bagged masa, it's a laborious task. And if you want to do it the really authentic way, corn kernels should be soaked in lime overnight, then ground on a stone metate. While tortilla-making is hardly a lost art—more colorful Mexican restaurants have a little old abuelita grinding away next to a grill—it’s not exactly a growth industry.
Like coffee from a Keurig, tortillas from a Flatev won’t be cheap. The machine itself is expected to retail for about $290, while the pods will cost 90 cents each. While fresh tortillas served steaming hot from the Flatev will undoubtedly beat store-bought in a face-off, $11 for a dozen is a pretty steep upcharge.
But Flatev's potential stretches well beyond Taco Tuesday. After all, tortillas are just another form of flatbread. Whether it's making Venezuelan arepas or Greek pita, Indian naan or Chinese loabing, the Flatev may have a place in cultures all around the world.
The company has already raised $5 million, and is set to launch a Kickstarter campaign with a $100,000 goal. (Like many Kickstarter campaigns these days, it's more for PR than funding.) The first machines are expected for delivery by summer 2017, and some 12,000 pre-orders have reportedly been logged.
Flatev’s creators are still working on the environmental footprint of the pods, a concern that has bedeviled Keurig coffee machines and other single-use devices. But the Flatev has one major advantage in this department: Unlike a K-cup, a used Flatev pod isn’t littered with coffee grounds, nor does it require a built-in filter—the main issues that consign K-cups to landfills.
Flatev’s website doesn’t detail what its pods will be made of, or how they can be disposed of, but says the company is “committed to finding the best solution by working with ecology experts and environmental scientists, so the pods do not contribute to any waste.”
Meanwhile, before ponying up for a Flatev, you might try making fresh tortillas at home. Serious Eats explains the step-by-step process behind making masa from scratch, but there are easier ways to make authentic tacos.
Check to see if any of the Latin American grocers in your area sell fresh corn masa. If you can’t pin it down, look for masa harina—the ground maize flour used to make the dough. Love and Lemons offers a straightforward guide to tortilla-making at home. Pair their tips with the dough, a tortilla press, and a griddle or comal. taco fiestas just might become a regular tradition in your home.