Korean food continues to expand into America's frozen-food aisles. And while navigating one at a local Whole Foods Market grocery recently, I came across Saffron Road's packaged Korean Taco With Tofu.
Saffron Road, a Stanford, Conn.-based food company, has brought several Korean-themed meals to the public, including Gochujang Chicken, Bibimbop With Tofu, Beef Bulgogi and Bibimbop With Beef.
The eye-catching packaging caught my eye first. The taco is tucked into a box shaped like a food truck. That's appropriate, because the Korean taco is acknowledged to have most memorably rolled onto the American palate via the Kogi Korean BBQ trucks of Los Angeles.
After I brought my stash home, I examined the label more closely. I noticed this Korean taco was gluten-free and certified halal. (That's an Arabic word that means the food is allowed under Islamic dietary guidelines.)
The box also warned me the spiciness level was "hot." Although I don't recall a processed meal labeled as "spicy" or "hot" actually living up to that hype, I was expecting my tongue to be teased at least.
My taco cracked right part way down the middle from its two-minute sojourn in the microwave. But that's the occupational hazard of corn tortillas, in my opinion. It's why I'm personally not a big fan of corn tortillas in any form.
The corn tortilla Saffron Road used in their Korean taco was called a "heritage nixtamal corn tortilla." In California, this kind of exotic foodstuff will give your processed food serious foodie cred, perfect for the stereotypical California organic food crowd.
Nixtamal is an Aztec word, describing corn/maize that has been treated with calcium hydroxide, commonly known as slaked lime or just lime. Treating corn with slaked lime is usually the first step in making masa and hominy. It loosens or removes the hard endosperm covering the corn kernel. The process makes the corn more digestible.
After heating it up for one minute on each side while wrapped in a paper towel, following the directions to the letter, I took a bite.
Saffron Road also has a "mild" Korean Taco With (bulgogi-flavored) Chicken, if tofu is not your thing. By the description, the chicken seems to be marinaded in a 불고기 bulgogi-style sauce.
"Gluten-free" should have been a big red flag that the "gochujang sauce" wouldn't really taste like 고추장 gochujang. But I suspect Saffron Road had no choice in the matter, to ensure the product had no gluten. Genuine gochujang is made with barley malt.
This dish's gochujang-inspired sauce leaned heavily toward the sweet side, helped by a quadruple punch of cane syrup, brown rice syrup, pear puree and apple juice concentrate.
The umami of Saffron Road's gochujang seems to come from with red miso and tamari.
The flavor profile of these tacos is inspired by LA's Koreatown, not by Seoul, Chuncheon or Jeonju. If you can accept that up-front, you will enjoy this tasty, quick Korean taco snack.