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We tried the frozen empanadas from 'Selling Sunset' so you don’t have to

Emma Hernan's vegan empanadas were … edible?
Her name is Emma and she sells empanadas … so why wouldn't she call them "Emmapanadas"?
Her name is Emma and she sells empanadas … so why wouldn't she call them "Emmapanadas"?Netflix, Sam Kubota
/ Source: TODAY

Often, working in journalism means covering gloom and doom stories. But occasionally, we have to find and take opportunities to lighten things up.

So naturally, when we saw Emma Hernan shilling her frozen empanadas on the Netflix series "Selling Sunset," we absolutely had to know if they were any good.

For the uninitiated, Hernan is a cast member on the show where she's seen selling houses and making deals. She says her family also is in the food business and explains in several scenes that she launched her own mini vegan empanada line.

It turned out to be surprisingly difficult to order the vegan mini empanadas to Los Angeles. It seems Emma Leigh & Co. is mostly based on the East Coast and in stores there — or, if you live east of the Mississippi, you can order them online from her website at a whopping $99 for 36 mini empanadas.

We eventually found them available on QVC's website and ordered one "mini beef or pizza" flavored package of 36 for $63.65 — so about $1.77 an empanada.

Emma Hernan in the fifth season of "Selling Sunset," tasting mezcal at Sagrado Mezcaleria + Kitchen in Los Angeles, where her empanadas are on the menu.
Emma Hernan in the fifth season of "Selling Sunset," tasting mezcal at Sagrado Mezcaleria + Kitchen in Los Angeles, where her empanadas are on the menu.Courtesy Netflix

Upon arrival, 11 days after ordering, the empanadas were sealed up in Styrofoam with dry ice inside to keep them cold. Thankfully, the empanadas are all vegan so we weren't that worried about them getting warm, per se, but the ice seemed to do the job.

Inside the box were two smaller bags of the empanadas, each with about 20 inside. We assumed that the different bags were two different flavors, hence the "mini beef or pizza."

Each empanada about 1.5 inches long and, according to the nutritional facts, 70 calories each. The directions say to heat them up in the oven, an air fryer or on the grill.

We first tried them at home, heating them up in the oven, and found them to be fairly salty (each mini empanada has 150 milligrams of sodium, according to the label) and with a little bit of a freezer aftertaste.

A pile of mini empanadas on a white plate.
The mini vegan empanadas in question.Samantha Kubota / TODAY

They sort of tasted like a vegan version of a Totino's pizza roll — which you could buy here in Los Angeles for only $6 a bag for about 50 rolls.

We brought them to the office and forced our coworkers to give us reviews, which can overwhelmingly be summarized as "just fine, I guess."

No one was particularly impressed, but all agreed they were edible.

"These are not as bad as I thought they would be," one coworker said.

"I was prepared for the worst, but this is like … a hot pocket, just not as good," another said.

One coworker was frustrated we couldn't tell the difference between the two flavors that were supposed to be in the package.

"The spices aren’t giving pizza or hamburger vibes," she said. "It’s inoffensive, but why’s the filling so mushy?"

For Alex, one of the authors of this story, the vegan stuffed pastry was similar to just about every other experience when it comes to eating an empanada that's not part of her Cuban family's cookbook: not quite up to snuff.

"I don't know much about 'Selling Sunset,' and while I don't think empanadas can be made with cheeseburger or pizza, I remained open-minded," said Alex. "I just don't feel like they taste like either. Maybe others who haven't had my mom's or abuela's will love it?"

Empanadas, a history

In one "Selling Sunset" scene, Mexican American cast member Vanessa Villela memorably questions Hernan's empanadas in general:

"I know what empanadas are and I love empanadas, don’t get me wrong. But never in a million years I thought there could be like, cheeseburger empanadas and crab empanadas," she says. "Those aren't even empanadas."

So what exactly is an empanada and who gets to decide what is and isn't one?

With its similarities to calzones, samosas and the Middle Eastern dish sfiha, culinary experts say it’s likely that the savory half-crescent hand pie has Moorish-Spanish origins, as is true for a majority of Latin American cuisine.

A Spanish cookbook published by Ruperto de Nola titled "Libre del Coch" is believed to have the first known printed mention of empanadas. The book was written sometime around 1490, two years before Christopher Columbus led the colonization of the Americas and over one hundred years before the last of the Moors were expelled from Spain by 1614.

Today, the embrace of empanadas crisscrosses European, Latin American and Iberian-rooted cultures. The food is beloved and, as a result, Hernan's relatively Americanized take on the dish has stirred up the sort of conversations that are often come about when minority communities sense their culture is being capitalized on by an outsider.

There’s a fine line between culinary appreciation and appropriation, and some have accused Hernan, who is white, of tap dancing on that line.

In a Reddit post, one user expressed similar sentiment writing, "I immediately thought about gentrification and cultural appropriation when I heard what her business was but at the end of the day she’s catering to her specific audience so idc if they want to spend money on a product that’s only similar nominally."

It's uncertain where Hernan got her direct inspiration for the frozen empanadas, as there's no such acknowledgment on her company's website. In a 2021 interview with Northshore magazine, Hernan said that she fell in love with empanada while she was in Puerto Rico for a modeling job. Then in a recent interview with Elite Daily, she credited her grandmother, who she referred to as "100% Portuguese" for familiarizing her with the dish.

A communications supervisor for Hernan declined to comment on the matter to TODAY.

Perhaps there are people who will fall in love with Hernan's vegan turnovers (and hopefully those people can afford them), but for us, it's a nada on the empanadas. We'll stick to picking them up from a local restaurant or making them ourselves (see: Natalie Morales' empanadas).