Maya Jacquez says that the hardest part of breaking into the U.S. food market is changing the way consumers — specifically those who have never had or heard of pinole — see corn. For someone who started a pinole oatmeal company, it seems like an unexpected obstacle.
“The corn from Mexico is honestly the best,” she told In The Know. “Nothing compares, and one of the reasons is because in Mexico, all corn is non-GMO — that’s just the law in Mexico.”
Pinole dates back to the time of the Aztecs. It’s roasted ground maize that’s then mixed with spices like cocoa, agave, cinnamon and vanilla. It ticks all of the buzzy boxes too: it’s gluten-free, non-GMO and vegan-friendly. Jacquez has been eating it since she was a little girl and her history with pinole and all its health benefits is what inspired her to start the Pinole Project.
“I ate it a lot with my grandparents, it’s one of my best memories with them,” she said. “So I created this product in order to pay homage to them and what they represent to me.”
Jacquez spent her childhood visiting her grandparents in Chihuahua, Mexico where they had a rustic home with a farm in the backyard. Jacquez said one of her favorite memories is of how her grandmother would wake up before anyone else to prepare pinole for the group.
“When we would wake up, it would smell so good,” she remembered. “It was like the cinnamon with pinole, obviously in the oats.”
To keep that connection between her brand, her grandparents and the pinole’s authenticity, Jacquez wanted to source all the corn from Mexico.
“It’s not even just about being a Latina entrepreneur but being an entrepreneur that has a product that there’s just such a learning curve when it comes to teaching people about pinole, its benefits and the benefits of chia oatmeal,” she explained. “Because as Americans, we view corn a certain way … that challenge I think has also put us in a good position to break ground and to bring different people on board that may have never even tried this product if it weren’t for us.”
That’s why the Pinole Project’s packages have other ingredients that Jacquez calls “more familiar to people.” There are three flavors so far — original, banana cinnamon and peanut butter cacao. The pinole is digested at a slower pace compared to a simple carb, so you’ll stay full and energized for longer.
Ultimately, Jacquez wants to expose more people to Mexican culture and open them up to learning about other foods and experiencing them. And, deep down, the Pinole Project is an homage to her grandparents, who also taught her all about what it means to be Mexican.
“They were just instrumental in my life,” she said. “I want people to feel that love, feel that energy I have when I talk about them and when I talk about their legacy.”
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