In Latin families, cooking is essential for both old and new generations to bond over delicious food in the kitchen and having authentic recipes filled with sabor is arguably the best way to preserve la cultura and family traditions. One of the main ingredients used in many Caribbean dishes is sofrito, an aromatic sauce that includes garlic, salt, cilantro and culantro, onion, and a variety of peppers. Those meals would not be complete without adding sazón to enhance the taste of the food. For decades, Latin households have relied on products made by large food corporations specializing in Latin cuisine. However, the founders of Loisa had la comunidad in mind when they created their line of organic sazón seasonings, vegan adobo, an assortment of spices along with their newest kitchenware. But it’s not just the flavors they’re focused on, they use certified organic, non-GMO, all-natural ingredients in their products.
Co-founders Yadira Garcia, Kenny Luna and Scott Hattis launched Loisa to represent the Latinx community and celebrate the flavors of Latin food. Luna is Dominican- Peruvian-American and Head Chef & Educator Yadira Garcia (@happyhealthylatina) is Dominican while Hattis is white and married to Anna who is Dominican American. The trio spoke with HipLatina about the early stages of the brand and its evolution including their latest cookware.
“The foundation of Loisa started when we began starting families,” Hattis says. “The importance of these foods in our homes is without question; but the options that we had to carry them forward [in terms] of what was available to purchase in stores, didn’t check all of the boxes from an equality and ingredient standpoint.”
Loisa is an homage to “Loisaida” — the Spanglish name for the Lower East Side, which is located downtown in New York City. At the time, Hattis and Luna — who are longtime college friends — were living in the barrio and wanted to find the perfect company name for the business. The pair found themselves walking aimlessly up and down Avenue C looking for inspiration, not knowing it was right in front of them the entire time. Luna described the term as a “beautiful word” that no one was using and that “it is representative” of what they wanted to build with the brand.
Many of the traditional Latin dishes are often made for special occasions. These foods were likely prepared with herbs and spices that contain potentially harmful ingredients to extend shelf life. As a brand, Loisa realized there was an ongoing issue with maintaining all-natural ingredients in food staples within Latin culture. Garcia explains the importance of using quality ingredients while finding ways to make healthier alternatives to some of the old-school favorites.
“Going to culinary school, there’s such pride as a chef with the sourcing of ingredients and making the best food,” Garcia recalls. “Growing up as a Latina and a Dominican American, wanting to see that same love and sourcing in my community [and] knowing how many reversible diseases and health issues such as hypertension, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes — that we suffer from.”
Garcia went on to say that Loisa takes pride in investing in the community on “several levels” from the type of products they make to the initiatives they have in giving back to the community. Their primary goal is to “invest” instead of “divest” — which is something the co-founder said happens with larger corporations that take billions of dollars from the Latino communities.
While Latinxs are the second-largest racial/ethnic group in the U.S., Luna said the inspiration behind the brand stemmed from the lack of diversity or authenticity in Latin foods found in local grocery stores. “From a commercial standpoint, we spent a lot of time going to grocery stores –whether it was CTown, Key Foods and Whole Foods — there was so much innovation from these other food sections in every aisle,” Luna explains. ”When you walk down the Latin food aisle, it’s the same dusty, stereotypical brands.”
When asked if there were any differences in using Loisa’s products with traditional Latin cooking, Garcia says that many of the name brands contain excessive amounts of sodium that sometimes alters the taste.
“A lot of flavors are created by using salt, sugar and fat [and] some of these products have enough sodium that is more than a days’ worth of sodium,” says Garcia. “To be able to make these products and to make this authentic food, we’re not using anything artificial to create the flavor. Instead, we’re reclaiming what our ancestors gave us.”
The co-founders believe what sets Loisa apart from other companies is the quality of its ingredients and how they taste to everyday consumers. With every product made, the brand vows to bring orgullo y cultura to the foods and the community. “There’s no way we’d ever make products without using quality ingredients,” Hattis explains. “Our products are great, I don’t have to worry about that. The community is what I mostly care about and building around that — and that’s what I think is the differential here.”
Using Loisa’s products is considered a necessity in the co-founder’s households. Hattis says their 2-year-old son almost always requests sofrito to be added to every meal. Meanwhile, Garcia says sofrito is also a product she uses the most since it was the first product she helped create after becoming a co-founder of the company. Luna, whose wife is French, says they have found creative ways to incorporate sazón into French and Latin cooking.
Recently, the company released a new set of kitchenware just in time for Latinx Heritage Month including a tostonera, a masher, a skimming spoon and a mortar and pestle. The masher is often used to make the classics mangú and mofongo, the skimming spoon makes it easier to scoop out fried foods while reducing the mess; the mortar and pestle are must-haves in every Latin kitchen to make homemade spices, mojos y más!
“It’s bringing passion, thoughtfulness and intentionality to the designs of these items because people will continue buying them and needing new ones [tostoneras],” says Hattis. “I still have all of our old tostoneras and they’re [literally] hanging by the hinges. We’re not throwing those away, they’re part of our home.”