In Elite Daily's I Tried series, we put celebrities’ favorite products, recipes, and routines to the test to show you what living like your fave star is really like. In this piece, we review Selling Sunset star Emma Hernan’s vegan empanadas — and chat with her about her passion for them.
Selling Sunset star Emma Hernan never misses an opportunity to promote her successful business ventures — and I’m not just talking real estate. In addition to selling multimillion-dollar homes, she has her own food business that specializes in vegan empanadas. Of course, fans already know this, since Emma brings them up on Selling Sunset so often, they should basically be considered another cast member on the show. But for something so seemingly ubiquitous, the frozen vegan snacks are pretty mysterious — they’re hard to find, the prices are inconsistent, and they’ve even raised concerns about cultural appropriation. To get some answers, I decided to give Emma’s empanadas a full review, including intel on where to buy them, how to make them, and what they actually taste like. Best of all, I spoke to Emma herself about the controversy surrounding her frozen snacks — which, yes, she’s very aware of.
Emma hasn’t revealed much about her family’s background on Selling Sunset — other than to say she’s from Boston — and some viewers assumed that meant she has no substantial cultural ties to empanadas. While some comments on social media are merely playful jabs, others are more critical and condemn her incorporation of nontraditional varieties like cheeseburger and birthday cake. On Twitter, some viewers have accused her of cultural appropriation.
“It's so sad because my mom sometimes will write to me, ‘People are making fun of the empanadas,’” Emma tells Elite Daily. “And I’m like, ‘It's OK, mom,’ because at the end of the day, I genuinely just want to go out there and do something good.”
Traditional empanadas are prevalent in the cuisines of many South and Latin American countries, as well as Spain, Portugal, and the Philippines. The exact origin of the empanada is unknown, but the versions enjoyed today in South, Latin, and North America are believed to be variations on the empanadas that came over to the Americas with Spanish conquerors around the 16th century.
Although Emma told Northshore magazine in 2021 that a modeling trip to Puerto Rico inspired her to make and sell empanadas, she says she has a strong family connection to them. “I grew up cooking in the kitchen with my grandmother from my dad's side, and she was 100% Portuguese. We would do a bunch of different things and empanadas were one of them,” Emma tells Elite Daily. “When my grandfather passed away, I moved in with her and took care of her. She was just, like, my person. And then that's how I created the empanadas. I just like creating a healthy fusion, but also bringing something that was important to me and my childhood and in my family.”
Emma’s grandfather started a company called Yankee Trader Seafood in 1994. Now, her immediate family runs the show, selling frozen seafood meals and snacks. Emma got into the frozen food biz with her own company, Emma Leigh & Co., in 2020. Her goal in making vegan empanadas is to provide comfort foods that align with her customers’ interests. “I feel like people love grabbing things that were part of their childhood, but also, now, I'm creating a healthier version of that item,” she says, adding that her next product is going to be gluten-free.
Before I get into the actual review, I should note I spoke with Emma after my taste test, so I went into the experiment with Twitter’s accusations of inauthenticity ringing in my ears. The flavors available online — vegan sausage pizza and vegan beef, each made with variations of Beyond Meat — looked a little dry; plus, dairy-free cheese (which is used in her empanadas) often makes my stomach hurt more than the regular kind.
However, I recently decided to eat a more plant-based diet to do my part in combatting climate change — it probably won’t offset Emma’s frequent private jet rides, but to me, this was a good enough reason to give these frozen snacks a try.
Here’s how it all went down:
Step 1: Ordering The Empanadas
When I initially set out to buy the empanadas back in mid-April (before Selling Sunset Season 5 premiered), the only relatively affordable option I could find was via QVC, of all places. I ordered a 36-pack that came with 18 beef and 18 sausage pizza empanadas for $63, which comes to about $1.75 per palm-sized piece.
My QVC package arrived in just three days; I can’t help but imagine there were stashes of them in warehouses all across America awaiting the release of Selling Sunset Season 5.
Since the latest season dropped, Emma’s empanadas have become more widely available. A week after I placed my order, Emma announced Costcos in the Northwest would start carrying 18-packs of her empanadas for $10.99 each. Puzzlingly, her company’s website sells packages in the same quantity... for $99.99 a package. The website’s copy actually feels a bit like a riddle — the company can only ship east of the Mississippi, and if you use the code “EASTCOASTSHIP,” you’ll get 50% off your almost-$100 box. But even with the discount, it’s significantly more expensive than buying a box from Costco, so the math just doesn’t math.
It turns out, the price discrepancy comes down to shipping — namely, the ongoing dry ice shortage due to supply chain issues. Emma says her brother handles the packaging in their Boston factory and they struggle to get all the supplies they need. “The last time I was home in Boston, I had to drive to go get the dry ice with the windows down, because there's chemicals in it, but when [the sellers] get it in, you have to get it because of the shortages,” Emma says. “Trust me, I would be confused too as to why these are $99 on the website and then in Costco, they're $10.99 ... Hopefully, they'll be in enough stores where we don't have to do them through the website, because it's one thing to send a bag of chips — it's super easy. But for shipping dry ice, it’s a nightmare.”
FWIW, VegOut magazine reports you can also find the 18-count boxes at a variety of regional grocery stores (most of which sound a bit made up to me, but they’re real‚ I checked): Market Basket, Roche Bros, Shaw’s Supermarket, and Stew Leonard’s.
I never thought I’d say this, but unless you live in the Northwest and have a Costco membership, QVC might be your best bet to get this product, at least until there’s more dry ice in the world.
Step 2: Making The Empanadas
The bag of empanadas arrived packed in a box with the dreaded dry ice, along with a very simple instructions sheet that included a photo of Emma and a statement about the company being “woman owned.” I’m a skeptic of the #girlboss feminism that runs rampant on Selling Sunset, but Emma’s company seems to walk the walk: Emma says hiring women and creating jobs in Boston is important to her, and according to her rep, 92% of her 43 employees are women.
Anyway, I then spent about 15 seconds browsing the rest of the paper for the actual cooking instructions. Since I pride myself on being a great reheater, I wasn’t too worried about the cooking process.
The package gives three options for cooking: air-frying, baking, and pan-frying. Looking at the sacks of filled pastry, I could see some were a little split at the edges, and I didn’t want to risk any spillage in my air fryer. But I also wanted to be thorough in my experiment, so I air-fried four of the beef empanadas (they looked a little less likely to burst) and pan-fried four of the sausage pizza variety in a bit of olive oil.
I could smell the sausage pizza flavored ones as soon as they started heating. It took me right back to my pre-teen days of eagerly waiting in front of the microwave for my requisite after-school Hot Pocket. I flipped the sausage pizza empanadas after four minutes, and although the instructions didn’t say to do this, I flipped the ones in the air fryer too, just to see how they were doing. While the pan-fried variety were getting brown and crispy, the beef ones in the air fryer looked a little sad and dry. At this point, I was praying I would like at least one of the flavors, because I would still have 28 left in my freezer after all this was over.
All in all, the cooking process was incredibly quick; even from frozen, they only took eight minutes in the pan and six minutes in the air fryer. For timing alone, they are a perfect workday lunch option.
Step 3: The Taste Test
Once the empanadas were ready, I immediately went for one of the sausage pizza ones, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover the enticing smell matched its taste. The vegan cheese actually tasted like cheese, the Beyond Meat wasn’t dried out, and the pastry dough was crispy without being tough.
The beef ones had more filling — so much so that one burst in the air fryer — but they were similarly quite good. They were a little drier and a bit spicier than the sausage pizza flavor, but all in all impressive for being 100% vegan. I think I’d like the beef ones even more if I’d pan-fried them; the browned edges and moist insides of the sausage pizza variety were much tastier, and I think I could replicate that with the beef ones.
It’s obvious Emma’s family knows what they’re doing with frozen foods. The empanadas don’t taste like they’d been frozen just moments before I ate them, which is a feat. Most of my childhood nostalgia for frozen mozzarella sticks and pizza rolls reminds me more of freezer burn than actual food flavors.
In the spirit of objectivity, I shared my snack with my roommate, a fellow Selling Sunset fan. Turns out, he wasn’t as enthused as I was. After trying both options, he gave a brief assessment: “Not bad.”
I went into this experiment wary of Emma’s highly criticized empanadas. I came out more or less won over, and better informed by my chat with Emma.
As I discovered from my flashback while cooking, these things are basically mini vegan Hot Pockets — delicious ones at that. Perhaps Emma would have drawn less ire if she called them “vegan turnovers” instead of empanadas from the get-go. However, knowing what I know now, I can see why she’d want to maintain a connection to her grandmother’s heritage, even if it does stir up some controversy.
All in all, I could totally see myself eating these for a quick lunch or a late-night snack, just like I would with my favorite frozen foods from childhood. The sausage pizza flavor is definitely my favorite, but I’m not mad at the beef, either. Both satisfy a meat craving that a lot of vegan products don’t.
If Emma’s empanadas were sold in my local grocery store, I would probably buy them again. However, I don’t see myself becoming a repeat QVC customer, adding to the dry ice shortage problem, or searching Northwest Costcos for them. That said, I still have 28 to go in my original pack that I’m sure my roommate and I will enjoy — and soon. What’s better than chowing down on some of Emma’s empanadas while watching her offer a bite to her on-screen crush, Micah?