Of all the deliciously messy reality TV out there, Selling Sunset is a show you'll always find me going back to because I love seeing beautiful homes I can't afford and beautiful people who love to argue.
If you're all caught up on Season 5 — hell, even if you just got to Season 4 — then you know all about the show's newest realtor/CEO of empanadas, Emma Hernan.
When Emma is not busy risking her life at the edge of infinity pools, she's running a vegan empanada empire, and she'll talk about it literally any chance she gets.
Hell, she even brought some on a date with her this past season.
Now, given that I'm Mexican American and grew up on homemade empanadas, my interest peaked when I heard...well, a non-Latina talking about running an empanada business. Especially one that carried things I'd never heard of, like cheeseburger empanadas.
And by "interest," I mean I reacted exactly like my Mexican sister Vanessa here when she first heard about 'em:
According to what Emma has said on the show (and the flyer I got when I bought these), this business dates way back to when she invested in the stock market at the age of 14. When her grandfather, who owned the food company Yankee Trader Seafood, passed away, she lent her family money at the age of 17 to keep the company afloat. It later became a national brand, which inspired her to begin her own food line named Emma-Leigh & Co., thus giving birth to the cheeseburger empanada as we know it.
Now, for those who don't know what an empanada even is, it's made by topping a round piece of dough with a protein of your choice (though other fillings, like pumpkin or cheese, can be used), folding the dough over, sealing the ends, and then baking or frying it. These delicious creations are very popular throughout Latin America and Spain.
After months of questioning whether Emma's business was a scam or the real deal, I decided to bite the bullet and order these bad boys and put 'em to the test. First, I checked on Emma-Leigh & Co's website. Much to my horror, these empanadas run for a casual $99.99 there. Yes, nearly $100 for 36 FROZEN mini empanadas.
Add to that the fact that they only ship east of the Mississippi, and would have likely charged me more to ship to Los Angeles, where I live. I don't know if Emma is in some industrial kitchen making these by hand, but needless to say, I had to look elsewhere.
After some digging, I then found a QVC link to the empanadas on Emma-Leigh & Co.'s Instagram page, where the empanadas go for $63.65, with free shipping. Now let's be real — this price is still demonic for an empanada, and it's unclear to me why they're cheaper here, but I decided to go for it and click "purchase" anyway.
I should note that Emma recently announced that the empanadas can now be found at Costcos "in the Northwest region" of the US, aka Seattle, for a more reasonable-ish $10.99. The list of other specialty supermarkets that provide this product can be found here. Needless to say, I wasn't gonna fly to Seattle for this, so QVC it was.
Despite hearing about the cheeseburger empanadas in seasons 4 and 5, those weren't even an option on either Emma's site or QVC's site, so I had to settle with buying a combo of beef and sausage pizza empanadas. I ordered them on April 25, with the expectation that they'd arrive on dry ice by April 29. Well, reader, I ended up receiving them on May 4. Great.
They came in a nice little styrofoam container that says, "5 lbs. of dry ice inside," on the front of it with a warning that the product inside will be "extremely cold." So you think, surely the warning on the box wasn't lying to me, right?
Well, my trust issues were spot-on as usual. The box contained the empanadas, but there was no dry ice to be found. My guess is that if it was ever in there, it had already sublimated (turned into vapor) by the time I received the package. Instead, there were two frozen refrigerant gel packs that were keeping the empanadas chilled. But reader, the empanadas were fully thawed. 🥴
Now, I saw one review on QVC's site that also complained about how they arrived thawed and were advised by QVC to throw them out and got a refund. But since the empanadas took so long to get to me, I just wanted to try them, I played with my life and went forward with the taste test. I know, I'm dumb. Here's the plastic bag they came in, which is a different presentation than how you'd find them at a supermarket. I got 36 empanadas; the packages in the supermarket come with 18.
Each type of empanada came in its own individually labeled plastic bag, with cooking instructions and simplified ingredients on the front. The mini beef empanadas have Beyond meat, vegan cheddar shreds, salsa, and Beyond meat crumbles.
The sausage pizza empanadas have Beyond sausage, vegan mozzarella shreds, and tomato sauce.
Since three different sets of cooking instructions are given, I decided to cook each empanada three different ways to see if it would affect the taste and texture: pan fried on the stove, baked in a conventional oven, and air fried.
But before I dive into whether or not these were edible, let's talk about the appearance and size.
There's no denying that they look like what they say they are: mini empanadas. Some are definitely rough around the edges and mostly resemble a fat, misshapen pizza roll, while others have the classic half-moon shape with the crimped edges. Here it is next to a Lotería card, for scale:
But looks aren't everything, of course. So as far as how these look on the inside, this is what the pizza sausage one looks like when sliced open. Plenty of filling.
And here's beef. Also plenty of filling.
Now, for the ultimate test — the taste test! Let's begin with the pizza sausage.
Honestly speaking, it wasn't bad. It's hard to mess pizza flavors up, but given their hurdle of making it vegan, it still works. In many ways, I expected this to taste like a Totino's pizza roll, and wouldn't you know reader, it does.
The Beyond sausage is crumbled and tastes convincingly like real meat, and the vegan cheese melts nicely as well. You already know what pizza-flavored things taste like, so I don't need to get poetic about it — but given that this flavor has Totino's qualities at a premium cost, I'm not sure the price adds up to the end product.
Now, I will acknowledge that there aren't many other vegan bite-size pizza snacks on the market, but until these become more accessible at their Costco price nationwide (which is still heftier than Amy's Kitchen frozen vegan pizza rolls), they're just not worth the dent in your wallet. If you're rich like Emma, though, or live in Seattle, go off.
In terms of cooking method, these benefit from being pan fried or air fried, not baked. Pan frying with oil obviously gives whatever you're cooking an added flavor, which it did to these pizza empanadas. It also gave the dough a nice crunch. However, I'm a lazy bitch, and pizza isn't usually pan fried, so air frying ensures you get the crunch without all the added labor of frying something over a hot stove. Baking them in a conventional oven isn't bad, but it just takes longer, and the 14- to 16-minute window they recommend doesn't give the dough enough time to develop the kind of flaky crunch I desire.
Now let's talk about the beef, 'cause I've got beef with it. I'll play nice and say, "It is edible!" I think someone somewhere out there would genuinely enjoy this flavor (I'm looking at you, Chrishell), but that someone isn't me.
I ate three of these just to try to pinpoint the flavor in my memory, and my brain still couldn't comprehend the mix of things happening in there. Ultimately, I feel like the addition of salsa to this empanada is what turned me off. Emma did describe this flavor as "taco" on the show, and I kinda see what she was getting at given my taste buds picked up on some grocery store taco seasoning amalgamation and salsa (with no real kick to it, in my opinion).
Basically, the flavor profile is all over the place and left an odd aftertaste in my mouth. When looking at the detailed ingredient list, we've got the Beyond meat, a tomato purée salsa, and a mix of a spices — two of which are apple cider vinegar and brown sugar. Biting into one felt like an attack on my taste buds, so I will not be voluntarily putting a fourth one in my mouth anytime soon. If you want a "taco-flavored" anything, just buy a taco please.
In terms of cooking these, I actually do think these benefit from pan frying them, added labor and all. While the flavor is all over the place by default, the addition of oil complements this empananda filling over the pizza one way more. Air frying them is obviously a fine option, too, for that crunch, with baking trailing last again because my oven just doesn't do what its competitors can.
Overall, are these empanadas worth it? I would say that I'm not the market Emma is looking for. I will always advocate for buying empanadas from a local Latino-owned business or making your own before I go this route, but I acknowledge the convenience frozen food provides, especially with limited vegan options. The pizza one tasted fine, and the dough was flaky in a good way, but I won't be buying these in the future.
If Emma ever expands, it'll hopefully bring the price way down, because at the end of the day we have to call these what they are: frozen appetizers. Empanadas can be found cheaper and better elsewhere, and making them is a journey worth taking if the other path costs a whopping $63.65.
For now, maybe it's time to take the calzone market by storm instead, Emma.