Eat It Raw! Sprouted Raw Foods, LLC
Words by Rosie DeQuattro / Photographs by Adam DeTour
You don’t have to be on a raw foods diet to enjoy eating raw food. Friends and business partners, Leah Baigell and Angela Hofmann, started Sprouted Raw Foods, LLC with a mission to create healthy snack foods from raw ingredients and to prove that “raw” can taste great.
For a food to be considered raw it must not have been heated over 118° F. Raw foods proponents point out that food in a raw, uncooked state contains the maximum amount of nutrition. Heat it above 118° and the nutritional value begins to decline. But Baigell and Hofmann take it one step further. “We sprout everything,” they explained to me one sunny morning in January. We sat in Baigell’s modest Lexington kitchen, drinking steaming cups of herbal tea, discussing ways to ward off the impending flu everyone seemed to be encountering last winter. As we talked, the two slender and fit 50-somethings told me their philosophy of healthy eating and the history of the business they started together.
Ten years ago, around the time that Hofmann hit 40, she began to have “food issues.” Her digestion had changed. Doctors prescribed medications but she eschewed the drugs in favor of her own researched solution—a raw foods diet.
The two had met as mothers with young children and bonded over a shared passion for and a curiosity about good, healthy foods for their children. As the kids got older and less dependent, they each began looking for a change in their lives. They found they had similar goals, worked well together and had complementary strengths. Additionally, Hofmann, an architect with her own company, was confident she could run a business.
Not particularly fond of the limited flavor profiles she was finding with raw food products on the market, Hofmann began experimenting with tastes, textures, and flavors. The burning question was, “How do you make something [a raw food] that everyone will like?”
Baigell was the one who got on the phone and began to navigate the inevitable sea of red tape that confronts every start-up food business. She acquired ServSafe certification, Board of Health licensing for her home kitchen, and the necessary liability insurance. In March 2011, with a Vita-Mix, a food processor, and a de-hydrator, Sprouted Raw Foods, LLC was launched, and “in two months we were in our first farmers market.”
So how do you make raw food taste good for everyone? The partners started by holding taste sessions with friends and family. They held them in their homes and in Hofmann’s yoga classes (she’s a certified instructor). They wanted honest feedback on everything—from taste, to texture, to appearance and packaging. With this feeback they then began to refine their recipes, experimenting with taste and flavor combinations. Their ongoing efforts resulted in delicious and satisfying crisps made with organic, local kale (a best seller at farmers markets), thin crackers packed with seeds and nuts, cookies sweetened with maple syrup (the one and only non-raw product they succumbed to using since neither raw agave nor honey worked well in their recipes), crunchy, chocolaty nut and seed clusters made with unroasted cacao beans (the cranberry–citrus cluster is their most popular), flavorful sprouted nut butters, and more. “The beauty of eating nuts and seeds, Baigell tells me, “is the satiety factor—a little bit goes a long way.”
Sprouting everything is another story. We all know how healthy nuts and seeds are for us—they’re packed with more protein and nutrition than most foods. But in order for humans to access all that nutrition we first have to get past the intrinsic enzyme inhibitors. However, enzyme inhibitors break down and dissolve in the presence of moisture. Soaking the seeds and nuts in tepid water for anywhere from three hours to overnight (depending on the hardness of the seed or nut), liberates the usable nutrition, and makes it easier to for us to digest. And it doesn’t mean that each nut or seed sprouts a little green shoot as I imagined. Baigell showed me a huge bag of raw cashews, each with a tiny, almost imperceptible bulge at its end “That’s what sprouted looks like,” she said.
The nuts and seeds are then dehydrated until completely crunchy-dry and crispy. That can take anywhere from 10-36 hours. All the spices and nuts, fruits and sweeteners are mixed by hand in small batches, shaped into clusters, or pressed into various thin shapes and packaged for sale at farmers markets and specialty food stores.
Baigell and Hofmann are obsessive about what goes into their products, meticulously curating each individual ingredient. Their ingredients list is more souk than suburban kitchen: Goji berries, exotic Maras pepper, hemp and chia seeds, Maca root, and raw cacao, all carefully chosen for their flavor and nutritional value. They spend a lot of time calling organic nut farmers in California. They ask for samples and they “taste, taste, taste.” Whenever possible they source locally but won’t compromise their standards when it comes to “raw.”
Customers at farmers markets ask, “Is it really raw?” The answer is a resounding, yes! Take almonds, for example. Baigell tells me that truly raw almonds are not to be found in this country. The reason is that almonds in this country are required to be steam pasteurized, which means they are heated beyond the “raw” limit of 118° F. And yet they can still be sold as raw. So Sprouted Raw Foods looked to Spain and Italy to source their raw, organic almonds. Another example is their choice of sesame seeds. Although “they are the biggest pain in the butt,” they insist on using black sesame seeds (rather than white) because they are more nutritious.
The fledgling business measures its success in two ways: all their expenses are covered by sales, so far (“some weeks we’re really scrambling to fill orders!”); and, Hofmann tells me, she notices that her daughter and teenage son have acquired a taste for the healthy treats, which warms her mother’s heart—“they snarf up everything in sight.”
Rosie DeQuattro is a regular contributor to Edible Boston. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on twitter or Facebook @rosiedequattro.