Vegan Superfoods Company is Prioritizing Quality, Selection & Fairness
I call it the grocery store “smoothie section” — the aisle of large bags, boxes and containers of specific ingredients highly desirable for including in smoothies. Of course, that’s a misnomer, as many have a variety of uses for cooking, baking or simply snacking, like the bags of cashews and Brazil nuts. Cocoa powder has endless uses and a cup of matcha at home can be delightful. However, it’s an aisle I also view with skepticism. Looking at labels, reading ingredient labels and knowing some companies with good reputations is important.
Sunfood is a USA company based in El Cajon, California, just outside of San Diego, and it offers dozens of these types of wholesome ingredients. Robert Deupree, a vegan, liked its products so much that he bought the company in 2013. His daughter, Hannah, helps run the business.
One of its big selling points is offering clean, quality ingredients sourced from international family farms. The website lists numerous certifications, including USDA Organic, Fair Trade Ingredient, Non-GMO, Kosher and Ethically Sourced.
Ultimately, the success of any food product depends on how it tastes and ease of use. A representative sent me a number of samples, some of which I prepared and evaluated.
- Cacao Nibs: These small, crunchy tidbits are simply tiny bits of roasted cacao beans — the essential ingredient of chocolate. Other than the roasting, as far as plain cacao nibs go, there’s no processing or sugar added, so these taste more like walnut bits than dark chocolate. However, Sunfood sent a sample of its Organic Cacao Sweet Nibs — and these taste very much like an 85% dark chocolate bar. No sugar is added; instead, these are lightly sweetened with yacón syrup, which is made from the roots of a plant native to the Andes. You can just eat them out of hand, but it’s more fun to sprinkle them on top of ice cream, cereal and pudding for some extra crunch and flavor. Due to being only lightly sweet, these even work with salads and roasted meats. Find many more ideas online.
- Simple Nutrition Green Blend: This mix is easily blendable at a ratio of one tablespoon to eight ounces of water. I used a shaker cup and there were no clumps at all after about 16 shakes. The ingredients are “Sunfood Simple Green Blend” (wheat grass, barley grass juice, spinach, kale and broccoli powders), pineapple and lemon juice powders — which likely deserve a lot of credit for the palatability — Jerusalem artichoke inulin, sea salt, “natural flavor”, Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 6086 (a probiotic thought to help with digestion) and stevia powder. I dislike stevia’s aftertaste, but this blend did a pretty good job of masking it.
- Simple Nutrition Red Blend: My shaker cup wasn’t available, so I tried just stirring this one into water. That was a mistake, as I never could get rid of some of the powder clumps. So let that be a lesson to me. Unlike the green blend, which had some sweetness, this one is tart thanks to the inclusion of powdered strawberry, cranberry, tart cherry and pomegranate juice, plus apple cider vinegar. Stevia is the last ingredient, but it’s not enough to temper the sharp flavors. You might want to add more if you have some. (Personally, I’m a monkfruit or honey fan.) According to the label, eight ounces provides 21% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C and 2% of potassium.
- Raw Organic Chia Seeds: Chia seeds are kind of weird if you’re not familiar with them. These come from a plant from the mint family called Salvia hispanica, and when hydrated, develop a gelatin-like layer. It’s probably a love-it-or-hate-it texture, but it has a lot of fans thanks to the nutritional content. (Sunfoods sells a powdered version, too.) Fresh chia seeds smell lightly fragrant and nutty. While the shelf life is a few years when properly stored, beware any with a strong smell or bitter flavor. These have likely gone rancid.
According to the Mayo Clinic, chia seeds “are high in omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Chia provides a similar amount of omega-3 fatty acids as ground flaxseed in the form of alpha linolenic acid, or ALA. They can help with weight loss.” There’s even a recipe for Overnight Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding and Carrot Cake Overnight Oats, each of which provides a third of the recommended daily allowance of fiber. That helps solve a regular lament of nutritionists: only about 5% of Americans get enough fiber. I was intrigued by a recipe for Matcha Chia Pudding — and that conveniently lets me segue to the next Sunfood ingredient.
- Matcha: Sunfood was throwing me a softball with this one. I already love matcha tea, whether it be hot, like a matcha latte, part of a cold drink, unsweetened or sweetened. Matcha is slightly bitter and astringent, but other notes remind me of white chocolate and pandan. Quality, age and proper storage matter greatly when it comes to matcha — otherwise it can be excessively and unpleasantly bitter. The best matcha is called ceremonial quality, which refers to the chanoyu, or formal tradition of preparing and serving tea in Japan. Sunfood calls the one it carries “culinary grade”, which has a stronger flavor than ceremonial, is intended to be combined with other ingredients and according to a website about matcha grades, has higher antioxidants than ceremonial. The aforementioned matcha pudding was slightly bitter but not unpleasant, and the chia seeds were rather fun to chew on. I topped it with some of the lightly sweetened cacao nibs.
I had two disappointments with the package design. First, the drink mix instructions refer to a “serving” of how much to add to a liquid, whether it be plant-based milk, water or coconut water rather than a specific measurement. The actual serving size (number of tablespoons, for example) is listed in the Nutrition Facts.
Second, with all these good ingredients, I expected to see more nutrient information listed for some of the items. Only vitamins are listed, and when these aren’t present in the product, it makes some of these look like they don’t have much to offer. (In fairness, there’s only so much space on the back of the bags; probably not enough room for listing micronutrients. However, more information could be listed on the website. For now, the best option is to do your own research on specific ingredients at reputable websites.)
With those few points aside, Sunfood’s opaque, resealable bags do a great job of protecting the ingredients from light and air.
Sunfood products can be found on its website as well as retail store such as Sprouts, Whole Foods, GNC, H-E-B, Walmart and The Vitamin Shoppe. Find the one closest to you via the handy store locator on the website.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.