Back in 2015, when good phyte foods just began the transition from a dream to something vaguely resembling a business, crackers were a fundamental part of the mission. They allowed us to be creative with flavors using different vegetables and herbs in season, giving us an array of products with different phytonutrient profiles, and a satisfying, thin crunch that might — just MIGHT — become a more nutritious alternative to gold fish crackers for the kids we watched growing around us. We experimented again and again with combinations of various organic seeds, trying to achieve the perfect, lasting crunch (meaning one that would not be victim to Virginia summer humidity) while maximizing protein and healthy fats. We consulted with food scientist at Virginia Tech, whose immense knowledge crushed our high hopes of achieving a completely grain-free cracker, as she advised that a low-fat grain was needed in sufficient quantity to compensate for the natural oils in flax and pumpkin seeds.
So, we set forth on a path to create a suite of different flavors rotating through the seasons, using a standard formula of three organic seeds, including millet. We even tried a couple shorter-lived flavors like spinach & tarragon, and I rocked out in the kitchen with my grandmother Margaret’s rolling pin day two or three afternoons a week. Once the labels were approved by Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (VDACS), we even developed some wholesale accounts.
The problem, however, is that these crackers are a true labor of love. Once the dough is made (a seed-grinding and vegetable-blending process that takes about an hour from start to finish), the ensuing rolling, baking, and cooling could take four to five hours per batch, yielding somewhere between 18 and 20 bags. Inevitably, we lose up to 10% to over-cooking, which made my husband happy, since those were the only ones he got to eat. Such a time consuming product would be fine if we could charge $9 per bag (a price point that makes me cringe, even with the knowledge that certified organic seeds and quality local vegetables are not cheap). Pricing aside, we have no interest in specializing in crackers if it means all our kitchen time is consumed with their production, at the expense of things like granola, or bars, which are actually more in demand by our customers. Try as we might, there seemed no way to streamline the process in a home kitchen context without cutting corners on the quality. But wait.
Along comes 2018, and the diversification into fresh salads changes everything. In the quest to create a substantial crouton that was vegan, grain-free, and flavorful, the proton was born. Shortly after Erin Kath was hired as our first employee, we set to developing a formula for a whole-seed, protein-rich cracker that was substantial enough to be doused with dressing and not wilt like a petunia. The other requirement: it could NOT compete for oven time. Thankfully, when our kitchen underwent some renovations last summer, I created a space on the counter specifically measured to accommodate our dehydrator, which had previously been relegated to the (relatively clean but also relatively far away) basement.
Though we are no means “finished” with tweaking the proton, we have (I think?) successfuly recreated at least three of our original cracker flavors in this new format. Now, we combine the vegetables, herbs, and spices with a heartier array of five high quality (still organic) seeds, including hemp and chia. This gives them a nutritional boost and makes them accessible to folks on a grain-free diet.
Thus, this fall we are winding down production of our traditional crackers, and will only be making a few for our existing retail partners like The Juice Laundry, until we can get the labels finalized and approved for our protons. We welcome any feedback you may have during this process, including the flavors you’d like to see, or places you’d like to be able to buy protons in the future. Email us with your comments at goodphytefoods(at)gmail.com.
Thanks for your support, ideas, and understanding as we continue to towards true sustainability as a mission-driven business. You are, and always will be, the most important ingredient. That sounds like a horror film, but you know what I mean…