We caught up with Natalie Reid from Earthshine, winner of the Innovation Award at the 2012 Eat In DStv Food Network Small Producer Awards held at the Stellenbosch Slowmarket last month.
Natalie was surely the most surprised looking of all the winners when Earthshine’s kale chips were named most innovative product. “I was so moved with the award. It was so unexpected,” she admits. “It has really inspired me and Noel to sharpen our focus.”
Natalie and Noel Marten, business and life partners, founded Earthshine in 2005. The focus Natalie mentions is the expansion of their dehydrated food products, which they supply to health shops around Cape Town, while continuing with raw food classes and their raw vegan pizzas, Vivo.
Currently the product line includes the kale chips; gluten-free flax crackers in six flavours; a luxury gluten-free muesli of nuts, fruit and a buckwheat base; and “completely addictive” Florentines made from buckwheat, raisins and sunflower seeds and covered in raw chocolate.
Noel was working in landscaping and growing vegetables when the couple became friends with Peter and Beryn Daniel from Superfoods and did their first raw food course. Noel was totally inspired and experienced dramatic improvements in his health after adapting his diet. This led to Natalie’s growing interest and subsequent health turnaround, which culminated in Earthshine. Natalie says she has seen how a raw food diet can assist people in quitting their heavy smoking and drinking habits, as well as improve the debilitating symptoms of IBS. Her diet is not, however, completely raw. “I still eat steamed fish and eggs, so it’s about 75% raw with green salads and juices. I like to call it a high green diet.”
You could say that greens are central to the Earthshine business. The main supplier for their award-winning kale chips is an organic farmer from the Cape, and they get spectacular nuts from a farm in Mpumalanga. All ingredients in their products are 100% certified organic, even though the products themselves have not necessarily been officially certified.
“The idea of kale chips is actually universal – they have been enjoyed around the world for some time. Kale is a brassica, like spinach, but its nutritional profile is through the roof. We use about 300g to 400g of kale per bag and dry it below 45°C to retain its nutritional profile.”
Earthshine’s raw, vegan and wheat-, dairy- and gluten-free pizzas are also a unique selling point. Despite what you may imagine, they’re not also taste-free. Hearty, zingy and piled with fresh ingredients, each pizza is filling enough for three people. The most popular flavour is the Greek, with basil pesto, olives and fresh tomato. Then there’s the very popular oriental pizza with shavings of butternut and broccoli, and ‘roasted’ vegetables marinated in a sweet and sour oriental sauce made from dates and vinegar, Chinese five spice and cinnamon.
“We first mandolin vegetables such as peppers, butternut, carrot, courgette and dehydrate them for about four hours. So they’re not actually roasted,” Natalie explains. One pizza flavour is chosen per week, orders are taken online and the pizzas are ready for pick up on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, or can be dropped off at designated spots throughout Cape Town.
I ask Natalie if she thinks the market for raw and vegan food in South Africa is growing? “I think so. People are becoming more health conscious. Products made according to the raw food philosophy are very clean, simple and straightforward.
“If you’re dealing with delicious, good quality ingredients you don’t need trans fats and flavourants. Everything you need is right there; you cannot recreate the flavour of a fresh, ripe organic tomato, for example.” Their aim is to get raw into the mainstream and get people excited about green – or at least willing to try it. “Raw is not something weird or freaky,” Natalie laughs.
Earthshine has closed its retail shop to make way for a new kale chip factory. I wondered if this was a result of the Eat In award. “It was always at the back of our minds to focus more on production, but winning the award felt like the universe sent a clear sign; it was an opportunity to do what we really want to do.”