Raw foodies

Share this:
November 21, 2011 // UPDATED 9:23 am - November 21, 2011
By: Drew Kerr
Drew Kerr
// Brother-sister entrepreneurial team launch new raw food snack bar business //

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Wendy and Pol Sorquist spent seven hours on the line at Kindred Kitchen in north Minneapolis, surrounded by a pair of stacked convection ovens and an industrial-sized set of gas burners.

The brother-sister team churned out more than 800 of their new Pashen snack bars, but never once touched the amenities made available to them at the community kitchen, shared by food producers without a permanent home of their own.

Instead, the ingredients — buckwheat, cranberries, sprouted pumpkin seeds, almonds, agave nectar and goji berries, to name a few — went directly into the mixer, were spread onto a large baking tray and weighed out into 54-gram balls.

From there, they were formed into rectangular bars, set to dry and topped with a mix of cacao butter and vanilla bean, made by melting the ingredients above a bowl of heated water rather than directly on top of a burner.

The Sorquists’s avoidance of the kitchen’s heating elements was a conscious act. That’s because they were making bars labeled as raw food, which requires their ingredients never be heated above 115 degrees.

Purists who back such raw recipes say they prefer to eat their food in this near-unadulterated state because they believe the heat can diminish it of up to a third of its nutrients and all of its enzymes, which aid with digestion.

The Sorquists say they don’t personally follow strict raw food diets, but that they try to introduce as much of it into their diet as possible. The bars are a good way of introducing others to the concept, they say, because many people are unfamiliar with raw food and its
potential benefits.

“It’s sort of like organic was 20 years ago,” Pol Sorquist said as he and his sister mixed, weighed, formed and wrapped the bars, each by hand. “It’s not just celery and carrots – there’s some really good raw food out there.”

Even if there is unfamiliarity with raw food, the Sorquists say they have found an audience for their bars, which were concocted by their older sister Lisa Wilson, a mother of three who came up with the recipe when her kids were regularly confronted with post-game snacks she deemed unsuitable.

Since introducing the Pashen bars locally in March, they have spread to seven different stores in the Minneapolis area, including the East Side Co-op, the Seward Co-op and Golden Fig Fine Foods. Last month, the Sorquists made 3,200 bars at the Broadway Avenue community kitchen. It was their most productive month to date, they say.

As word has spread, the Sorquists say they plan to expand to other locations around Minneapolis, as well as greater Minnesota, and to branch out into other products such as cereal, trail mix and other bars as soon as possible.

Whether or not that growth is a sign of a growing appetite for raw foods or is simply a sign that their bars taste good is hard to tell. The Pashen bars look, and in many ways taste, like a standard granola bars and the Sorquists say the fact that the ingredients are raw is of little importance to many of their consumers.

“They appeal to everyone, not just the raw foodist,” said Wendy Solquist.

Still, there appears to be a strong raw food following in the Twin Cities. There are at least three organized raw food groups with memberships ranking in the several hundreds, said LouAnne Hampton, the leader of the meet-up group Twin Cities Raw Food Enthusiasts.

Hampton said she was drawn to the raw food diet six years ago because she was slightly overweight and felt like she was “104-years-old.” She went completely raw for a year, and now says that she eats a diet that is roughly 80 percent raw.

The move, Hampton says, has left her with “more energy than she knows what to do with,” and made her more mentally alert.

“It’s a complete different way of eating,” said Hampton, who had not heard of Pashen bars but said they sounded like something she would eat. “You’re not eating for comfort anymore. You’re eating to live. You develop a much more sane
relationship with food.”

Joellen Feirtag, an associate professor and food safety specialist with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Food Science and Nutrition, said thinking more carefully about what you eat is one benefit of a raw food diet. All Americans need to eat more fruits and vegetables, she said.

Whether or not raw foods will move from a niche diet to the mainstream is hard to tell, though.

Hampton, the raw foodist, acknowledged eating only raw food is difficult, primarily because of the menu limitations and the level of preparation involved. She has hired a private chef in part because of the difficulty of the diet.

Ben Kutschied, who works at the city’s only raw food restaurant, Ecopolitan on Lyndale Avenue, said there are lots of people interested in raw food but that it can be a hard sell in the winter months.

Opened 12 years ago by a doctor fixated on the health benefits of raw food, the restaurant offers salads and a range of dehydrated products.

“There are definitely plenty of people who are interested around here,” he said. “The only thing that really holds us back is the weather. It’s hard to eat cold food all year.”

For the Sorquists, though, the aim is not to create devout raw food converts but to simply introduce people to a healthy snack that just happens to be made of raw ingredients.

“One of the complaints you hear about eating well is that it take so much time,” said Pol Sorquist. “With our bars, you really don’t have that excuse.”