Walking through the hot cereal aisle, Angela and her partner Claudio realized there were 100 iterations of oatmeal. “And that’s about it, we’re in a category that has been dominated by oatmeal for 100 years, and you don’t see the same innovation you see in say, the beverage aisle,” Angela Palmieri, Co-CEO and co-founder of Native State Foods, told FoodNavigator-USA.
The conception of their product Purely Pinole was rather epiphanic. A few years ago, when the couple still lived in New York, Claudio was sitting at his desk (he’s an attorney by trade) and had a sudden craving for a porridge-like food called pinole, something he ate as a child, during summers visiting his extended family in Honduras.
“He jumped on the internet to see where he could find this comfort food, and he found nobody was selling it,” Palmieri said, adding that it made sense because pinole is eaten almost exclusively in rural Central America. “But what he did find was all these people chatting about it—that was because of a book called ‘Born to Run’.”
An unserved following
The book Palmieri is talking about was written by Associated Press-trained foreign correspondent Christopher McDougall, about a society in central Mexico called the Tarahumara, who are able to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury. Their diet, you guessed it, has a lot of pinole. Because of that, pinole has a small following among the running community.
Maize is the main ingredient in pinole. Traditionally, the maize is slow-roasted for hours in an adobe oven over word burning fire along with some cacao beans. After roasting and smoking, the maize is ground with a stone and pestle into a meal.
“The pinole has almost a nutty, roasted flavor, combined with just a hint of chocolate coming through from the cacao,” Palmieri said. “It’s not really sweet—it’s a complex, robust, comforting taste. The texture is something like cream of wheat.”
An adventurous start
Claudio and Angela decided to start their company last year and launched it in 2015. They traveled through rural Central America for inspiration, learning the authentic ways of preparing it from the pros.
“We’ll go to a market and ask vendors if they had pinole, and the vendor would smile and put up their finger like saying ‘wait a minute,’ leave, and then come back with a plastic bag of ground powder,” Angela recalled. “It was something more that was like, ‘oh my grandmother makes it,’ or ‘oh I know someone that makes it.”
Out of the many variants, they opted for one made out of purple maize, its rich cyan hue coming from healthy anthocyanins, a component increasingly sought after by health-conscious consumers.
The couple wanted to bring that authenticity stateside, but finding suppliers and a co-packer that even knew what pinole is wasn’t easy, let alone finding one that can make it taste as authentic as possible.
“We have been fortunate to partner with a co-op of farmers here in the US who [is] cultivating the purple maize, they grow in the northern Corn Belt, and they’re a family, they’re small,” Palmieri said about the key ingredient in their product.
As for co-packers, Palmieri admitted that they had to create new processes and work closely with a co-packer who finally agreed to help them realize this novel product. “Now we have tremendous partners who have been willing to work with us to mimic what was happening in these small villages,” she said.
The infant brand was recently selected to join the 2016 cohort of seed accelerator program AccelFoods. Their next is to establish an early adaptor crowd of fit and active people “who see the outdoors as their playground,” Palmieri said.