Naturally Artisanal

Passionate About Natural & Organic Food with An Artisanal Twist

Archive for April, 2010

Vino Cotto is great on grilled pork chops! Montillo Italian Foods

Posted by smfierro on April 28, 2010

Who would have thought a response to Deena Montillo’s discussion in LinkedIn would have led me to try her Vino Cotto!  Vino Cotto as it’s been called throughout history in various parts of Italy, or “cooked wine,” is a sweet, cooked grape syrup.  The name “cooked wine” is a bit misleading because authentic Vino Cotto has no alcoholic content. For over 100 years in Calabria, Italy and since 1970 in Massachusetts, the Montillo family has been making this syrup for their own use.  In 2008 Montillo Italian Foods began making it for you and I to enjoy.

This past weekend I had a few friends over and we marinated thick pork chops with sea salt, fresh ground pepper and Vino Cotto.  To make a long story short, we really enjoyed how the product caramelized on the chops and produced a combination of sweet, savory and smoky flavors that really were delicious with our grilled vegetables which we drizzled with the syrup.

As for consistency, Vino Cotto isn’t thick like honey or maple syrup but thinner, more like a simple sugar syrup.  Don’t let that fool you though.  It’s highly versatile in its application with both savory and sweet ingredients in a variety of dishes.  It can be used on meat, seafood, vegetables, in sauces, drizzled over cooked meat or desserts, or even as an ingredient used in baked goods.  And, you know that sweet taste you get in condiment-grade balsamic vinegar?  Guess what?  It is vino cotto, often written on the back label as “cooked must” or “mosto cotto.”  Using Vino Cotto di Montillo, now you can create your own balsamic vinegar and salad dressing, too!  The list goes on… I found that this unique product even has a slightly smoky scent to it, even though

Vino Cotto, 8.5 fl. oz. bottle, Montillo Italian Foods

I have never seen it described that way.  In addition, Vino Cotto can be a healthier sweet ingredient choice.  Its nutrition label shows that it is low in calories and is cholesterol free, has no fat or salt, is a natural antioxidant, has no artificial colors or flavors, and contains no vinegar or alcohol.

I realize a lot of the information on the product is around sauces and sautéeing.  For those of us who also love to grill and the fact that it is that time of year again, I strongly recommend you try the sauce as a marinade for the grill.  It worked well on our chops, and I would imagine it would be great on salmon, steaks, shrimp and grilled veggies.

Check out Montillo Italian Foods at www.montilloitalianfoods.com where you can learn more about this delicious product and even get some for yourself to try.

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The Story of An Organic Chia Company…no shortcuts

Posted by smfierro on April 13, 2010

I didn’t expect a friendly chat and glass of wine at a busy reception at the March Natural Food Expo West in Anaheim would lead to a significant improvement to my blood sugar health and an education about what it takes to build an organic Chia producing company from the ground up!

When I met Luis Echeverria, EVI Inc. New Business Manager based in Miami, FL, he looked young enough to still be in college which many times is associated with not having a lot of experience.  Quickly it became evident to me this simply was not the case with Luis.  His passion for and knowledge about the Chia business and seeds drew me in immediately.  In addition to the nutritional power of the Chia seed you can read about in my post, I became very interested in learning more about how his family managed to build and become a successful and one of the only USDA NOP (National Organic Program) Organic certified Chia facilities and producers in the world, EVI Inc., www.evicorporation.com.  And they did it close by Guayaquil, Ecuador.

In 2007 after over 40 years of running a highly successful conventional grains and fruit company, Luis’ father, Luis Fernando, was looking for a new organic project at which time he learned about Chia.  He learned there were no organic Chia seeds being commercially produced and sold globally and very few producers of conventional Chia.  Given his and his family’s emphasis on health and the enormous business opportunity, they set out to learn about the growing behaviors of Chia seeds and what it would require to build a new growing facility exclusively for Chia seeds.  As an point of interest, Luis’ father has been taking Chia since they decided to move on with the project and since then has been feeling a lot more energy and his cholesterol levels (LDL’s) have dropped significantly. In January of this year, the facility was completed and EVI, Inc. is one of the only USDA NOP Organic Certified Chia seed growing companies in the world, selling seeds in bulk commercially to the US and other countries.

EVI’s journey from concept to becoming a fully functioning USDA NOP Organic certified grower and exporter of Chia seeds took approximately 2 years, it was highly challenging, and investment intensive.  In just 24 months since EVI, Inc. sold its first commercial bulk shipment of Chia to a commercial ingredients company, they have seen an ‘astronomical increase in demand’, say Echeverria.  They just went operational in January 2010 and dispatched their first bulk order.  In the next few months they will dispatch their second commercial order.  Every time Echeverria attends an industry show, the inquiries increase significantly.  Still, he shares at this early stage of growth, it is difficult to tell what the actual growth numbers are.  In fact, Echeverria predicts the biggest market for Chia seeds and other Chia products will be in the ingredients arena in the next years.  At this time, the seeds are considered the primary market and are sold as a supplement to consumer diets.  In the future expect to see and hear about Chia seeds, Chia Mill (full-fat and defatted), Chia Oil, Chia Flour (full-fat and defatted), Chia Sprouts and Chia Sprouted Flour. And Chia packaged goods such as tortillas, cereals, crackers, cookies.  You will even see Chia being touted like probiotics, as a major health ingredient included in your favorite juices.  Clearly in my own experience, natural food and other specialty/natural retailers are having a hard time keeping the seeds on the shelves.

As I learned, Chia is not an easy plant to grow and therefore seems to be limited to commercial production only.  Imagine that there are approximately 1000 Chia seed pods to every 2-6 foot plant, and only around 3 seeds per pod.  The seeds are black and white and are just a little bigger than a poppy seed.

In 2008 EVI, Inc. began test plotting Chia to learn the ideal growing climate and conditions for growing and harvesting the seeds, and whether it was feasible for them to pursue such a long, costly and challenging undertaking.  As an organic grower and producer, EVI uses no fertilizers, pesticides or chemicals in the maintenance of the land, planting, harvesting, pre-cleaning, seed drying, screening, air blowing, packing or maintenance and use of all the equipment and facilities used to ship product.  It took at least one year for EVI to become USDA NOP Organic certified.  Ideally, EVI wanted to invest in ‘virgin land’ – land that had never been cultivated or affected by humans – so they could earn organic certification immediately vs. waiting 3 years to begin cultivating the land.  They got their wish and acquired 2,700 acres of virgin land to launch the Organic Chia program.

Once they acquired the land, they cleared it and hired the German certifying firm, CERES, to help create and supervise their plan through to implementation for becoming USDA NOP Organic Certified. The next step was to develop the irrigation infrastructure to include thousands of feet of piping, channels, water reservoirs.  Once the land was certified USDA NOP Organic Certified and the infrastructure in place, the soil was prepared for planting, which required the development of an effective pest control system.

Pest control without chemicals tends to be the question so many of us ask about organic growing.  How is it possible? EVI developed a biological control process they refer to as BioManagement, for which no pesticides, chemicals or fertilizers are used at any time before, during or after the planting process. It is a Biological control program in which pests and bugs are eradicated by natural predators. The way in which they control weeds is by pulling it by hand!  EVI provides steady employment to approximately 100 citizens in the neighboring towns around Guayaquil, where Chia production is projected by Luis to increase steadily as demand for Chia in all its forms increases, and their development of additional land grows.  Right now EVI employs about 100 people full time. Once they go into full production in the next few years this number will multiply many times, offering stable employment opportunities to the citizens of neighboring towns and villages for which stable employment is a challenge.

Harvesting the seeds is highly complicated.  EVI harvest are at a lower altitude allowing for growing times of approximately 100 to 120 days.  The Chia plans require much sunlight, 30 to 40 degrees Celsius, a lot of dry heat and stringent pest control, e.g. bugs called ‘controllers’ or ‘predators’ are raised to attack the eggs of the undesirable bugs.  Actual harvesting takes place using EVI’s own organically approved equipment used only at the Chia farm and plants in order to avoid loss and cross-contamination from other crops.  Then the seeds go through classification, cleaning and packing.  Luis shared that they have “…set-up and end-to-end drying, cleaning, and packing facility in order to control every step of the process” to maintaining a 100 percent organic product.

EVI, Inc. currently sells to ingredient and seed companies, and are in negotiations to provide seeds to manufacturers of finished products.  It is an exciting time for Chia.  I love the nutritional benefits of it and am looking forward to seeing how this versatile seed will make it’s way into our world.  So far it appears the sky’s the limit!

You can reach Luis E. Echeverria and EVI, Inc. at luise@evicorporation.com; www.evicorporation.com.

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Chia, The Miracle Seed: Regulating Blood Sugar for Hypoglycemics and Diabetics, A Natural Energy Boost, Antioxidants and so much more….

Posted by smfierro on April 13, 2010

Since I have seen Diabetes and Hypoglycemia affect members of my family, when I learned Chia (Salvia Hispanica) seeds might offer a healthy and natural way to help stabilize blood sugar, I wanted to learn more.  I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg, and yet, if you are interested in discovering ways to improve your overall well-being, you will like this post.  Chia seeds offer a natural way to increase your energy, protein, fiber, Omega 3 fats, regulate your blood sugar and so much more!  This article is a bit long, and yet, there is so much I had to delete to make it a better read.

Chia seeds boast of a long list of health benefits which might surprise you. Until only recently, when we thought of Chia in the US, most of us immediately envisioned the gimmicky ‘dime store’ Chia Pet clay potted animal figurines.  Only in the last decade has Chia seed gained recognition as a ‘super food’.  One of my friends refers to it as her “miracle seed”.  Who knew this tiny little black and white seed could pack so much nutritional power.  field blue flowers EVI Foto 051

The Mayan, Incan and Aztec civilizations were cultivating these seeds in the plateaus of Mexico, Central and South America, as they knew of their powerful health benefits.  Despite what caused it to virtually disappear from our planets landscape, literally, we can thank some health conscious farmers and inquisitive scientists for bringing it back to the 21st century.

The mildly nutty tasting seeds are surprisingly versatile and only 1 to 2 Tbsp. are recommended for daily intake.  The health benefit upside appears to be enormous.  They can be consumed raw out of the palm of your hand, ground up in your favorite smoothie, used as a thickening agent and included in many foods as an ingredient as you might use wheat flour, for example.  There are many ways in which we can include Chia in our daily diets and reap the health rewards are numerous.  According to Luis Echeverria, New Business Manager for EVI, Inc., one of the first organic Chia growers in the world, Chia’s largest and primary market is currently as a seed, being used as a food supplement by consumers.  Echeverria projects in the next year or so, Chia’s primary market will be as an ingredient for the manufacture of nutraceutical products, sports nutrition, and functional foods such as muffins, cereals, drinks, cake mixes, tortillas and so on.

The great news is that the health benefits associated with Chia seeds far outweigh the cost of other sources we use to get the daily recommended amounts of nutrients in our diet.  I talk a bit about how the seeds positively impact the health of Diabetics and Hypoglycemics, however, these benefits apply to everyone.

So those of you who are Diabetic or Hypoglycemic, we know it is because the pancreas is not functioning properly (processing sugar well) which can result in a lack of energy, poor elimination through the intestines, heart disease and a whole host of other issues.  Among many other things, Chia seeds do two great things, they level blood sugar and ensure intestinal health.  Chia seeds contain very high levels of soluble and insoluble fiber, which are the key to stabilizing blood glucose levels.  Since I am not a scientific type, I like to make things simple, so here goes…  Chia contains anywhere from 15 to 30 percent more fiber per seed than flax or hemp, both considered leading sources of fiber.  Both forms of fiber are indigestible and do not absorb into the blood stream.  The coating of each seed is soluble fiber that forms a gel that binds with fatty acids and helps regulate the rate at which carbohydrates are assimilated into the body as sugar and the stomach is emptied.  The slowing of the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar in the body is outstanding for one’s metabolic rate.  The result is a regulation of blood sugar levels and the lowering of bad cholesterol (LDLs) for better heart health.  The insoluble fiber of the Chia seed promotes regularity and pH balance of the intestines reducing the risk for cancer.   For all of you who have Diabetes and Hypoglycemia, expect to experience higher levels of energy with the addition to Chia to your diet, not to mention a whole host of other benefits.

Another hot topic is about getting enough Omega 3 fatty acids, of which a 1,000 to 2,000 mg intake per day be followed.  1,000 mg = 1 g = .0022 lb.  At just around $10 per 1 lb. bag, Chia seeds can be an excellent alternative or complement to meat or salmon, where 1 lb. of salmon might be anywhere from $12 to $22.  And Chia is purported to have 8.7 times the Omega 3s found in wild Atlantic salmon.  Omega 3 fatty acids are required for the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system, provide maintenance to the cell membranes, are required for hormone production and provide anti-inflammatory properties.

Check out all the other ways Chia seeds can boost your energy, immune system, heart health, intestine health and so on.

–          High in antioxidants

–          No toxic impact on the thyroid function

–          No lignans affecting estrogen

–          Magnesium in 100g of Chia seeds is equivalent to ~200g of nuts

–          Fiber in 100g of Chia seeds is equivalent to ~300g of oats

–          Calcium in 100g of Chia seeds is equivalent to ~545mg of milk

–          Iron in 100g of Chia seeds is equivalent to ~400g of spinach

–          Potassium in 100g of Chia seeds is equivalent to ~180 of bananas

–          Antioxidant in 100g of Chia seeds is equivalent to ~900g of oranges

–          Omega 3 in 100g of Chia seeds is equivalent to ~990g of salmon

–          Easily digestible

–          High in zinc, boron (for bones) and niacin

–          Low sodium and cholesterol free

–          Increases and lengthens hydration, resulting in electrolyte maintenance and more efficient utilization of body fluids

–          Increases energy…it is the most popular choice of long distance runners

–          Long shelf life:  High in antioxidants such as Vitamin C and E, Cinnamic acids allowing storage at room temperature for up to 3 years

–          Gluten-free:  Great for diabetics, hypoglycemics, sufferers of Crohn’s and Celiac diseases

From what I am learning, this is only a short list of benefits gained from including anywhere from 1 to 2 Tablespoons of whole or ground Chia in one’s daily diet.

I hope at least those of you living with Diabetes and Hypoglycemia, or who simply want to live as healthfully as possible, are encouraged about Chia being a simple way to assist you in achieving wellness.   And with that, read my post about how the Echeverria family is growing Chia seed organically (to USDA organic standards) for commercial import to the US in a 3rd world country.  This family-owned company found a way to employ an entire small town in Ecuador to operate one of the few organic Chia seed growing companies in the world.

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