With consumer demand for international flavors on the rise, it’s no surprise that companies offering up unique, global concoctions are seeing a new Renaissance. Though still in its infancy as a company, Atina Foods is coming in strong with products that pique the interest of all who see and taste them. Run by a married team, Suresh Pillai from Kerala, South India and Carrie Dashow, Atina Foods is bringing something new and fresh to the marketplace—something to take consumers by surprise (in a good way). In this exclusive interview with the delightful Co-Owner, Carrie, I learned about Ayurvedic properties, functional yet flavorful foods, and the trick to inventing delightfully different products.
Maggie Mead: What makes Atina’s herbal jams and pickled foods so unique?
Carrie Dashow: Our Herbal Jams are inspired by the original functional foods of Ayurveda—the ancient wellness culture of India—called Leyhams, which translates to ‘Herbal Jam’. Leyhams combine ancient and beneficial whole fruit, root, and spices preserved in Jaggery, a lightly sweet unrefined sugar cane juice, very low on the glycemic index and high in medicinal properties. Each jam possesses its own unique harmony of the six tastes recognized in Ayurveda: sweet, tart, salty, bitter, hot, and earthy—giving a satisfying and memorable taste experience with exceptional properties of wellness and health benefits.
My husband, and business partner, Suresh began cooking with the women in his traditional family in Kerala, South India—from here starts the base of our combinations. He is quite gifted in the art of balancing spices and flavor with an understanding of beneficial foods. Together we have begun to integrate more regional foods from where we live in Upstate New York, this shines through in our garlic and rhubarb products and seasonal salt pickle collection. Our products are traditionally functional foods that are designed to rejuvenate the health, reactivate the taste buds, and revitalize the cultural traditions of sustainable living. Our products are free from additives and artificial flavors of any kind. They have a long shelf life and the taste increases with maturity. Our Herbal Jams and Salt Pickles can be added to any dish to take it to the next level, without even cooking or much fuss you can make an amazing meal. We like to say, Eat the Food that’s Good for You!
MM: How are your products different from other similar products on the market?
CA: Our products are extraordinarily delicious and multi-functional in taste, usage, and health benefits. We use time-tested natural preservation and fermentation methods, using fenugreek and asafoetida, which have their own excellent medicine values. These help to assure our shelf stability and continued good taste! We have good relationships with our local farmers and have our own extensive gardens in which we create new products. At this point we hand craft all our own products, resulting in excellent quality control.
Our Herbal Jams can be related to an original chutney—but less like an English chutney made with vinegar or dried fruits. Originally chutneys were made in India to be medicinal pastes, but as the English popularized chutney, they were sweetened more heavily often with white sugar, in addition to vinegar to help balance the stability of the product.
INJI PULI, our Ginger Tamarind Herbal Jam, is a supreme example of a beautifully balanced taste that is also very helpful because of its excellent properties of digestion, stomach soothing, and acting as a great appetizer, it helps all the food after it taste even better.
Our Salt Pickles, which I like to think of as a marriage between a pickled relish and an Indian Aachar, contain unusual combinations of spices combined with fermented vegetables in their own juice (no vinegar or water is added!), giving them their mouth-popping freshness. While our spice combination may not be unusual in India, the local foods we ferment and preserve are less Indian typical, giving off new tastes!
MM: What is the packaging like?
CA: As an artist and lover of patterns, I design our packaging and branding—with bright and strong designs, just like our flavors. Each flavor has a type of stamp pattern and corresponding color, which are graphic adaptations of South Indian Kolam drawings—an age-old tradition, Kolams are intricate patterns and imagery made by women on the streets in front of their houses.
MM: What flavors are currently available?
CA: We have:
MM: When did your products become available to buyers?
CA: Atina Foods is in our 4th year of business, with more recent wholesale marketing. We are currently working our way into a larger market.
MM: What has been the market response?
CA: We have an excellent local following of repeat customers and are now building a national base. Often at trade shows we are sought out and told we are the best thing there. Atina Foods are unusual products; one must try them to understand!
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