Kale. It's a current darling of foodie culture. And for good reason. It's versatile, tastes mighty fine, and is one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet.
But outside of the health-food world, who even thought much about kale just a few years ago? OK, it's been common in Europe since before the Middle Ages, but its widespread popularity in the U.S. didn't really occur until recently.
Now it's everywhere, and the recipes are ubiquitous-for salads, side dishes, soups, ice cream. (Well, maybe not ice cream, at least not yet.)
All wonderful. All, however, requiring washing, stemming, slicing, dicing. A kale leaf is not something you can simply pop into your mouth like, say, a cherry tomato.
But what if you could? What if you could have your kale and eat it, too?
Enter Pacific Northwest Kale Chips. Made in small batches, dried at low temperatures to preserve all of kale's nutritional wholesomeness, and combined with other ingredients to enhance their basic deliciousness, the chips offer an easy way to eat right. Add the fact that the ingredients are local, organic, animal-free, gluten-free, and vegan, and you have a truly guilt-free pleasure. A single bag of this superfood contains a whole head of kale and additional vegetables as well.
Pacific Northwest Kale Chips currently come in four varieties: Stumptown Original, with Oregon hazelnuts, sweet red bell peppers, and Oregon garlic; Glacier Peak Greens, with cashews, sweet Oregon onion, cilantro, and lime; Cheezy Crunch, with cashew cheese; and Burnside BBQ, with sunflower seeds, yam, onion, garlic, apple cider vinegar, dates, chili powder and cayenne.
How committed are business partners Sarah Pool and Ugyen Shola (more about them later) to focus on organic and to buy every possible ingredient that they can locally? Very. The hazelnuts in the Stumptown Original chips, for example, come from a small organic hazelnut farm near Eugene. It happens to be one of the only organic hazelnut farms in the world.
And their business orientation extends beyond the emphasis on organic and local. Sarah and Ugyen meticulously searched for-and found-bags that were recyclable. The six-month shelf-life is shorter than if they used conventional bags, but their resolve to apply environmentally sound practices determined that choice.
For those of you who have tried to make your own kale chips, imagine what must be involved in making enough of them to take to market. Yet however tempting it might be, there's no cutting corners in producing these chips. The sole mechanized part of the process is blending the additional non-kale ingredients into paste-like consistency so that they will coat the kale and stay put. Every other step of the operation is done by hand.
To say that creating these hand-crafted chips is a labor-intensive and time-consuming activity is an understatement. The upside is that the small batches and hands-on nature of the process help ensure quality control.
In terms of hands-on, there are just four hands involved-those of Sarah and Ugyen-from start to finish. The two partners do everything themselves, from meeting the produce deliveries, to washing-stemming-slicing-etc., to sending the bags on their way, which happens the next day or two days later at most.
Their current work day is 16 to 17 hours-and that's seven days a week. They attribute such intensity in part to the demands of starting a new business. Pacific Northwest Kale Chips launched only in April.
Right now their production capacity is 700 bags of chips a week. However, they will soon move from Camas to a facility in Portland, in part because their chips have proven so popular that they envision the need for additional space.
The two partners' paths to creating Pacific Northwest Kale Chips began in distinctly different places. Sarah is a native Oregonian; she grew up in Bend. Ugyen, born in Tibet, was carried across the Himalayas as a one-year-old at the time of the Dalai Lama's exile.
Sarah and Ugyen are close friends as well as business partners; they met when they worked together at a Portland-based nonprofit organization. Sarah was training for back-to-back marathons and was determined to find the healthiest food to fuel her performance. Ugyen believed it was important to encourage his growing children to eat an organic, sustainable, plant-based diet. Weekly lunch trips to a nearby farmers market led to the birth of their company and their commitment to create a product of the highest quality that would taste delicious.
"It's so exciting for us to see that people enjoy our product," says Sarah. "We are having fun and providing something that benefits people. Truly, we are pouring all our love into our chips.
We love what we do."
The best place to find the chips is, of course, at the farmers market - they're at both Hollywood Farmers Market and on Tuesdays, Lloyd Farmers Market. For other options, you can go to their website at www.pacifickale.com or call them at (503) 395-7143.