We sat down with Gourmend founder Ketan Vakil to learn more about his products and his involvement in the FODMAP community.
If you are following the low FODMAP diet, chances are that you are looking for ways to add garlic and onion flavor into your cooking. Garlic and onions contain fructans, which can be a major irritant for those with IBS.
Luckily for us there are Monash University lab tested and low FODMAP certified products that can help us eat deliciously while keeping triggers at bay.
Dédé Wilson: Ketan, we are so thrilled to be finally chatting with you about Gourmend. Let’s start at the beginning so that readers can follow your story.
You had been dealing with digestive issues since you were a teenager. How did you finally discover the low FODMAP diet and how quickly did you realize that it was going to be life-changing for you?
Ketan Vakil: Thanks Dédé! It took me a really long time to discover the low FODMAP diet. After seeing way too many doctors, trialing way too many medicines and undergoing too many unnecessary tests, I stumbled across some research on my own. It suggested that hydrogen breath tests for lactose, fructose and sucrose might shed some light on the cause.
I basically had to push to have this test, myself, from a well-known hospital in NYC. While years later, these tests have since been shown to be less than reliable, mine indicated that I needed to limit certain high FODMAP foods… and it proved true almost immediately.
While I already knew lactose was a problem for me, finding a large spike on the fructose graph was a game changer. It finally helped me understand why some seemingly random and otherwise healthy foods were problematic so I could avoid them and keep my symptoms at bay. Making these informed dietary changes had a major impact on my life and health. From there, I was able focus on identifying flavorful alternatives to garlic, onions, and the other ingredients that I used to love to cook with.
I was so fortunate to be near some awesome farmers markets and quickly learned about (with the help of one of our now advisors and Registered Dietitian Laura Manning about the “green tops” of onions, garlic and other fantastic herbs that could replace some lost flavors.
I started freezing bags of special seasonal ingredients (garlic scapes, garlic greens, green onions and the like) so I could make low FODMAP broths, stews and stir- fries all year round. I quickly learned that with a little creativity, I could still enjoy being a major foodie.
Just so everyone reading this is clear, fresh (or frozen) garlic scapes and garlic greens have not been lab tested as of this time, but you apparently discovered that you tolerated them.
This is exactly why I wrote an article titled, Ask The Right Question: Is This Low FODMAP vs. What Can I Tolerate? and we invite readers to take a look. And now that you have certified a freeze-dried garlic scape product, there is no guesswork.
How many years later was it that you decided to create food products for others following the diet? And did you have a food background? If not, what was your background?
Given the limited amount of low FODMAP ingredients for those who love to cook, it didn’t take long to realize there was an opportunity to share these creations with more people. But the complexities of creating a line of wholesome, shelf-stable, low FODMAP foods was also daunting.
It took me a couple years to finally decide that I couldn’t not try—and another two years after that to land on the right formulas, processing techniques, suppliers and manufacturing partners to help produce our specialty products. So, it’s been a labor of love since the beginning.
Beyond growing up in of family of great home cooks, cooking many nights per week and enjoying NYC restaurants (and loving to eat!), I don’t have a formal food background. I’m just a passionate foodie with firsthand FODMAP experience who also happens to be a marketer and loves trying and creating new things.
I’ve been fortunate to assemble a team of expert advisors and Registered Dietitians to perfect our approach—and handpicked a network of growers and manufacturing partners from all over the country to contribute to the making of our products.
How did you decide to focus on Garlic Scape Powder and Organic Chicken Broth as Gourmend’s inaugural products?
And also talk here a little about your company’s vision in terms of dedication to using organic ingredients, your sourcing techniques, sustainable and flavor-preserving packaging, etc.
We started here mainly because these are what I gravitated to using most at home. A garlic-centric spice has different uses than an infused oil (rubs on proteins, soup seasoning, etc.) and almost any spice blend you find at the store will be high FODMAP because of the prevalence of garlic powder – garlic scape powder gives people a new base to add to any spiced creations. And broths are the base for so many sauces, risottos, braises and more. And who doesn’t love a mug of soup!
What I love most about these products is that they’re naturally full of flavor and naturally low in FODMAPs. That way you don’t have to make any sacrifices in what you eat or how you feed your family, which is really what’s at the heart of what we’re trying to do.What I love most about these products is that they’re naturally full of flavor and naturally low in FODMAPs. That way you don’t have to make any sacrifices in what you eat or how you feed your family... Click To Tweet
We don’t believe in using artificial anything—flavorings, gums, sugars, excessive sodium or preservatives—to replace lost flavors. That would just be trading out one ingredient that makes us sick in the moment for a questionable preservative that’s not great for anyone’s health in the long run. I don’t want to feed those kinds of things to my family so it wouldn’t feel right to sell anything like that to our community.
Part of the reason these products have taken almost two years to develop is that sourcing sustainable, domestic, organic, humanely raised, amazing ingredients requires a network of farmers and manufacturing partners who share this same vision and are willing to produce smaller volumes on our behalf (our community is growing but is not yet massive!). The garlic scapes and vegetables in our broth come from organic farms in the United States, and our chickens are free range and humanely raised.
You could argue that we go to a lot of trouble to create exceptional products with a conscience. But we believe our customers are willing to pay a little more for them, knowing that everything we do to bring them to the table is good for people and for our planet.
Have there been any particular challenges given the timing of your launch and the COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID has definitely put a damper on some things – moving supplies around takes longer – both air and ground shipping has been reduced and sometimes our regular shipments to customers just disappear without a trace (we’re sorry!), forcing us to send replacements. Our manufacturing partners are busier than normal because sales of grocery products have increased substantially.
Simple things you take for granted, like being able to pull a team together for a photo shoot, have had to be heavily modified.
On the other hand, we love to see that more and more people are learning to love cooking from home, which is good for us and many other brands.
How did you decide to use Monash University as a certification partner? How was the certification process?
As they are the team that conducted the original scientific research into FODMAPs, we felt this was an important partner to launch with. With so much still to learn about the science here, and our use of less common ingredients, their rigorous certification process helped us confirm we got the formulations right and provides a level of trust for our customers.
Tell us what garlic scapes are, as not everyone knows.
Garlic scapes are a very cool ingredient. They are curly stalks that grow from hard-neck garlic plants that are found mainly in colder growing regions, and are only available for a few weeks a year.
While commonly known garlic comes from the root of the plant that grows underground (where most FODMAPS seem to gather), the curly scape grows above ground from the stem of the garlic plant early in the growing season. Many chefs and Michelin-rated restaurants prize the scape for its unique, more mellow taste and seasonal rarity, so it’s become more desirable and expensive over time.
And how do you describe the flavor of your Garlic Scape powder?
Our garlic scape powder taste slightly sweeter, smoother and milder than the typical version that comes from dried garlic bulbs. It’ll add a delicate, more complex flavor to whatever you’re cooking.
We know that some folks have seen your Garlic Scape powder and assume they can therefore eat fresh garlic scapes and/or dry them at home. Perhaps you could explain why this is not foolproof from a FODMAP perspective.
We did not test raw garlic scapes, and despite lots of articles from bloggers—to our knowledge—no one has. I would certainly suspect that some amount of them will be safe, but we don’t know for sure and we’d be guessing at a safe serving size. Maybe one day Monash will test them, but it may not be worth it given they are only available for a few weeks a year, and only in some parts of the world. (Ours come from New York and Wisconsin.)
We did experiment with dehydrating garlic scapes, and several test results showed that a similar serving size would actually be high in FODMAPs, so we scrapped that entire plan and started over. So, we recommend being very careful with any home drying or using dehydrated sources you may come across on the Internet. A lot of online recipes and homemade products claim to be low FODMAP – without any independent review – and our testing has shown this not to be true.
Isn’t that the truth! It is very frustrating as a FODMAP educator to see how rampant this is, so everyone reading this be aware that just because something says it is low FODMAP is no guarantee. Using a lab tested and certified low FODMAP product is one surefire way to know what you are buying and eating.
How does one use your Garlic Scape powder? And let’s talk about the price point and how folks are getting many uses for the purchase price.
Let your creativity run wild! We like to sprinkle some on vegetables with some salt and pepper, into a stir fry, pan sauce or onto a piece of fish or meat before searing. You’ll find seven of our favorite ways to cook with garlic scape powder on our website and we’ll be continually rolling out a bunch of original and tasty recipes.
While the price is higher than a typical garlic powder, we’re dealing with an ingredient that is only available for a couple weeks a year that had to be hand-picked, washed, cut by hand, freeze-dried and powdered. Because the freeze-drying process removes almost 100% of the moisture (and weight), a lot of garlic scape “input” make up one serving of powder.
With over 100 servings per jar, you can make 100 meals for yourself, 50 for a family of two or 25 for a family of four. Furthermore, you can feel good knowing that nothing but organic garlic scapes are in the package, absolutely no chemicals were used at any point in the manufacturing process, and that the entire production was made in the USA.
Now let’s focus on your broth. A lot has gone into your product and we want to make sure that consumers understand what differentiates yours from others.
It has been a challenge to craft a product that is as close as possible to what you might make at home. Most chicken broths you find at the store – even organic ones – are reconstituted from powders, use little to no bones and are enhanced with unnamed “flavors” and yeasts to build flavor in a “mad scientist” sort of way. We didn’t want to do that – that’s not how you’d ever make broth at home.
Then there are “bone broths” that use vinegar to add flavor but in so doing tend to impart a sour taste, which we explicitly wanted to avoid. We set out to make a tasty broth that gets its flavor from the use of a LOT of bones plus low FODMAP organic vegetables like carrots and the green tops of leeks and scallions to impart further flavor.
We simmer everything for more than 16 hours in massive tanks and then filter everything out with some pretty amazing technology, leaving us with a pure broth with no fat or particles left behind. Under a special vacuum-packing process, the broth gets filled into a lightweight pouch that will last, unopened, up to 18 months without refrigeration.
Wow, low fat as well! And that is a great storage length time.
The flavor is pure enough to eat straight out of the pouch or in a recipe of your choice. We purposely didn’t add salt because we wanted to leave that up to each individual person – cooking with a sodium-containing broth can easily make the overall dish too salty but if you are eating this straight up, we’d probably season with salt (and pepper if you like) to taste. This way, everyone can do what feels right to them and those limiting their sodium intake don’t have to worry.
Are your products available internationally?
We’re selling via our website, shipping anywhere in United States. Customs can be a little tricky (and inconsistent) with food products so we’re dipping our toes into international delivery. For now, if you’re outside the US and anxious to try something, please reach out and we’ll aim to work something out. Over time, we plan on working with international distribution partners and we are also working hard to get on the shelves at some of your favorite grocery stores in the United States.
Can you share any inside information with us about future products?
We’re always looking at how we can use other ingredients in creative ways, and we’ve got a few other ideas in the testing labs. I think we can all agree a natural onion-flavored ingredient would be useful and a few have indicated “salt” versions of this, and future powders might be helpful, and we’ve already heard from some people wishing we had other flavors of broth in the works. We shall see!
Ketan, thank you so much for chatting with us – and for working so hard to bring us low FODMAP products to make our lives easier – and tastier.
If you want to see how we used Gourmend’s Garlic Scapes in a low FODMAP recipe check out: Low FODMAP Maple Balsamic Chicken With Roasted Blueberries