L arry Brownstein’s relationship with kale required a formal introduction. “I thought kale was a fish, to be honest,” he recalls, which is funny considering that, today, Brownstein is not only an enthusiastic fan of the hearty, leafy green, but is also building a business around it.
He and friend Tom Brophy are the co-founders of Tasty Kale, which sells seasoned, dehydrated varieties of the stuff. The road to selling healthy, tasty snacks (and toppings—for, say, a baked potato), began when Brownstein was participating in a weight-loss competition at the Woodbridge Jewish Community Center a few years ago. His trainer’s advice was to eat healthful, small portions throughout the day, and, finally heeding his mother’s age-old advice that “you are what you eat,” he gave kale chips a go, as the low-cal veggie is chock-full of vitamins and fiber.
The good news: he was happily hooked. The bad news: he found it tough to find kale offerings he actually liked at local markets. Armed with a food dehydrator and a goal, but not much of a plan, he decided to make his own.
“Since I don’t follow directions that well, I just started experimenting,” he says. When Brownstein brought the results to the gym, they earned rave reviews. “After about the 250th person said, ‘Hey, where can I buy this?,’ the light bulb went off.” That’s when he and Brophy—who’s responsible for the wacky brand design and website—partnered up and decided to go pro, officially launching Tasty Kale in the spring of 2011. Today it’s available at Elm City Market (pictured above), Edge of the Woods, Whole Foods and, as of just a few weeks ago, many Connecticut Stop & Shops, including the Whalley Avenue and Amity Road locations in New Haven, and the Dixwell Avenue location in Hamden.
Brownstein and Brophy rise early to make batches of the kale, which was harvested from Bethany, at their commercial kitchen in West Haven before heading off to full-time day jobs—Brownstein at Amity Insurance and Brophy at Linkzero, a digital marketing agency. Marrakech, Inc., a local non-profit providing support and employment to individuals with disabilities, puts the labels on the packaging.
There are five labels for five flavors: Spicy Curry; Garlic; Za’Atar, a subtle, savory blend of Middle Eastern spices; Zing Zang, an appropriately zingy mix of turmeric, garlic, paprika, lemon juice, coconut, maple syrup and more; and Sweet, made with maple syrup, coconut and sesame seeds, and which Brownstein swears by on ice cream.
Thanks to the wash-season-dehydrate method used, Brownstein says, Tasty Kale is different than what you would get by buying fresh kale, tossing some oils and spices on and baking it up. Using a dehydrator, he explains, doesn’t actually cook the kale, allowing it to retain more of its original flavor, achieve a more toothy texture and hold on to more of the nutrients—calcium, potassium and Vitamin C, to name a few—that make kale such a powerhouse food in the first place.
Prices for each container of kale range from about $4.99 to 6.99 depending on the store. You could easily devour one package in a sitting, but unlike, for example, potato chips, Tasty Kale isn’t salty or fried, and it packs fewer calories—roughly 120-160 per serving—and more nutrient-rich punch. Using it as a topping for other things is a good way of making it last. That’s also what Brownstein recommends for the kale-averse—to try Tasty Kale crumbled onto salads, omelets or pizza, if they can’t quite get into munching the spiced leafy greens on their own.
To try before you buy, keep an eye on Tasty Kale’s Facebook page and Twitter feed, which publicize free tastings at some markets.
For now, all money earned is going back into the business, but the co-owners are optimistic about growth, buoyed by consumers’ growing zeal for this particular cruciferous veggie. Says Brownstein: “Their excitement about kale, it just blows my mind.”
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Written by Cara McDonough. Photographed by Dan Mims.