Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sunsational Sunflower Seed Nondairy Milk GIVEAWAY and Interview with Founder

I'm so excited that my first giveaway is for a new vegan product that has more antioxidants than a cup of green tea. Sunsational is a nondairy milk alternative made from sunflower seeds grown in the US (many of our sunflower and pumpkin seeds come from China!). Read my interview with the founder of Sunsational and enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below the post. :-)
My Box of Sunsational Posing with a Fact Sheet
In my post about the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, I mentioned a new Sunflower Seed nondairy milk that just entered the nondairy milk market. Sunsational's founder was sampling it at the festival and although I had already bought a box, I hadn't tried it yet. The Sunflower Seed milk tasted really good! You can definitely taste the sunflower seeds and it's strangely refreshing for a "milk."  I liked both the original and vanilla flavors and so did the other people who I saw sample it. I don't personally drink a lot of nondairy milk, but I like to have a box or two in the house and usually rotate between almond, rice, and hemp milk. Sometimes I use it in smoothies and sometimes in bread or other baking recipes. Now that the cold weather is here, my nondairy milk also makes it's way into hot chocolate! James uses it in our Vegan Whole Wheat Pancakes. I usually try to pick organic products with short lists of ingredients that I recognize and also try to opt for the ones with low sugar (Sunsational has 6g/serving), but every time I'm in the alterna-milk aisle at Trader Joes or Whole Foods, the decision process always takes a LONG time! So when I saw the new Sunflower Seed Milk on the shelf and noticed that it was considerably lower in sugar than most nondairy milks, I went for it!

Steve Verde, the founder of Sunsational let me pick his brain a little at the festival and was kind enough to let me interview him via email. He answered my burning questions AND gave me a few cases to GIVEAWAY to you (details after the interview)! Our Q&A is a great story about how a seed (literally, a Sunflower seed) made its way from the farm to my tummy.

How did you conceive the idea to produce nondairy milk from Sunflower Seeds? When did the idea come to you? How long did it take you to get from idea to shelves?
My doctor told me I needed to cut out dairy right about the time I was looking to launch my own small product line.  I just started looking at the non dairy category and asking myself what else could I do that wasn’t currently on the market.  My first attempt was actually a sunflower, pumpkin and flax seed milk but I ended up after processing with a healthy cup of fat.  I quickly decided I needed to go with one seed and that seed was sunflower, because of availability, processing, nutritionals and taste.   I figured if you could make milk from an almond or hemp seed, I could make a milk from sunflower seed.  It was almost 4 years from concept to shelf.

As soon as I saw it on the shelf at my local Whole Foods, it went straight into my cart. It's hard to imagine that it's just now hitting shelves! Do you know if you were the first to market with this idea? Why didn't anyone think of it before? 
Yes, I was first to market with this concept.  I really don’t know why someone else hadn’t thought of this before?

Where do you source your sunflower kernels? 
Most of my sunflower seeds come from farms in South Dakota and Kansas.    I really wanted to do an organic product, but was told most of the organic supply is from China which I did not want to do. 

I know it's a short list, but can you tell us more about the other ingredients in your Sunsational? Where do they come from and what purpose do they serve in the milk? 
Ingredients: purified water, sunflower kernels, organic evaporated cane juice, potassium citrate,  sunflower lecithin, carrageenan, natural flavor, sea salt, xanthan gum
I'm especially curious about the 'natural flavor' listed in the ingredients! What is it exactly? 
I get asked a lot about the natural flavor which is ground up tree root, it has a very bland neutral taste which helps reduce bitterness and makes the product essentially taste more like a milk product.  The organic evaporated cane juice is a sweetener and helps bring out the flavor in the product.   Potassium Citrate is an element which helps stabilize the PH levels in the product for shelf life.  The sunflower lecithin helps keep all the ingredients evenly dispersed throughout the product while the xanthan gum holds everything together and both work together to help the first sip of the product taste like the last sip of the product.   Carrageenan also helps hold ingredients together and gives the product a nice mouth feel.

Can you tell us about the production process? Are the sunflower kernels raw or toasted? Do you soak them? What happens from there? 
We actually roast the sunflower seeds then grind them into a thin type of sunflower butter then blend that with water and the rest of our ingredients.

Do you plan to expand into other Sunflower Seed milk products? Can you foresee a day when we can find Sunsational "Ice Cream," coffee creamer, yogurt, etc? What's the future of Sunsational look like? 
Yes, I have a bunch of other products in the works some of which would be the ice creams, creamers, etc….and I have a couple totally new innovative products in the works that are as innovative and creative as the sunflower non dairy beverage itself.

While I don't love the natural flavor, lecithin (has health benefits and is not derived from soy, which is nice), carrageenan (a seaweed extract), xanthan gum, or potassium citrate listed on the ingredient label, I'm glad to know that the sunflower seeds come from North America (though it's sad that Steve couldn't find a good supply of organic Sunflower seeds in the US, isn't it?!). There are pros and cons for EVERY packaged food product, which is why I try to stick with whole foods I can recognize as things I could either grow myself or at least visualize being grown, but inevitably, my pantry is known to contain some packaged foods. Nondairy milk is one of them and until I figure out how to perfect some recipes in the Vita-mix, I'll probably keep buying it. Sunsational has officially made its way into my rotation. I actually LOVE drinking it straight and in coffee. I don't feel that way about soy, almond, rice, or hemp milk. 1 8 oz serving also packs 4g of fiber and 2g of protein as well as considerable amounts of Vitamin A (20% RDA), Calcium (8%), Folate (15%), and Iron (4%). When I spoke to Steve yesterday at Whole Foods where I picked up the product for today's Giveaway, he did tell me that he's already formulated an unsweetened version of the milk and is trying to get it to market soon. 

So what do you think? Will you pick up a box and try Sunsational? Are there any follow up questions you'd like me to ask Steve?
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Now for the GIVEAWAY details!!
I'm giving away 2 6-packs of Sunsational. Each will include 3 vanilla and 3 original. 
There are lots of ways to enter, so read the full list and enter more than once. Just make sure that for each entry, you leave a separate comment! 

  • Sign up for From Seed to Stomach's RSS feed. In the right sidebar, just click on the button that says "Posts" where it says "SUBSCRIBE TO FROM SEED TO STOMACH"
  • Sign up for From Seed to Stomach's email. Toward the top of the right sidebar, just enter your email address where it says "SUBSCRIBE! GET AN EMAIL ALERT FOR EACH NEW POST!"
  • Follow @FrSeed2Stomach on Twitter and tweet a link to this post.
  • Follow @Sunsationalbev on Twitter.
  • Like From Seed to Stomach on Facebook and share this post.
  • Like Sunsational on Facebook.
  • If you’re a blogger, post a link to this giveaway (include link in your comment).
  • Email 5 friends a link to this giveaway.
  • Stumble this post.
  • Join this site.
Again, for each entry, you have to leave a separate comment below!!

Drawing Details:
Giveaway ends in on Thursday, 12/29/11 at 11:59 pm Eastern. 2 winners will be chosen randomly and announced on Friday, 12/30/11. GOOD LUCK!! 
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By the way, Sunsational is currently on the shelves at Whole Foods throughout New England and New York. Florida Whole Foods just started carrying it as well. It available from the largest natural foods distributor nationally, so if you can't find it at your favorite store, ASK for it. You can also order it online. 
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Disclaimer: I have not been compensated in any way for this post. The opinions expressed in this post are my honest thoughts. I'm happy to do product reviews and giveaways and can be contacted at FromSeedToStomach@gmail.com regarding such opportunities.