Globally, 70% of the world’s available freshwater is used for agriculture, but due to population growth, two-thirds of the world’s population could be living in water-stressed conditions. One solution to feeding a growing population is using more drought-tolerant crops that can withstand rising temperatures from climate change. A crop that naturally requires little water and thrives in arid climates is the cactus, and a Chicago-based company called Nemi is using cactus as its star ingredient to make sustainable snack foods.
Regina Trillo, the Founder of Nemi, told me by phone last week that when she moved from Mexico to the U.S. ten years ago it was challenging to find products made from nopales (cactus paddles). Nopales are a common culinary ingredient used throughout Mexico and used in everything from tacos to salads.
Trillo said, “One of the things I noticed when I moved here was going into the ethnic aisle at grocery stores and not feeling represented. A lot of the brands that were selling “Mexican” products were inauthentic.” She decided to start a snack food company that showcased staple foods and flavors of Mexico, and landed on using cactus and amaranth as the main ingredients.
Nemi sources its cactus powder from an organic nopales farm in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Cacti are naturally suited for the desert requirement, and therefore do not require much water nor spraying of any pesticides or herbicides. After the cactus paddles are harvested, they are sun-dried and turned into a powder. Nemi blends the cactus powder with other ingredients like amaranth, pea protein, flax oil, to create its snack food called Holisticks.
Nemi Holisticks come in four different flavors (with the occasional seasonal flavor); churro, smokey chipotle, spirulina lime, and chili turmeric. Nemi sent me some samples to try out, and as someone who is constantly reading nutrition labels, I was impressed by the nutrient-packed ingredient list. The Holisticks had a hearty crunch, and I enjoyed the unique flavors that typically aren’t found in snack foods in the U.S. Each bag, which is one serving, contains 6 grams of protein, and I found that the Holisticks were a snack that kept me satiated.
Climate change has the potential to lower crop yields of vegetables and legumes worldwide due to droughts, flooding, new pests, and temperature fluctuations. As previously stated, fresh water is a finite resource that continues to shrink. Finding crops (like amaranth and cactus) or new ways to grow common crops that can withstand a wide range of climates and drought conditions may be a key factor for continuing to feed a growing world population as the global climate changes. Heron Farms in South Carolina uses ocean water, the most abundant resource on the planet, to grow sea beans in an indoor hydroponic farm. Agrisea developed salt-tolerant rice seeds, which can be grown floating on the ocean surface without soil, or in rice paddies flooded with ocean water.
Nemi’s products can be purchased directly on the company’s website, and a pack of six 1.7 oz bags costs $19.99. Additionally, the products can be found in small retailers in New York, Illinois, and California.