In 2020, uBu Foods began offering freeze-dried hummus for backpacking. For two decades previous, founders Linda and Alex Galt had been delighting customers with the recipe at Kavarna, their vegetarian restaurant and café in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
“From day one at the coffee house, Linda was making hummus,” her husband Alex said. “And these were the early days, when we often had to explain what hummus even was.”
The dish quickly became a staple at the café, and they began selling fresh, ready-to-eat hummus at farmers markets, local grocery stores and eateries.
When the time came in 2019 to pass the torch, pursue new adventures, and get outside, the Galts sold the restaurant but kept the rights to their original, highly acclaimed hummus.
Initially, uBu Foods was solely in the fresh hummus business. Just recently, they began experimenting with freeze dried hummus. And not just any freeze dried hummus, but a more sustainable hummus.
Alex is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Sustainability Management. For uBu Foods, the pathway to a more sustainable product is the freeze drying process.
“You’re putting all the energy at the beginning of the production process,” Alex explained. “After that, it no longer requires refrigeration. No more trucks, no clamshell plastic containers, no cold cases, and it weighs 40% as much. It’s a carbon-free product after that.”
One day, uBu hopes to take it further and fuel the entire freeze drying operation with renewable energy.
How'd the Galt's come up with the name uBu Foods? "We were looking for a word that was fun to say, didn't have any particular cultural connotations and didn't put us in a box," Alex explained. With various flavor profiles, and eventual plans to offer different types of foods from around the world, uBu stuck. "It's a two-syllable, nonsense word that doesn't really mean anything," Alex laughed. "It's un-boxable."
As any resilient startup can attest, uBu Foods was forced to be flexible in 2020. “We had to pivot like crazy,” Alex said. “We had a food processing facility, so we created lots of different products, oils, condiments, sauces and meal kits. We tried a lot of different things. That was our 2020.”
One of the things uBu tried was dehydrating their hummus, which turned out to be “a total fiasco”. By freeze drying instead, a process that removes nearly 99% of moisture, they were able to create a powdered hummus that has a longer shelf life and much better taste.
With commercial freeze dryers of their own, uBu Foods ran test batches and fine-tuned a recipe that retained the flavors they were shooting for. Taste-testing was a family affair and it frequently became the official after school snack for Linda and Alex’s children, now 15 and 17. “We had a lot of freeze dried hummus after school,” Alex laughed.
With plenty of trial and error, they discovered fats can go rancid in the freeze drying process. “We realized we’d have to make a hummus that doesn’t have tahini in it…which is kinda a conflict,” Alex laughed.
As it turns out, sesame seeds, the main ingredient in tahini, are a common allergen, and omitting it from the recipe didn’t sacrifice flavor one bit.
Using sustainably grown, non-GMO chickpeas and other spices and flavors resulted in four varieties of hummus available in two-serving “hiker” pouches: Cilantro Lime, Roasted Garlic, Chipotle and Thai Basil. The brand states if you’re looking for a clean label, “you got it”.
As uBu Foods finds its stride, Linda and Alex have thought hard about how to scale their business in a way that feels right to their family. “We always want to do things that reflect our own values, that’s important to us,” Alex said.
Those core values revolve around a love of the outdoors. “We’re a combination of homebodies, where our backyard is heaven, but we also need to get out there,” Linda said.
“And being a part of the outdoor industry is a lot more fun than dealing with grocery stores,” Alex laughed. “It’s a much more friendly environment that’s open and receptive to new ideas.”
“It fits us so well,” Linda added. “We love the outdoors, we love food, we’re meeting the right crowd. We’ve met amazing people already, it’s so refreshing and keeps us feeling like we can make this happen.”
As hummus aficionados, the Galts assure there’s no wrong way to dip hummus. Alex claims he’s a “vegetable guy” preferring cucumbers and celery as dipping vessels. Linda, on the other hand, prefers baby carrots and Snyder Hanover Pretzels. “The checkerboard ones,” she laughed. “They don’t break as easily!”