Food Entrepreneur SAN DIEGO — Chocho, a nutritious, regenerative crop, is a primary ingredient in a line of puffed snacks developed by Brutal Foods, a San Diego startup with Ecuadorian roots.

Also known as Andean lupin, the bean boasts more protein per serving than salmon, tofu or chickpeas, with fiber, calcium and the nine essential amino acids, and is cultivated at high altitudes, according to the brand, which debuted at Natural Products Expo West, held March 8-11 in Anaheim, Calif.

Additional ingredients include rice flour, avocado oil, cassava starch and seasonings such as onion powder, garlic powder and sea salt. The churro-inspired puffs are sweetened with allulose and stevia extract. Cheeky Cheeze is a vegan take on white cheddar flavor, and Créme de la Sour features the brand’s spin on sour cream.

Brutal Foods was founded by married food industry veterans and native Ecuadorians Juan Illingworth and Gaby Macias, who previously sold and distributed bulk food ingredients. During the pandemic, the pair began brainstorming new business ideas.

“Gaby always craved junk/comfort food, but within the last six years she’s been looking how to balance it in a healthier way,” Mr. Illingworth said. “We both wanted to build something unique and to make it easier to make better choices for everyone.

“Other beans and nuts already had their moment for years. It’s chocho’s time to get the place it deserves… So, we have been creating these baked crunchy puffs and brand for almost two years and focused on the real things that we consider important without sacrificing the pleasure of indulging.”

In addition to its nutritional benefits, Mr. Illingworth said chocho is “a fundamental part of our ancient and current agriculture as a rotational crop,” improving soil conditions and relying solely on rainwater to grow.

Ms. Macias envisions using chocho in a number of applications, noting its neutral taste profile, and said the company already has prototyped a pasta featuring the ingredient.

“We can do milk, pancakes, meat, everything with chocho,” she said. “It’s very versatile.”

Chocho is a type of lupin or lupini bean, which has been featured by several food brands sold stateside. Lupii, New York, offers snack bars and pasta highlighting the lupini bean, and Brami, Carlsbad, Calif., produces lupini bean dips and pickled lupini snacks. A Santa Barbara, Calif.-based brand, Mikuna Foods, markets a line of chocho protein powder and said the plant has been used by indigenous communities for thousands of years. The startup raised $5.6 million in seed funding last year to scale production capacity and develop additional products, referring to chocho as “the future of plant-based proteins.”

 “Chocho for us is like corn for you,” Ms. Macias said, referring to its history and abundance in South America. “It’s always been here; for us it’s very typical and very powerful. It has the most protein of all the varieties of lupin because we growth them in the highlands.”

In Latin American cultures, “brutal” is used as a slang term meaning “mind blowing” or “awesome,” Ms. Macias said.

“This brand Brutal is in your face,” she said. “We are who we are, and we’re not afraid to be ourselves.”

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