Food allergies – especially in children – have become headline news in the past ten years. But many adults are struggling too with gluten intolerance, dairy sensitivity, nut allergies and more. Even with the increase in specialty items, it’s hard to find tasty, high quality products that skirt all these danger points.
Asherah Aentara knew this all too well. Facing serious health issues, she embarked on a journey to improve her diet and life. Focusing on a mostly vegetarian diet using organic produce, she lost significant weight and improved her health. To help others, she started organic cooking classes in 2008. Her students – often mothers – wanted food that the whole family could eat, even if family members had different allergy issues. No soy, no dairy, no gluten, no nuts – is there anything left? You bet. Asherah created a delicious veggie burger and the mothers said “make it for us!”
So began Asherah’s Gourmet. The burger ingredients are all organic, beginning with the super grain, quinoa, and include sweet potatoes, carrots, onion, red bell pepper, coconut flour, flax meal and spices. No fillers, no icky unpronounceable ingredients, low salt and only 180 calories each. And they taste good too. In fact they were chosen second of all veggie burgers by the readers and staff of Vegetarian Times in 2012. Pretty impressive for a small mom-and-pop business going up against multi-millionaire dollar food corporations.
Based out of their suburban home in Furlong, Asherah and her husband, Ariel, started testing the market for the burgers in 2009. “We had no experience bringing a food product to market,” explained Ariel. “We had to learn everything.” But many things started to fall into place. They decided to make their first case to the shoppers of local Bucks County farmers’ markets. “Would average people buy it?” they worried. They did. But now they needed a professional kitchen to start producing the burgers for the public. While pitching the product to the manager at the Market at Del Val College , he offered them their on-site kitchen. Asherah and Ariel were soon spending evenings after the market closed working hard making burgers.
As the business grew, it became apparent they would need professional food processing. While trying to source organic sweet potatoes, they spoke with the manager of Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, a cooperative of organic farmers and distributor of organic produce and foods on the East Coast. A vegan, he was thrilled to learn about Asherah’s burgers and offered to distribute them on a wholesale basis. He also connected Asherah and Ariel to an Amish couple with a certified organic food processing facility. In January 2010, they moved to the next step and Asherah’s Gourmet vegan burgers started being professionally produced and packaged.
You can now find Asherah’s burgers in Whole Foods Markets in five US regions, from the Northeast, to the Mid-Atlantic, the Mid-West and California. Many local natural food stores also carry it. And you can also order an Asherah’s Gourmet Burger at Basically Burgers in Doylestown and the Down to Earth Café in Perkasie.
The burgers come in two flavors – original and chipotle. (I like the chipotle.) They are easy to prepare – in the pan, on the grill or even in the microwave – although I prefer pan-frying them with a little oil to make the outside crusty. Customers have shared some of their favorite uses with Asherah and Ariel. Putting them in homemade chili, or in lasagna instead of meat. You can even use it with “Hamburger Helper,” says Ariel. One of their favorite recipes is to defrost the burgers, break them up and stuff them into a red bell pepper and bake. Others have used them as stuffing (that would be good). Or you can combine it with some hummus, lettuce and tomato and wrap it up.
Each package includes four ¼ lb. burgers for a total of a 1 pound package. It’s in the same price range ($8.69 at Whole Foods) as Boca Burgers and Amy’s, but the burgers are thicker. Most of the other veggie burgers have high salt, soy protein, hydrolyzed yeast extract and lots of fillers. “Quinoa is the first ingredient on the package,” says Asherah.
The burgers also have three certifications – USDA organic, gluten-free and vegan. They are also free of the top ten food allergies: dairy, eggs, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, shellfish, soy, wheat and gluten. And nutritious! They are a great source of magnesium, Vitamin A and dietary fiber, as well as protein, phosphorous, iron, potassium, Vitamin B6, folate and copper.
But it’s the taste that will win you over. Asherah tells a story about a demonstration they were doing at a Whole Foods Market. A mother approached with her young daughter, who was clutching a chocolate chip cookie. When the mom gave her some of the burger, the little girl immediately dropped the cookie and demanded more burger. That’s a pretty good testimonial.
You can learn more about Asherah’s Gourmet Vegan Burgers at their website.