Dubai: While the world swoons over the humble fox nuts as a super food and its being imported all over the globe from Asian countries, an enterprising Indian expatriate, has set up the first indigenous lotus nut processing plant in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE. He imports the raw material and then prepares them in five delectable flavours for retailing within the UAE.
Meet Prateek Bhatia, 31, who made a huge leap from being in the field of media, cinema and advertising to get into this innovative niche snack industry. Cashing in on the demands of the gourmet and health food market, Bhatia has become the UAE’s first fox-nut project entrepreneur. Bhatia’s brand called Popp’d that is retailed on popular digital and e-commerce platforms, is available in six flavours – Himalayan Pink Salt, Lime and Mint, Zaatar and Cheese, Tomato, Jalapeno and Peri Peri.
Why fox nuts?
Sharing his journey with Gulf News, Bhatia recalled how he decided to enter this business. “I came up with the idea while I was snacking on popped lotus seeds at home. I started experimenting with natural seasonings from my own kitchen. It was then that I discovered that this superfood snack is delicious when it’s made with the right mix of natural flavours.”
Adapting to the UAE taste buds
So Bhatia quickly organised a team of four employees and set up his business. He feels the UAE, with an eclectic palette, needed a very focused, indigenous project here to cater to all tastes. “My aim was to develop a wholesome snack, sans any guilt. After researching and examining several flavours and grades of lotus seeds, I was keen on bringing flavours to the table that appealed to multicultural palettes here. Born and raised in the UAE, I have been exposed to a culturally diverse range of cuisines and wanted to curate flavours that tell my story – a childhood that encompasses so many nationalities in one place, a place I get to call home, the UAE. I finally narrowed down six flavours and the best quality ingredients that worked, and Popp’d was born,” he explained.
The real challenge
Bhatia feels that in a community spoiled for choices among a range of snacks, the most difficult challenge was getting people to accept this snack. “One of the challenges we faced was educating people on fox nuts and its many health benefits while marketing our products. It is after all a new superfood on the block. But it has been a fun challenge,” said Bhatia, adding that once the snack is tried and tasted, it is well-received.
Bhatia said, “We procure the raw fox nuts from North India, clean, roast and provide different flavours and package them, while maintaining our quality standards.”
What does the nutritionist say?
Dr Fiona Cowie, specialist in advanced weight management and consultant food, health and nutrition expert from Dermalase Clinic, Al Wasl Jumeirah, explained why the humble fox nuts had gained such notoriety. “Its only in the last few years, the Western world discovered the nutritional qualities of the lotus seeds, or fox nuts that have been used in traditional Chinese Medicine for 3,000 years and has been part of the Indian kitchen for around the same time. Now, this extremely versatile seed of the lotus flower that is mostly found in the Orient, in countries like China, Korea and India, and is high on nutrition and low on calories, has acquired the status of a super food and is fast replacing the more popular popcorn as the top guilt free snack,” explained Dr Cowie.
Fox Nuts V/s Pop Corn
“Fox nuts are rich in protein, magnesium, calcium, have good fat and very little saturated fat. They are rich in fibre, very light on the digestion and are low in calorie. As compared to Fox Nuts, popcorn, which usually comes from a Genetically Modified crop, is not as nutritious. It is fibre rich but a 100gm popcorn is about 400 calories, while the same amount of fox nuts are about 340 calories. Besides, the latter is so light that one feels full in a much smaller quantity. Popcorn is usually slathered with butter, caramelized or comes in cheesy flavours. As it is, being low in nutrition in comparison to fox nuts and high in calories, it is really a healthy snack. What’s more, these add-ons lend more empty calories to it,” she explained.
What are Fox Nuts?
Extracted from the Lotus plant, fox nuts known as Euryale Ferox or prickly water lily are actually seeds of the a kind of lotus species that grows in stagnant pools. In India, it is popularly known as Phool Makhana, and is a staple nutritious food during religious fasts. The seeds are harvested, dried, roasted, and peeled to reveal the puffed white kernel, which is packed and marketed. India, China Korea and many other Asian countries cultivate, harvest and market this superfood.
Dr Cowie added that fox nuts are good for heart patients and diabetics because of their high nutrition, low fat, low calorie combination. “Fox nuts are a heart healthy snack, which is good for diabetics and even for obese who are on diets and need to control their calories. They handle the hunger pangs well and being very low on glycaemic index gets assimilated or absorbed slowly. This means that eating it does not spike one’s blood glucose,” Dr Cowie elaborated.
Dr Cowie added that fox nuts were also traditionally considered to be a powerful aphrodisiac and helped detoxify the body. “In present times, when we are all looking to fortify our immunity, it is good to avoid unhealthy foods and stock on such healthy super foods,” she said.
Guilt free and versatile
Fox nuts are now being consumed in huge quantities as a guilt-free snack. Those who like it in its savoury avatar consume the lime, mint, peri peri and other flavours available in the market. The conscientious vegan with a sweet tooth can pan fry it to a crisp texture and add these to their almond milk puddings with nuts and stevia and chopped fruits to make a delectable dessert. Have it whichever way you fancy, the humble fox nut wins the super food race hands down.