April 3, 2023
A wild foods entrepreneur has launched a wild harvested protein supplement powder sourced from black walnuts that features a unique dispersed supply chain.
The new product is the brainchild of Daniel Vitalis, who has made a name for himself hosting a podcast and cable TV show based on hunting, fishing and wild food foraging. The shows also feature collaborations with chefs to prepare unique dishes from the foods Vitalis and his guests have gathered.
Vitalis has been pursuing his wild food passion for more than a decade and in 2008 founded the finished products brand Surthrival. The latest addition to that product line is a unique offering that fills a niche in the market that has barely been dented.
Many ingredients go into finished products that are “wildcrafted,” meaning collected from wild growing sources. Many of the popular herbal dietary supplements on the market are sourced in this way.
A background in wild foods
However, Vitalis’ new product—Black Walnut Protein Powder—claims to be “foraged by hand.” It is sourced from black walnut trees that grow “wild,” which in this case means trees growing in forests, in farmers’ wood lots and on private residential property.
Vitalis said his history as a forager made the new product a natural fit.
“My main focus has always been nutrition,” Vitalis told Natural Products Insider. “We hunt and fish and forage and work with chefs to create great meals out of the wild.”
“In the show, we’ve looked at things like the relationship between prairie dogs and prairie turnips,” he added. “We even did an episode where we hunted a buffalo.”
Vitalis continued, “I’ve eaten 17-year cicadas and I harvested the underwater rhizomes of cattails, which required working in chest-deep water.”
Wild-harvested nuts have of course been on Vitalis’ radar almost from the beginning. Nuts were an integral part of the diet of indigenous peoples in North America, including those, like acorns, which require several processing steps to make them edible and palatable.
Foraging a few sackfuls of nuts for a TV segment is one thing, while finding a reliable source of raw material for a modern finished good is quite another undertaking.
Unique supply chain
Vitalis chose to partner with a company called Hammons, based in Stockton, Mo., that for decades has specialized in bringing black walnuts to market.
Hammons pursues a unique strategy for sourcing its black walnuts. The company makes available a large number of portable hulling machines hosted by local businesses and individuals in 13 states from Tennessee and Arkansas northward to Michigan and Wisconsin. Homeowners and farmers with black walnuts on their property can bring in sackfuls of nuts and are paid a flat rate based on the hulled weight of the nut meat. Hammons then processes the walnuts for sale to the market.
There’s a reason, however, that black walnuts are sourced in this way and haven’t been subjected to orchard cultivation such as with almonds, English walnuts or other tree crops.
The trees have mostly been used for their durable and beautiful wood, not for their raw nuts. Black walnuts are something of an acquired taste, being highly astringent and on the bitter side.
“I like to say they almost have a free acetone flavor. When you cook with them, they can be pretty nice,” Vitalis said.
Vitalis said he partnered with Hammons on a project to use a supercritical CO2 extraction method to remove the oil from the raw nuts for use as a standalone ingredient.
“The raw oil didn’t turn out to be very useful,” he said. “But the protein fraction turned out to be very useful.”
The Surthrival Black Walnut Protein Powder supplies 17 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber per 30-gram serving, and it features a fairly neutral flavor.
Sustainability differentiator for expensive product
Vitalis said this is a singular sustainability story that could become a differentiator for the product. That could help attract some customers motivated by those concerns to the product, which is somewhat pricey, at about $3.30 a serving (or about $50 per pound).
“This is a 100% volunteer, hand-foraged product,” Vitalis said. “There is no water usage, no chemical usage, no existing habitats are disturbed. Those trees are native, and they are staying in place.”
“There are very few foods that are still wild and yet are making it to market in a meaningful way,” he concluded.
This isn’t Surthrival’s first foray into wild-harvested foods. The company also sells supplements based on pine pollen, which is also claimed to be “wild harvested,” as well as colostrum and mushroom products.
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