Cream of the Crop
Behind the scenes with Culina’s chief yogurt maker
by Kathryn Stouffer
Culina (“kitchen” in Latin) is aptly named for its birthplace — company founder Erin Asaad’s kitchen. The CEO and head foodie, Asaad began experimenting with alternatives to her typical morning yogurt when she had to eliminate dairy and other ingredients from her diet.
“I find a lot of joy in creating and being in the kitchen. I started cooking with coconut and serving my recipes to guests we’d host for dinner,” recalls Asaad of the early days of Culina (formerly known as Kokonut). “People started to ask if they could buy it from me. Then I had someone tell me ‘you should sell this.’”
So that’s what Asaad set her sites on doing.With the enthusiastic response of friends and neighbors in Austin and a passion for culinary endeavors, Asaad asked herself “How do I start a food business?”
Initially, she concocted the creamy probiotic-rich yogurt in her kitchen, selling it at farmers markets around town. “People had a strong reaction, which was intriguing. For me, Culina solved this huge problem of feeling frustrated that I couldn’t eat anything, and brought so much relief, happiness and joy – people resonated with that,” she recalls.
From there, local stores started contacting Asaad and the transition into retail ensued. Asaad had high hopes from the beginning: “Starting this, I wanted people to be able to go into Whole Foods and buy the yogurt.” Two years later, you can now find Culina in grocers like Whole Foods, Central Market and Sprouts.
The rise to success wasn’t always smooth. “Getting things started was really hard,” remembers Asaad. From constant trial and error while finding the perfect recipe to rebranding, the Culina team has dedicated hours in and out of the kitchen to create a unique, and often life-changing product for plant-based food enthusiasts.
Asaad explains, “The transition to change the name [from Kokonut to Culina] was out of the desire to become a plant-based food company, instead of just a yogurt company. The products we dream up are coming from a place where food is created – the kitchen – and we’re putting a new spin on it.”
As for the actual yogurt, it is chock-full of beneficial probiotics and rich coconut. Asaad touts the immune benefits of their custom probiotic blend.
For the beginners, she suggests the original Plain & Simple, a versatile option for sweet and savory taste buds alike. For something a tad sweeter, Asaad suggests the Blueberry Lavender, Strawberry Rose and Bourbon Vanilla. She maintains the botanical inspiration for Culina in the unique flavor profiles of the blends, desiring to bring something different to the often-overwhelming yogurt shelves.
Not only is the taste a cut above the rest, but Culina is easy to spot amongst white plastic containers. With appreciation for traditional yogurt-making methods and sustainability at the forefront, Culina started serving their six-ounce yogurt cups in reusable terra cotta pots. The custom terra cotta pots can serve a myriad of functions after the creamy yogurt is gone. Personal favorites include storage containers and seedling starter-pots.
Per Asaad, “We wanted to try something that was more sustainable. Yogurt has traditionally been made in terra cotta, and nobody has ever said that there is too much ceramic in the ocean,” she says of selecting the product container.
From its beginnings as a personal necessity and culinary venture to a hidden gem at Austin farmers’ markets to a craze across the country, Culina is here to stay creating plant-forward products and recipes from their kitchen to yours.
Asaad and her husband Blake, president of Culina, share their favorite ways to enjoy Culina for spring:
Five-Ingredient Spring Culina Fruit Tart
- 2 cups raw pecans
- 10 pitted Medjool dates
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 1/2 cups Bourbon Vanilla Culina yogurt
- 1 – 2 cups berries
- 2 teaspoons bee pollen (optional)
- Pulse the pecans in food processor until ground into a semi-fine meal. Add the dates and salt and pulse until the mixture starts to look like dough.
- Press the dough into an 8 or 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom or a regular pie dish lined with parchment paper for easy removal. Chill in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
- Remove the crust from the pan and place on a serving plate. Dollop Culina yogurt over the crust. Top the yogurt with the berries and bee pollen.
Culina Yogurt and Tahini Sauce
- 1/3 cup Culina Plain & Simple Coconut Yogurt
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 small clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Whisk all ingredients together. Thin out with water as necessary, starting with one tablespoon at a time. Serve over roasted vegetables, grilled bread or meat.