I'm a snacker with mixed feelings about snacking. While that paradox might make me sound like an imposter, I promise that I have a point: it's difficult to find healthy snacks that don't make me feel guilt-ridden or aren't filled with sodium and sugar. Don't get me wrong, I love unhealthy snacks, but I'm always on the look out for tasty snacks that can keep me feeling full, healthy, and energized. That's why when I found out about the Eco-Friendly Food Initiative, also know as EFFi Foods, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try their granola products for myself.

What is EFFi Foods?

Founded by Carina Ayden, EFFi Foods makes delicious chickpea granola, which is currently available in the flavors Wholesome Raspberry, Sweet Heat, Gentle Pecan and Powerful Walnut. That's right, chickpeas are not just for hummus. This eco-friendly crop is a rich source of vitamins, minerals and fiber and can be incorporated into a wide variety of dishes, including granola. Their granola is also infused with dairy-free probiotics, specifically known as Bacillus coagulans, which—despite their daunting name—are incredibly beneficial for overall gut health. 

Q&A with the founder of EFFi Foods

When I came across the opportunity to speak with Carina Ayden, founder of EFFi Foods, I was so excited to learn more about what had inspired her to create the brand and its products. She spent 18 months on research and development specifically within the category of granola and cereal—a category that I later learned is one of the top contributors to obesity in the United States.

What inspired you to create EFFi Foods?

I began figure skating when I was four years old. I experienced a trauma on the ice when I was around seven years old. Since then, I've had a lot of back pain and spine surgeries. When I was 12 or 13, I was diagnosed with two or three spinal conditions, one of which was scoliosis. I underwent over five spine surgeries—two of which I had here, in the United States. My first spine surgery in the United States didn't go well. Three months later, I learned that I had to stay in the United States to have another surgery.

Doctors didn't visit me. They visited once and charged thousands of dollars for their visit, but no one cared about the fact that I was literally dying. I couldn't eat. Your gut—your microbiome—is completely screwed after such extensive surgeries. I already knew I needed probiotics, but, at that time circa 2008 and 2009, there wasn't much knowledge among the general public about the benefits of probiotics. 

Since I was a kid, I cultured probiotics—milks and things like that—with my grandma. So, I took probiotics, and I bounced back really quickly. The doctors noticed, and they were both shocked and impressed. Basically, probiotics played an integral role in my recovery from surgery.

After that, I said I wanted to open a company and find a probiotic strain that I would be able to fortify into foods. I decided to travel the country following my second spine surgery, attending press conferences and expos with the hope of finding such a strain. When I almost gave up, I found a biotech company based in Cleveland that said, 'Yes, we have that strain.' And, I said 'alright.'

I'm a philologist. So, to jump from that to food, I was aware of how people would perceive me, especially as someone who speaks five languages and has an accent in every language that they speak. As a woman, I realized that I would have to confront bias, too.

[Especially after the trauma I experienced from surgery], EFFi Foods, in a way, saved me.

Why did you choose to enter the granola market?

We were the first company to put probiotics in bars, and we called it Probiotic Care Bars. The product became successful within a very small niche. We had stability issues because [the product] was completely raw, gluten free and 100 percent vegan and organic.

You want to give something to a person and say, 'Hey listen, you're going to like this taste. And, it also happens to be healthy for you.' I decided to pause and take a break. I spent over three months just reading [reports] and doing research. We have to create food that keeps people fuller for longer. How do you do that? By eating legumes. We looked at chickpeas.

We created a unique formula and processing where we infuse milled chickpeas, meaning chickpea flour, with fair trade ingredients like nuts and superfoods from the African Baobab and Peruvian sacha inchi. We launched the chickpea granola in March of last year at the Expo West. A few weeks later, Whole Foods reached out to us and said they wanted to bring it national.

I'm very proud of this product. It's the first-ever legume-based granola. And, we, of course, didn't forget about gut health. It's also fortified with probiotics.

Can you tell me about your giving program?

[A lot of my very successful friends] said, 'Listen, first make money, and then start giving.' ... And, I understand that there are different models, but, for me, it would never work.

... I stumbled upon the idea of effective altruism. ... We identified a few organizations [to work with and support] like Plant Based Food Association and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. ... Based on the principles of effective altruism, we think that these organizations can really take it a step further.

What message would you want to share with college students?

College is the time when you want to inspire people. I still remember the people in my life, during that time when I was in college, that said something that forever stayed with me.

The food on our plates can effect so many things in life, [including] animal welfare and rights and the environment. [For example], in 2011, as a volunteer at Human Rights Watch and an attendee of the premiere of a documentary called Food Chains, I was [shocked to] discover that the items I buy from the grocery store, like organic tomatoes, could come from a farm where women and their children are abused and sexually harassed. [I realized] that food is also [related to] human rights problems.

What is your favorite way to snack on the granola?

To be honest with you, I like to dip it. Because we have such large clusters, I just love to [substitute chips], take it, and dip it into things [like beet hummus]. 

The taste test

After talking to Carina, I was especially excited to taste the grain-free, chickpea granola flavors offered by EFFi foods. I began with Sweet Heat—a granola containing rich cacao and a touch of cayenne pepper. The heat from the cayenne pepper is mild yet lingers pleasantly on your tongue after each bite. It's great for those who want just a slight kick in their snacks. 

Next, I tried the Powerful Walnut granola, which contains almond butter and walnuts. With just four grams of sugar per serving, I found myself continuously amazed by the perfectly-sweetened and dynamic flavors of all of the granola flavors. This one, especially, was my personal favorite. The flavors remind me a bit of a banana nut muffin—just without the banana.

The Wholesome Raspberry contains raspberries and oats. The freeze dried raspberries are a terrific compliment to the other flavors in the granola. For those who prefer granola that tastes less nutty, this could be a great go-to flavor among the four options available.

My step-dad took an instant liking to these three granola flavors. In fact, before I knew it, they were gone. He likes to incorporate them into his morning oatmeal, adding a bit of a crunch. When I visited Whole Foods to look for more EFFi Foods granola, I discovered the fourth option: Gentle Pecan. With pecan and pumpkin, it's great for those who love nuttier, granola options. I, personally, love the way that the pecan flavor shines through.  

Each of the four granola flavors currently made by EFFi Foods sells for $8.99 on the company's website. For $31.99, they also offer a bundle that includes one of each of the four flavors. And, their granola is available at Whole Foods stores nationwide.

After meeting and speaking with Carina, I was especially inspired by her dedication to creating eco-friendly and nutritional products. The time, effort and passion that she puts into her work is both evident and inspiring. And, after trying the granola offered by EFFi Foods, I definitely think it's paid off. Whether you're looking for a new go-to snack or to spice-up your day-to-day routine, its reassuring to know that there are unique, healthy snacking options available. The possibilities are endless. So, next time you see or have hummus, remember all the chickpea-based possibilities that life has to offer.