Los Altos native Jacqueline Sun grew up interested in healthful eating, haunting local farmers’ markets with her parents and well versed in the composting that is less standard in her current location, a college in the Midwest. She joined a business fraternity, and when a fellow business major’s impromptu blog – started during the doldrums of quarantine – saw unexpected traction on the subject of cauliflower oatmeal, they sensed an opportunity.
“We’re interested in bringing back real, whole foods, and making food that tastes as good as it makes you feel,” she said of their nascent enterprise, which makes shelf-stable, ready-to-eat cauliflower oatmeal (just add hot
“I started trying it and loved it,” Sun said. “It’s pretty much an oatmeal with a hidden veggie added in.”
Cauliflower hails from the same family of edibles as mustards, kales and cabbages (its name comes from the Italian for “cabbage flower”), and in recent years its florets have been roasted, grilled, fried, pickled, riced, rendered into finely ground meal and sliced as “steaks.” You’ll find it in smoothies, fried rice, fettuccine alfredo, mac and cheese, pizza crusts and meatloaf.
When J.M. Lupton wrote “Cabbage and Cauliflower for Profit,” the work’s 1895 preface noted that the cauliflower was “almost unknown in some markets.” In contrast, a book listing 75 “feel-good” recipes for cauliflower described it as “the world’s most versatile vegetable.”
Readying a recipe for supermarket shelves
Sun and her business partner, Taylor Hurley, wanted to create something for the traditional supermarket oatmeal aisle – a pouch that could sit on the shelf in the pantry, lasting for months, as a breakfast option built around freeze-dried cauliflower. After calling around to freeze-dried cauliflower sources from Australia to the Netherlands, they found a source.
“We felt like breakfast wasn’t complete enough – carbs aren’t enough to keep you full until lunch,” Sun said.
Their idea for adding cauliflower to a traditional oatmeal, thus boosting daily vegetable intake, has been augmented with other ingredients as well. In addition to a 1:1 ratio of cauliflower to oats, they added a rice protein powder so that each serving has 10 grams of protein, and flax seeds to reach 7 grams of fiber per serving. Based on experiment, Sun observed that Americans used to a low-fiber diet find that high numbers lead to systemic distress.
In their continuing pursuit of the fondly familiar American oatmeal taste, they knew they’d be adding sweetener – despite a personal preference for dates, they thought a majority of people might prefer the milder flavor of coconut sugar after testing across friends and acquaintances.
“We wanted it sweet enough that you can eat the oatmeal alone and it tastes good, and we wanted to keep it under 10 grams of sugar,” Sun said.
She started talking with University of Michigan alumni who had gone on to create food brands to learn about early staging and manufacturing. She and Hurley dubbed their nascent endeavor Brassi (a nod to cauliflower’s membership in the brassica family of vegetables) and have funded themselves initially.
Sun discovered that there were so many emerging consumer-packaged-goods brands that many manufacturers and packaging enterprises allowed for very low minimums of a few thousand units at a time.
“I think just the two of us, we wear all the hats, from manufacturing to marketing to business model and financing,” Sun said. “Sometimes we do get a little burnt out, especially during the taste-test period. I ate so much oatmeal for breakfast, try some for a midday snack, try some after dinner – there were some days when I was, like, ‘Nope, no more.’”
She said having a co-founder to share the initial rush with – they just launched pre-orders, while also studying as full-time students – has helped maintain balance.
A common next step for a product like this would be to find a co-packer that can manage all of the manufacturing for Brassi and find a distributor to manage logistics for distributing the product, leaving Sun and Hurley in a more strategic, less hands-on position. Sun said they’re playing with an expanded line of oatmeal flavors but also exploring savory products like risotto that could expand Brassi into lunch and dinner. Asked whether broccoli oats were also on the horizon, Sun said they perceived an American reserve about green flecks in breakfast comfort food.
“There’s a lot of people on Instagram who do zoats – zucchini oats – there are a lot of different options,” she said. “What I love about cauliflower is that it is so neutral, you can do whatever want to it and incorporate it into any meal.”
For more information on Brassi, visit eatbrassi.com.
Jacqueline Sun and Taylor Hurley shared a variation on the recipe that started the product development process for Brassi. It doesn’t require freeze-dried cauliflower, and all ingredients are available at typical Bay Area grocery stores.
At-Home Vanilla Cinnamon Cauli Oats
• 1/3 cup frozen riced cauliflower
• 1/3 cup rolled oats
• 1/2 serving vanilla protein powder
• 1/2 tablespoon ground flax seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
• 2 teaspoons coconut sugar
• 3⁄4 cup water
• Sprinkle of salt
Combine ingredients in pot on medium-high heat. Stir and cook 3-5 minutes until desired consistency. Top with favorite toppings. Sun and Hurley recommend a spoonful of nut/seed butter, fresh fruit, chopped nuts and a drizzle of maple syrup or honey.