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Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023

Flash Frozen Flavors for Home Chefs

Are frozen blocks of herbs and seasonings the bouillon cubes of the future? Jon Startz thinks so. His Westlake Village company Crush Cubes now sells its product in 300 grocery stores nationwide, including all 25 Gelson’s Markets in Southern California and multiple Giant Eagle locations on the East Coast. The company plans to debut its product in Smart & Final stores in September and expand to Sprouts Farmers Markets this fall. “We’re the largest manufacturer in our category,” Startz said. “There’s nothing like us out there.” Startz conceived the idea for Crush Cubes in 2013, three years after dissolving his food distribution business to explore the retail side of the industry. “A friend asked me to come on board as a consultant for his company, which put me in contact with retailers,” Startz explained. “I became cognizant of how consumer trends were changing, and that’s when I really started looking at shapes and figures.” Ironically, the inspiration for Crush Cubes – designed as a nutritious, flavorful shortcut for busy cooks – came from a less-than-healthy source: sugar cubes. “I thought, ‘They’re so well proportioned. How do we do that with things that are good for you?’” Startz said. “I also wanted something with a long shelf life, but without preservatives.” His solution was cryogenic or “flash” freezing, a process that involves exposing foods to liquid nitrogen or solid carbon dioxide at extremely low temperatures to freeze them fast. “By flash freezing fresh herbs, we don’t have to add anything to them to keep them from spoiling,” Startz explained. “Plus, they don’t lose their health benefits.” Dr. Stephen Talcott, a professor at Texas A&M University who has studied the effects of industrial processing on produce, believes flash freezing is an ideal method for preserving herbs and spices. “If there’s such a thing as better than fresh, this is close to that,” he said. “Many people tend to think that drying or freeze drying is the healthiest way to preserve food because it doesn’t involve chemicals, but you do lose some of the nutritional value with heat exposure.” Nutrients aren’t the only casualty of traditional processing. Drying also dampens flavor and fragrance, Talcott explained. “When you thaw produce that’s been flash frozen, you’re eating it as if you’ve picked it out of your garden,” he said. “If it was frozen during its peak growing season, it’s even better.” Herbs and seasonings are just the start for Startz. “You can apply this idea to virtually any food, and our concept is all about portions – we want to be the ‘portion people,’” he said. “And we want to be in every freezer in America.” – Helen Floersh

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