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This past November, North Shore native Ashley Stevens opened her Middleton storefront for Earthy Krunchy, a brand of all-natural, gluten-free, protein-packed kale chips.

Before she opened her brick-and-mortar, she was making her chips at Kitchen Local, a shared kitchen space in Amesbury, and selling them at local farmers markets. And before that, she was making them at home, for herself, when she was working for major food brands like Hershey and travelling a lot.

“I was on the road constantly and needed a really healthy snack, so I started experimenting with a teeny dehydrator right in my kitchen,” said Stevens, who’s from North Andover. “It took me about five years to perfect the three recipes that we have now.”

Those three kale chip recipes are Sour Cream and Onion, Spicy, and Cheezy Lemon Garlic, and they’re all vegan and gluten-, dairy-, and soy-free. And they all contain a whopping 18 grams of protein per bag.

The protein comes from a special mixture of nuts, seeds, and vegetables, like cashews and sunflower seeds, coating the kale. “You’ll find that it’s a thicker, heavier, crunchier chip than some other more fragile kale chips,” said Stevens. “I wanted to make them thicker in consistency and have more protein than any of the other kale chips on the market, while also keeping them vegan and gluten-free.”

So it’s no wonder it took her five years to perfect her recipes. Stevens has stayed true to her vision all this time, making nutrient-dense, healthy snacks with ingredients you can feel good about. “It’s so much trial and error, but I always want to make sure that we’re giving people the healthiest ingredients,” said Stevens. She said that means using real vegetables and using local farms when possible to get the freshest ingredients. “We want to make sure that not only does it taste great, but we’re also providing a really healthy snack for people.”

Earthy Krunchy now makes all of its kale chips in a kitchen at their Middleton storefront. They turn the kale into chips by dehydrating it at low temperatures, around 115 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, for twelve to fourteen hours. “When you dehydrate it at low temperatures, you retain the nutrients, so you’re left with a crunchy chip that contains the same health benefits as the raw vegetables,” explained Stevens. Cooking vegetables at high temperatures in an oven often results in nutrient loss, which is what Earthy Krunchy’s ambient temperature dehydration method combats. “You’re preserving all the nutrients but pulling out the moisture.”

And kale has a whole lot of nutrients. Besides packing huge quantities of vitamins K, A, and C, it also contains fiber, potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium. It has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to reduce cholesterol. “Kale is an absolute nutritional powerhouse!” said Stevens. 

Earthy Krunchy also carries what they call Veggie Toppers, made from the same ingredients as the kale chips, but in seasoning form. “That actually came about because customers were telling us at the end of the bag, the crumbs of the kale chips, they were putting on top of stuff,” said Stevens. You can sprinkle the toppers on wraps, salads, or bowls, or you can even make a salad dressing out of it.

As part of its commitment to sustainability, Earthy Krunchy works with local farms as much as possible. When kale is in season here in New England, they buy mostly from First Light Farm in Hamilton. Even out of season, Stevens said that she can get some kale from local greenhouses. They also prioritize sustainability with the energy-conserving dehydrators and dishwashers in their facilities.

Besides Middleton, you can find Earthy Krunchy at a bunch of local markets and shops. They’re currently at the Newburyport, Hingham, and Somerville winter farmers markets, and, come summer, they’ll be at SoWa and Greenway Open Market in Boston. They’ve also recently started wholesaling at local cafés and specialty grocers. 

But if you decide to step into the Middleton store, you can find unique, locally made crafts and gifts alongside Earthy Krunchy snacks. “We wanted the store to be a collaboration of makers, so most of our items are from local, women-owned businesses,” said Stevens. Think: jewelry, handbags, candles, baking mixes, and other local items.

In the future, the brand plans to launch other dehydrated snacks made with healthy, nutrient-dense ingredients, while always keeping them vegan and dairy- and gluten-free, and staying true to their mission of providing convenient, healthy snacks on the run to customers who don’t always have to time to prioritize healthy foods. “It’s not an easy process—it takes twelve to fourteen hours,” said Stevens, “But we do all this work to provide that for customers. To provide them with healthy nutrition.”

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