Mona Radouani remembers like it was yesterday: her mother and her aunts making Harissa as part of their daylong work in the kitchen off the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. She always loved the incredible, mouthwatering savor of Harissa—a hot chili pepper paste.
After 15 years in the United States, Radouani founded Caldo Foods with the vision of bottling Harissa so that that everyone in America might reach for it to heat up a variety of dishes. “Caldo Foods’ products are part of the healthy Mediterranean diet, the healthiest diet known,” says Radouani.
“Caldo means ‘spicy hot!’ in Italian,” Radouani explains.
Harissa combines hot peppers with garlic, tomato and other fresh ingredients. It can be added to salads, sandwiches and meat dishes. Caldo Foods makes it in three varieties: Traditional, Smoky and Fierce.
In addition to the Harissa, Caldo Foods offers other products:
Chopped carrot dip—a unique product in the marketplace,
Chimichuri—used mainly as a meat sauce and based out of basil and other fresh ingredients;
Grilled vegetable salad that can also be used as a dip; and
Dried spice rubs for fish, meat and chicken.
“My husband and I love Harissa, and we wanted to share it with people here,” explains Radouani. “We use our family recipe, but we updated it so that it is more versatile and could be used with almost any dish to add flavor.”
The Radouanis’ Harissa was a hit with friends, and they started making it for parties, holiday celebrations and giving it as gifts.
One of the first challenges they faced in translating their home recipe into a manufactured product was finding an economical source for the volume of peppers and other ingredients they needed. That’s where AURI Senior Scientist of Food & Nutrition Charan Wadhawan came in. Wadhawan helped Radouani find the right supplier.
“For clients looking to source fresh food ingredients, there are two types of sources—manufacturers and food brokers,” said Wadhawan, who works in AURI’s Crookston-based food lab. “When we are dealing with small-to-medium size clients, they often need to connect with the food brokers.”
Wadhawan also helped connect Caldo Foods to co-packers that could manufacture the product to their standards. AURI identifies possible co-packers through its network of resources, including past clients. In addition, Wadhawan conducted the nutritional analysis necessary for labeling, provided shelf-life guidance and offered regulation assistance.
“There are already some Harissas on the market. The main difference is that the ones you can find in the stores are either too watered down, or they use vinegar and have a strong aftertaste,” explains Radouani. “We don’t use vinegar. We don’t use preservatives—only fresh food ingredients.”
AURI also connected the Radouanis to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s marketing division to help with distribution ideas. Watch for Caldo Foods’ items in retailers’ cases soon, as the Radouanis begin to get their product into the market.
Adding Caldo Foods’ products can turn a simple dish into a fancy plate. Add Harissa to mac and cheese to make a savory dish that even adults enjoy. Caldo Foods’ products can be ordered online at caldofoods.com and by phone at 612.284.2110.
Idea to reality:
Commercialize a spicy pepper medley from the Mediterranean shores of North Africa, known as Harissa, and make it something that the average consumer uses to add savor to a variety of everyday foods.
Connect the entrepreneurs with food brokers to source their ingredients and co-packers to manufacture the product to the owners’ standards. Conduct nutritional analysis, pH and water activity testing; provide shelf-life guidance; offer regulation assistance; and develop the required information for labeling.
Caldo Foods has products to take to retailers and trade shows in order to begin distributing their product.