Massachusetts K-12 schools might take the state's new school nutrition standards, which went into effect on August 1, with an air popped grain of sorghum.
Made by Sharon resident Ari Taube right here in Stoughton on Tosca Drive.
Taube's Mini Pops, a healthier alternative to popcorn, are on the Standards for Competitive Foods and Beverages List available for schools to comply with the healthier Massachusetts School Nutrition Standards.
The new rules apply to all competitive foods and beverages "sold or provided in public schools during the school day" and "from 30 minutes before the beginning of the school day until 30 minutes after the school day ends. Foods and beverages sold in vending machines must meet the standards at all times," state officials told school officials in a Nov. 15, 2011 memo. The new rules don’t affect "school meals programs, which follow USDA national guidelines," the memo says.
Taube says he is working with two distributors that will be presenting Mini Pops to Massachusetts school food service directors.
"I want as many Massachusetts schools as I possibly can to start offering Mini Pops in their school system, either in the lunch program or a snack program or a la carte," he says.
Compared to popcorn, Mini Pops has a "higher protein count. It's higher in calcium. Pound for pound, it has fewer calories and less fat," says Taube, the company's president.
The idea for Mini Pops came to Taube while he was watching an episode of "Bizarre Foods" on the Travel Channel in 2008. He had been laid off from his job as a financial planner for a financial company, and was considering starting a business.
In the episode, the featured speaker was in Ethiopia and "he was eating popped sorghum grains," Taube says.
"It’s actually quite common in places like Africa, and India as well," he says.
"But, nobody's ever really done it here in the United States. Nobody's ever really had the inclination, because sorghum isn’t grown in order to pop. Popcorn is grown in conditions so that it pops very well and efficiently. Sorghum has many different varieties, most of which don't pop very well. So, the research and development to find the right variety to pop was a challenge."
Taube says the show inspired him to try popping some in his kitchen.
"It tastes like popcorn, and it's crunchy and nutritious," he says.
And when he searched nationwide – "because I wanted to eat more of it" – no stores said they carried popped sorghum grain.
An idea to do it himself popped into his head.
Taube says he incorporated Mini Pops in September 2009, spent 18 months on research and development, and began offering bags of samples in August of 2010.
This gluten free, corn free, organic product is now available in a variety of flavors from plain to sea salt to white cheddar to "hot n' chilly chili." There are eight flavors in all, according to the company's website. A serving of most flavors of Mini Pops (1 ounce) is 90 or 100 calories and 1 gram of fat.
Organic farms in Texas and Kansas supply his sorghum grain, he says.
"I'm shipping out 3,000 bags of Mini Pops to the Nebraska Sorghum Board because these sorghum organizations now go to trade shows, and they're bringing Mini Pops with them to show what else we can do with sorghum," Taube says.