Guava is a tropical fruit that is not that well known in North Carolina. The plants are native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. Yet, Caroline Starnes, who lives in Charlotte, has had success in finding a guava spread that is fast becoming a favorite. It is made with two-thirds guava, one-third butter, and various seasonings.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here are no artificial flavors, ingredients, or high fructose corn syrup. As her husband, Mark, (an IT man) attests, and she says, the spreads are “just yummy.” It was on their honeymoon in Puerto Rico four years ago, when Caroline noticed that her husband, normally a selective eater, had fallen in love with guava. She sat up and took notice. Then when a local person commented that “guava is the taste that most people are missing,” the idea of producing her spreads for market was born.
Guava Love Foods currently has four distinctive flavors of spreads—almond, cinnamon, coconut lime, and lemon ginger. These are delicious on bread and toast, as an additive to various meats (pork, chicken, lamb), with cream cheese, farmer’s cheese, or perhaps as a spread between layers of a cake. Each flavor is unique and recognizable. All four flavors seem to sell equally year round, but perhaps the cinnamon less in the summer and more in the winter. Caroline is currently working on a recipe for guava dijon vinaigrette, and perhaps a flavorful (guava chipotle) marinade. This year, she was even recognized by Martha Stewart as a 2014 American Made Nominee.
So where did Caroline learn to cook? Basically at her mother’s “home cooking school.” She and her sister, who is a sommelier, both seem to have a discriminating food palate. She has traveled a lot, lived abroad twice (Paris and Nicaragua), thus tasting all kinds of different flavors and even taking a cooking course for fun in Thailand. She traveled alone in East Asia for three months. Earlier, she lived in New Mexico and worked with a jewelry company as the human resource manager.
Now she produces the guava spreads in large quantities, maybe once every two or three months in the industrial kitchens at Blue Ridge Food Ventures in Candler. Although Charlotte does have some commercial kitchens, Caroline decided to drive up to this area to work in the Blue Ridge Food Ventures facility. Here she has access to an incredible and extensive variety of equipment, as well as a talented and helpful staff. Their knowledge and experience makes opening a new business so much easier; she finds the drive worthwhile. The Blue Ridge Food Ventures is truly a “food incubator facility,” which enables small entrepreneurs to produce a marketable product. It allows them to keep their overhead to a minimum as they find their way to success.
It took a bit of learning to go from a small batch for friends and family to producing 100 jars at a time for the public. “You don’t just multiply out the quantities, but must adjust the recipe for flavor,” she said. With Michele Rogers helping in the kitchen, Caroline was made aware of all the North Carolina state rules and regulations that needed to be met. All workers must wear a hairnet when cooking, and of course, no glass of wine nearby to sip on, like she might have in her home kitchen. The packaging and labeling requirements must meet required regulations and be approved before it is allowed to be sold. Then making the product attractive for presentation on the store shelf is important too.
There are very specific rules for producing a jam, jelly, or butter that must be followed. “The NCSU Dept of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences tested my product, made the nutrition labels, and told me how to package the food to sell to the public (what they call a ‘Process Letter’). The Department of Agriculture watched me produce the food to be sure I followed the required sanitation, production, process, and packaging procedures. Happily I passed, however they do require yearly approval. Blue Ridge Food Ventures helped with this process.”
Apparently there are many types of guava. They are now cultivated throughout the tropics and subtropics (like Hawaii). Nutritionally guavas are rich in dietary fiber and vitamin C, with moderate levels of folic acid and few calories. The fruit is said to have four times the amount of vitamin C as an orange. In simple terms, guavas with a pink interior are considered sweeter than the white ones; they may have the sweetness of a strawberry. Caroline uses a pink Brazilian guava for her spreads. The guava apparently bruises easily and has many hard, but edible, seeds. She gets her product from a Cuban company that came to the United States and is based in Miami.
Currently, there are a number of stores in Charlotte, which carry her product: the Bodega, Atherton Mill & Market, the 7th Street Public Market, the Healthy Home Market, the Common Market, and the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market. Guava Love Foods will be at the Blue Ridge Food Ventures’ annual Holiday Marketplace event in December. The 10-ounce jar sells for $7.95 and a 4-pack sampler for $10.95. The LLC was only formed a year ago, so for those in other parts of the state you must go to the website at guavalovefoods.com until she gets the product in a store near you. Asheville is the next market Caroline plans to expand to, now that she has gotten her system down in her immediate area of Charlotte. She has found that her small sample size makes a wonderful gift to be offered at weddings: jars of “Guava Love” for family and guests.