Sherry Letzelter's Pumpkin Seed Trail Mix contains pumpkin seeds, slivered almonds, dried cranberries, chocolate chips, Ohio maple syrup, and salt. But the people who buy it suspect there may be one more ingredient.
"All of my customers call my product 'crack,' because they are so addicted to it," Ms. Letzelter said.
The maple-sweetened trail mix is one of three winners announced last week of the Center for Innovative Food Technology's Food Product Development Contest. The awards help people get their food-related products ready to be sold, or sold on a bigger scale.
Ms. Letzelter, who lives in Lodi, Ohio, west of Akron, used to be a personal chef, cooking meals for a number of clients. But when the economy faltered in 2008, the market for personal chefs dried up. So she started selling homemade granola and fresh nut butters (peanut butter, almond butter, and cashew butter) at a nearby farmers' market. Other people at the market were also selling granola, so she decided to make something unique.
"We tried with different nuts and seeds, tried to come up with something that was healthy but also tasted good," the 52-year-old chef said.
"I took some things out of some recipes that I didn't like and put some things into recipes that I did like. We came up with what we have and it works amazingly well," she said.
The secret, or one of the secrets, is the pumpkin seeds. She buys them and some of the other ingredients from a nearby distributor of seeds and nuts, a fortuitous proximity that allows her to buy the raw ingredients for less than she ordinarily would have to pay.
The maple syrup, which is one of the other secrets, also comes from nearby. Medina County, where she lives, is Amish country, and she buys the syrup in 5-gallon jugs from Amish owners of maple sugar houses. She said that maple syrup -- and honey, too -- have an advantage over certain other sweeteners because once they crystallize after being heated and cooled, they don't stay sticky.
With the help and advice from CIFT, Ms. Letzelter hopes to sell her line of products in stores in Ohio and maybe beyond.
She has a good start. Last week, she learned that her Pumpkin Seed Trail Mix and a barbecue-flavored Pumpkin Seed Trail Mix will be sold in Walt Churchill's Markets.