Mother and daughter co-founders Jane and Joyce Zhu are reinventing candy. Using family recipes from China, their company, Numa Foods, is on a mission to bring wholesome yet delicious snacks to your pantry.
Joyce Zhu says the story of Numa Foods “started in my mother’s kitchen” and from “deriving solutions from our own heritage.” Zhu grew up with an autoimmune disease that required her to pay special attention to eating well and avoiding sugar. However, she admits to always having a “major sweet tooth.” Her mother, Jane Zhu, was quick to whip up healthy snacks inspired by traditional milk candy recipes her grandmother made in Shanghai.
These homemade snacks continued to be lifesavers for Joyce as she got older and needed to travel for work. She packed them in her suitcase for business trips and started sharing them with co-workers at the office as a healthy afternoon pick-me-up. Her colleagues loved them, and Zhu realized they were onto something special. Numa Foods was born, getting its name from the Chinese characters for daughter (nu) and mother (ma).
They brought Numa Foods to their hometown New Jersey farmers market in 2017, and people really took to it. Joyce says, “it’s one thing to hear it from friends and family. It’s another to hear it from strangers.” That gave them the confidence to take Numa Foods to the next level.
In 2018 they set up manufacturing in an 800-square foot space in Pennsylvania, equipped it with machinery from China and began experimenting. However, getting their favorite at-home recipes ready for mass production was no easy task. They did not have the money to hire food scientists at the outset and instead learned through trial and error.
Later that year, Numa Foods launched its first flavor – the original crème nougat taffy – in commercially viable packaging. Next came a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds that would allow them to launch two new flavors in 2019, and, eventually, strawberry and cream, banana, coconut and coffee good-for-you taffies.
Buoyed by their success, they launched a snack line of crispy peanut candies in 2021. These flavors, including coconut and black sesame, were met with rave reviews. According to People Magazine, Numa Foods became Mindy Kaling’s favorite food find of 2021.
The accolades continued with Women’s Health naming Numa Foods one of the best healthy candy options. Zhu says they “taste like candy and perform like a bar,” noting they are low-sugar and high protein and boast more vitamins and fewer calories than leading granola bars.
The candies are sweet but not too sweet. Instead of sugar they use maltose – or brown rice syrup – created from fermented grain in China. Numa Foods crafts their candies with carefully selected, natural ingredients, including upcycling two significant sources of global food waste: broken grain and dairy powder.
“We are packaging a lot of our stories and heritage into these little pieces of candy,” Zhu said. “Trying to convey what they are is also trying to give representation – in candy form – of the Asian American identity.”
NEXT ON THE DISH
Leave a Comment