I got an email from Heather Bessette, Marketing and Sales Coordinator for Lotus Foods a few weeks ago asking if I’d like to try their new rice ramen. I’d had their Forbidden Rice in the past and leaped at the chance. Here’s an interview I conducted with Caryl Levine, co-owner/co-founder of Lotus Foods to kick off this new Meet The Manufacturer!
THE RAMEN RATER> Thank you for doing this interview! Can you start by telling me a little bit about Lotus Foods’ history – how did you start?
LOTUS FOODS> During a trip to China in 1993, Ken Lee and I first tasted steaming bowls of nutty tasting black rice called hei mei, grown in the Yunnan province. We fell so in love with its flavor and texture that we returned home to the SF Bay area and started a home-based business importing Chinese black rice that we trademarked Forbidden Rice® and other rice varieties from around the world.
TRR> For my readers who aren’t familiar with your product lines, can you tell a little about them?
LF> Lotus Foods sells bulk and retail specialty rice handcrafted on small farms in remote areas of the world. More recently, we started offering what we call “Heat & Eat” bowls, which contain our specialty rices pre-cooked, so you can enjoy a serving of whole grain, heirloom rice in just 90 seconds. Our newest product is Rice Ramen, which is available in a single noodle pack with miso soup flavoring or in a four pack of just the noodle cakes.
TRR> What is the history of the Forbidden Rice?
LF> During our trip, we were told the black rice was called ‘longevity’ or ‘tribute rice’, reserved for the Emperors to ensure their good health and long life. A month later, while walking around the Forbidden City, Ken came up with name “Forbidden Rice, the emperors exclusive grain.”
TRR> How do your noodle products differ from those by other manufacturers?
LF> There are quite a few things that set our Ramen apart. Traditionally, Ramen noodles are made from wheat, and thus off-bounds to legions of consumers who are gluten intolerant. Our Ramen noodles are made from rice – and are therefore, gluten-free.
In addition, our Rice Ramen is made from our specialty, organic rices for extra flavor and nutrition. One serving of our Millet & Brown Rice Ramen, for example, contains 5 grams of protein and has 8% of your daily iron requirement.
For our Rice Ramen with the miso soup flavoring, we felt it was important to create a Ramen with less sodium than traditional Ramen soups. Millet & Brown Rice Ramen has 25% less sodium than regular Ramen soups. Forbidden Rice® and Jade Pearl Rice™ Ramen have 33% less sodium.
TRR> What made you decide to expand and your product line to ramen noodles?
LF> We felt we could bring innovation to the Ramen category. Our Ramen have exciting and new tastes never before available and they are also healthy, organic, gluten-free, and low-sodium.
TRR> Can your products be purchased outside the United States?
LF> In Canada but not yet aside from of the US and Canada!
TRR> Where do you make your noodles?
LF> Our long-time partners, who first supplied us with Forbidden Rice® 18 years ago, make our noodles in Northern China.
TRR> What was Lotus Foods’ first product?
LF> Forbidden Rice®
TRR> Are you involved in the local community/charity?
LF> We donate product to many local events and to many local and national charities.
TRR> How many packs of instant noodles can you make every year?
LF> A lot, but this product is so new – we will have to wait and see!
TRR> Have you ever thought about varieties like macaroni and cheese or pizza flavored instant noodles?
LF> We personally have not ventured that much outside of the box with our Rice Ramen!
TRR> What do people think of the varied colors of your rice and noodle products?
LF> I think people are excited by them – especially chefs and passionate cooks who see the potential to create nutritious and beautifully colored meals with Rice and Rice Ramen at the center of the plate.
TRR> Which is your favorite variety of Lotus Foods ramen and what (if anything) do you add to them?
LF> I love the Forbidden Rice Ramen ® 4 pack – it’s a fantastic, nutrient-packed noodle with high levels of anthocyanins- the same antioxidant found in blueberries. While the individual Ramen servings with the miso soup flavor envelopes are great, buying the 4 pack allows you to experiment with your own miso or dressing.
TRR> What kind of reaction have your products gotten in the United States?
LF> Very, very positive; the initial launch was beyond our expectations.
TRR> Why the name Lotus Foods?
LF> During our 1993 marketing research trip through China, when we were looking for business opportunities we called ourselves “East-West Management Company” which, it turned out, translated into Chinese could be interpreted as “constantly complaining ”. Deciding this was not a good name to launch our company, we searched for something else. Ken Lee, the other co-founder of the company, was studying the Lotus Sutra at the time and this became the inspiration for Lotus Foods.
TRR> Thank you very much for this opportunity to learn more about Lotus Foods!
There you go! Let’s check out these unique new products!