Although they are commonly known as fox nuts, Nuto's popped lotus seeds are in fact the nut-free seeds of the Euryale ferox plant, a flowering water lily that is native to eastern Asia.
The plant produces bright purple flowers and small, black seeds that resemble peppercorns, which, once popped, take on a light, white and airy consistency, that is similar to popcorn or an extruded rice snack.
The seeds can be eaten both cooked or raw, and popped, spiced fox nuts are a common snack in the north and west of India while cakes and biscuits can be made from the ground flour. They are also used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine.
London-based start-up Nuto, which markets the product as ‘popped lotus seeds’, sources the fox nuts from India and ships them to the UK where they are roasted in a small amount of sunflower oil, flavoured and packed.
The co-founder and CEO of Nuto, Puja Rohailla, said that fox nuts, which are harvested twice a year, have a very plain, neutral taste when not flavoured and that supplies are "stable".
The popped lotus seeds contain 10% protein and 2.6% fibre while one bag of Nuto contains less than 100 calories.
This means they fall just short of EU rules on making a ‘source of protein’ claim – which must be at least 12% of the energy value – but could make a ‘source of fibre’ claim. For this, a product must contain at least at least 1.5 g of fibre per 100 kcal (or 3 g of fibre per 100 g).
According to a 2013 study, the seeds contain 157.6 mg per 100 g of calcium and 1.31 mg per 100 g of iron.
Currently available in two flavours –salt & pepper and maple & smoked paprika – Nuto’s product is free from preservatives and artificial colours and is gluten-free.
Rohailla told FoodNavigator she was inspired to create the brand after wanting to see more healthy, savoury snacks on the market.
“I’m a healthy eater and into fitness but love to snack. It’s not good for me because so many of the snacks out there are full of salt. When I had my baby I became even more in tune to nutrition, so it all stemmed from that.”
Speaking at the Ingredients Show at the NEC in Birmingham, Rohailla said she saw popped lotus seeds as “a whole new, healthy snack”.
“It’s not a crisp or popcorn. It can have its own shelf space,” she added.
Nuto sells online via its website with a retail price of £1.35 (€1.54) and in a few specialist shops in the UK. It also exports to Germany and Holland, and has had interest from distributors in Russia and South Korea.
The UK popcorn category has experienced steady growth over the past five years with CAGR of 18% since 2012, according to Euromonitor. Globally, salty snacks market to reach $63bn (€51.3) by 2023, according to Videojet Technologies.