Making It: Chutni Punch
Maker: Sahithya Wintrich, founder and owner
Business: Chutni Punch
Location: Shaker Heights
Sahithya Wintrich is an energetic self-starter who lives in Shaker Heights with her husband and two children. With a background in biomedical and software engineering, she may seem like an unlikely entrepreneur to be selling a food product she developed herself.
But adding spice to people's lives is what Wintrich set out to do with Chutni Punch, a goal inspired by her own life and experiences.
"I've got two little kids, and, you know, you give them something that isn't flavorful, they're not going to come back for seconds," said Wintrich. "The idea is how do you add flavor to food without fillers and additives and other partially hydrogenated oils or other things that are bad for you?"
A South Indian food
The Chutni Punch product line includes a set of three unique and colorful flavors of fragrant finishing spices, inspired by the tastes of India. The flavors are spicy peanut, savory channa and super sesame.
A finishing spice is added to an already prepared meal, as opposed to an ingredient during preparation. Much like salt or pepper, Chutni Punch is sprinkled on eggs, toast, or any other food that could use a kick of flavor.
"Chutni Punch is a South Indian condiment, so it's based on South Indian flavors," said Wintrich.
The four main ingredients of all three flavors are chili peppers, curry leaves, tamarind and jaggery, which is a form of brown sugar. Wintrich was born and raised in India and this personal connection to her ingredients is instilled in the final product she sells.
"I would just climb up these tamarind trees and pull the fruit right off the tree and chew on it," said Wintrich of growing up in India.
Wintrich recently took a trip back to where she was born to see some of the ingredients she uses up close and personal.
"There's a huge region in India called Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, and it's one of the hottest regions in India. So it's perfect for growing chilies," Wintrich said. "And it was super cool to visit these farms, see these chili plants actually producing the fruit and how they grade these chilies. It's a very manual process."
On the trip, Wintrich also observed the production of turmeric and other flavorful Chutni Punch ingredients.
"It was actually a really cool experience to relive some of that and relearn some of that," said Wintrich.
The four main ingredients of Chutni Punch are then accented with the individual ingredients that make up the different flavors.
The name of the product makes most Americans think of the chutney that is like a salsa, or a wet condiment kept jarred in a refrigerator.
"We have chutneys that are salsas, but we also have chutneys that are shelf stable and dry. And that's what Chutni Punch is," said Wintrich. "This allows you to quickly add flavor to whatever you're eating."
Pivot of Purpose
Wintrich's foray into food production was a mix of timing and desire.
After launching an app that was stymied by the pandemic, and then a cloth mask business that was stalled by the end of the pandemic, Wintrich turned her attention to delivering flavorful, healthy foods to consumers. She brought her life experience with her.
"So when I would do lab experiments, there are all these measurements that you would do that needed to be precise," said Wintrich, "And I think that's what helped me with scaling up my recipes right off the bat."
Wintrich went from making test batches at home to producing Chutni Punch in a commercial kitchen in less than a year. The finishing spice is now available in some stores, as well as at farmers markets, where Wintrich sells the little colorfully labeled jars herself.
Locally made, locally sold
Chutni Punch is featured at the Adun spice store in the Van Aken District, as well as at Miles Market and Nature's Oasis, but most of the sales come from farmer's markets. Wintrich sells Chutni Punch herself at the North Union Farmer's Market which is on Shaker Square most of the year and in the Van Aken District during the winter months.
At the market, a constant stream of people stop for samples that Wintrich mixes with olive oil and dips bread in. She's a welcoming and friendly presence at markets, making long conversation with both the buyers and passersby.
"There are no preservatives. All the color is from ingredients, real ingredients sourced from nature. And I think that's very important to me," said Wintrich.
She also sources as much as she can from local farmers, including her golden flax from Stutzman Farms in Millersburg, Ohio.
Wintrich prides herself on the health value and taste of her products, and she takes extra care to source ingredients that are good for consumers.
"I always start my production with an intention of stating that whatever food we produce helps people be well, that they're nourished," said Wintrich. "And that they have a great experience with eating. Because all that plays into our wellness and our health."