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Health & Fit: These Spicy Cactus Snacks Are Guaranteed to Satisfy Your Crunchy Cravings

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When Regina Trillo first moved to Chicago a decade ago, she booked it to a grocery store as soon as her flight landed to scope out the authentic Mexican foods available. The Mexico City native headed to the "ethnic" aisle, hoping to check out the unique offerings in her new stomping grounds. Yet, all she saw were products from big-name brands that depicted Mexican cuisine in a stereotypical way (think: sombreros and sarapes), recalls Trillo.

Courtesy of Nemi Snacks © Provided by Shape Courtesy of Nemi Snacks

Over in the produce section, Trillo says she noticed nopales — a type of resilient cactus grown in Mexico that was a staple in her diet growing up — which still had their intimidating spikes intact. Though she was excited to find a familiar food in a non-specialty supermarket, she thought no one would buy it unless they knew how to clean off the needles and cook it properly, she explains. "Just seeing that abandoned [nopal] paddle in the produce section, pairing it with the way that I didn't feel represented when I went to see the Mexican products that were out there, and the way that these were feeding into the Mexican stereotype, that stayed with me and kept making me uncomfortable for a long time," says Trillo. (Related: 18 Latinx-Owned Wellness Brands That Have Everything You Need — and Then Some)

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Nemi is on a mission to create ultra-crunchy cactus snacks that soothe your growling stomach and bust stereotypes about Mexican culture. © Courtesy of Nemi is on a mission to create ultra-crunchy cactus snacks that soothe your growling stomach and bust stereotypes about Mexican culture.

After suffering some health issues and having to lay off her favorite snack, potato chips, Trillo says she started hunting for a new munchie that had the same crunch and savory flavor options, but with a healthier nutrition profile. Finally, it clicked: She would make her own better-for-you snack that could highlight her home country's beloved nopales and overturn stereotypes of Mexican cuisine. So, in the spring of 2019, Trillo officially launched Nemi Snacks, a company creating ultra-crunchy, pretzel-shaped sticks made from amaranth, nopal, and flax and chia seeds. "The chip that I make, that kind of format, you find in Mexico City in every corner," she says.

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Courtesy of Nemi Snacks © Provided by Shape Courtesy of Nemi Snacks

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Thanks to those traditional, yet innovative ingredients, Nemi stands out on crowded snack shelves — both in terms of nutrition and flavor. One single-serve bag of the vegan, gluten-free sticks provides 4 grams of fiber, a nutrient that supports digestive health and increases satiety, and 6 grams of protein, which plays a key role in building and repairing cells, tissue, and muscle. Likewise, the green cactus snacks have only 3.5 grams of fat — a third of that found in a serving of regular potato chips — from flaxseed oil, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that may be beneficial in improving cardiovascular health, according to the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.

Each of Nemi's four varieties — smoky chipotle, churro cinnamon, Mexican lime, and chile turmeric — was created with traditional Mexican flavors in mind, says Trillo. For example, the smoky chipotle version was inspired by her mom's delicious salsa, while the churro style is a riff off of the popular Mexican treat, though it gets its sweetness from dates instead of sugar, she says. Even the packaging — emblazoned with an illustration of a nopal on an eye-catching background — is designed to bust misconceptions about life south of the border. "I think it [brings] more justice to this mission of elevating Mexican cultura and showing it in a more colorful, playful, vibrant way," says Trillo.

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Nemi Snacks © Provided by Shape Nemi Snacks

Buy It: Nemi Fiesta Pack (15 bags), $50, neminative.com

It's clear that Trillo has already warmed snackers' taste buds up to novel tastes and textures that, at the same time, still feel familiar. One reviewer who tried Nemi's smoky chipotle variety called it a "healthy hot Cheeto," while another compared the chile turmeric flavor to a rice flour-based snack, called murukku, which they grew up eating in India. "[It] reminds me of the murukku but better with organic, holistic ingredients that make my taste buds dance with its amazing flavors," they wrote.

But Trillo, who's also a human rights attorney by day, believes concocting crave-worthy cactus snacks is just one of her duties as a female Latina small business owner. Trillo says she's seen firsthand that her experience launching a company from the ground up and scoring funding has been different than that of men. That's why she's focused on collaborating with women like herself throughout the supply chain, and she's currently partnered with a women-owned manufacturing facility and a female customs agent to bring Nemi to market, she says. (BTW, these Latinx-owned beauty brands will give you a proper glow-up.)

On the same token, Trillo sources Nemi's ingredients from small, independent Mexican farmers who use sustainable growing techniques, she explains. "I think as a business owner and as a snack company, we have an opportunity to create more than snacks," says Trillo. "...So when I work with vendors, when I partner with my advisors and anyone, I'm just very thoughtful of finding a way to open the door to female Latinas."

And at the end of the day, the rave reviews her cactus snacks have received so far makes that extra effort well worth it. "It's just like Mexican music to my ears."

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