Exploding with flavor

Chico couple start up a popcorn-seasoning business, Noelley Belly

Photo by Ernesto Rivera

Noelle Mascareñas has been perfecting her popcorn seasoning for about nine years, making batch after batch, and testing it on friends and family. When she and her husband, Brandon, noticed platters of food that had been sprinkled with Mascareñas' seasoning disappearing at local potlucks and parties, they decided to bottle those seasonings and share them with everyone. While it started as flavoring for popcorn, Noelley Belly can be used on pretty much any food. It can be tossed on salads, roasted veggies, almonds. Flavors include original, chipotle and salt-free, with many more percolating inside Mascareñas' brain. Their vegan and gluten-free seasoning can be found locally at S&S Organic Produce and Natural Foods in Chico and Country Harvest in Paradise, plus at the Thursday Night Market. For more info, and to place an order, log onto noelleybelly.com.

How did you start this business?

Brandon: Noelle has always been very creative with making tasty foods and popcorn has always been an essential family food, so she started putting popcorn seasoning together. We'd take it to parties and potlucks and people would say, “This is the best.” Then they started saying, “You should start selling this.” So a year ago we decided to jump in head first, made a small batch and it sold out at a local event.

What role do each of you take?

Brandon: Noelle is definitely the brain child.

Noelle: I come up with the new flavors, essentially, but obviously I'm bouncing ideas off of him. My college degree is in graphic design, so I designed the labels. Then my husband started taking over more of the design and packaging. It's just us two, so we do everything.

What are your seasonings made of?

Noelle: The main ingredient is nutritional yeast. It's an all-natural ingredient. It's vegan, it's gluten free. It's high in vitamin B12, fiber and protein. It's something that's healthy for you, but it tastes really yummy.

How do you come up with different flavors?

Brandon: Noelle is very innovative, knows her spices very well, and just starts playing around in the kitchen. She tests it on the kids. We're very active in the potluck scene and we'll take bowls of popcorn and food with the seasonings to test them out.

Noelle: With the chipotle flavor, for instance, my son really likes Flamin' Hot Cheetos. They taste really yummy, but they have MSG in them and red dye, so I wanted to come up with a healthier alternative.

Why popcorn?

Brandon: There is something novel about something that transforms from a kernel to something that is fluffy and white. It went from a kind of a necessity and something that was a novelty to something that's … kind of ubiquitous.

Noelle: Everyone identifies with popcorn. Everyone likes to go to movie theaters, so it's kind of that nostalgic feeling. It's a simple snack. It's got a nice crunch.

—Ernesto Rivera