‘Good on everything’
Making artisan trail mix in Forest Ranch
“We don’t even like to call it ‘trail mix,’ because it’s fresher and better than your average trail mix. We call it ‘Swizz Mix,’” said Melissa Jean, co-owner—along with her mother, Debbie Jean-Worley—of the Forest Ranch-based healthful-snack company.
Indeed, Swizz Mix is not your run-of-the-mill supermarket trail mix. Named after Melissa, whose nickname (given to her by her mother) is “Swizzle Stick,” Swizz Mix is loaded with such delectable items as dates, cashews, almonds, Zante currants, pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries, depending on the particular variety. The mixes come in four flavors: Fruity Fiber Mix, Flax and Fruit Mix, Sweet and Spicy Mix, and Nutty Protein Mix. The nuts and seeds start out raw and are chopped and toasted by Melissa and her mother before being mixed with other ingredients.
“We were just really searching for a healthier alternative to the old, dry-looking, sugary grocery-store stuff,” said Melissa of the impetus for creating the line of delicious, healthful dried fruit, nut and seed mixes. The women were also influenced by a list of the eight most common allergens that was put out by gluten-free and “allergy-friendly” natural-food producer, Enjoy Life Foods, a list that includes wheat, dairy products, peanuts and soy.
“We have no peanuts, no raisins and no preservatives—it’s healthier,” said Debbie. “Generally, the first two ingredients listed [in most trail mixes] seem to be peanuts and raisins.” Raisins and peanuts, she pointed out, are often included because they are the most inexpensive. In addition to being free of peanuts, Swizz Mix products are gluten-, cholesterol-, soy-, wheat-, sugar- and added-oil free, as well as being vegan.
“We try to buy as many of our products locally as possible,” Debbie added. The walnuts used in Nutty Protein Mix (which also includes, among other things, cashews, almonds, dried cranberries and apricots), for example, are locally grown.
The 52-year-old Debbie is a former longtime daycare provider, and 29-year-old Melissa used to work as a personal trainer and medical assistant. The two started their business in October 2011. Today, all four varieties are sold by the 6-ounce bag ($5.25 each) online at www.swizzmix.com and at both Chico Natural Foods Cooperative and S&S Organic Produce & Natural Foods. And Fruity Fiber Mix—made up of dried dates, plums and figs mixed with almonds, walnuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and sea salt, nutmeg and cinnamon—is also available in bulk at both local stores.
Sweet and Spicy Mix is my favorite, with its mixture of almonds, cashews, dried figs, Zante currants, dried apricots, pumpkin seeds and chocolate chips, delicately “spiced” with a touch of cayenne pepper, paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt and non-alcoholic chocolate liquor (aka cocoa liquor).
In addition to selling their product locally and online, the mother/daughter business has begun to branch out. Swizz Mix is now available at Tuff Stuff Jerky Co., in nearby Browns Valley (“They approached us,” said Melissa), as well as at Full O’ Life Natural Foods Market in Burbank.
“It really puts a different spin on a bowl of cottage cheese and bananas, or yogurt,” offered Debbie. “I had a bowl of cottage cheese and bananas with Fruity Fiber Mix for breakfast this morning.”
“Stir it into a bread recipe, or a cookie recipe,” Melissa added.
“Or put it on a salad to replace the croutons,” said Debbie.
As Swizz Mix’s motto goes, “Goes on anything. Good on everything.”