Packing a punch: Entrepreneur offers flavors of India with line of finishing spices

Sahithya Wintrich grew up in Bangalore, Karnataka in Southern India, where she ate savory breakfasts like crepes (dosas), steamed rice and lentil cakes (idlis) with coconut chutney, and cooked semolina chock-full of vegetables and spices (upma).

She and her family emigrated to the Caribbean when Wintrich was 16, and eventually came to Cleveland, Wintrich continued to grocery shop and cook with her family.

Sahithya Wintrich - founder of CHUTNI PUNCH“When we immigrated to the Caribbean and then eventually to the United States, cooking together to make meals for the week became a weekend ritual,” she recalls. “I helped with the entire process—grocery shopping, chopping, sauteing, grinding, cooking, and cleaning. There are a few hearty stews I loved eating as a kid. I still make them during the winter every year.”

Today, Wintrich lives in Shaker Heights with her husband and two children and has a degrees in computer science and software engineering from Cleveland State University and has a background as an Agile coach.  

But she couldn’t stop thinking about the warm spices and lentils—like tamarind, turmeric, chiles, and curry leavesfrom Southern India she loved so much.

She says one day it dawned on her that she could create those dry spice combinations from her childhood—blends that are versatile enough to add a burst of flavor to just about anything.

“All you need to do is sprinkle, mix, or toss them,” she says. “My mission is to remove barriers around how you use spices and flavor your food. I want to counter the perception that using spices is complicated and overwhelming.”

So last fall Wintrich began “tinkering” with spice blends. Before long, she started thinking about starting her own business.

“That's when I had the idea of taking my family recipes for these dry condiments that are very traditional and modifying them to make them more versatile,” she says.

By June, Wintrich had launched Chutni Punch—a line of three dry spice condiments that kick up the flavor on foods that range far beyond Indian cuisine. “So instead of just using them with Indian foods or rice, you can use this these blends on pizza, potatoes, pasta, bagels,” she explains. “They're good even with just hummus.”

Wintrich makes Chutni Punch out of Central Kitchen in MidTown and  launched in June at the Shaker Square North Union Farmers Market. She says she developed the three blends to offer a variety of flavors and spice levels.

“Traditional South Indian spice condiments can vary by household, like the barbeque sauce in the U.S.,” she explains. “In India, some spice condiments are legume based while others are lentil, seeds, or leafy plant based. I wanted to create three distinctly flavored yet nutrient dense blends without any additives, colors, fillers, or preservatives. I also wanted to vary the spice levels to make them accessible to a variety of palettes and spice tolerances.”

Chutni Punch varieties are all vegan and gluten-free, have no added oils, and have varying level of heat. The three finishing spice blends are:
 
  • Savory Chana: a mild seasoning blend for a smooth and zesty zing. Roasted chickpeas make this blend earthy whereas the mushrooms add umami.
  • Super Sesame: a medium seasoning blend for a crunchy and nutty kicker. Flax, sesame and coconut give it a unique texture and nutritional yeast makes it cheesy without dairy.
  • Spicy Peanut: a hot and garlicky seasoning blend for a warm and spicy wallop. Roasted peanuts give it a good mouth feel and cumin adds to the warmth.

Before launching Chutni Punch, Wintrich tested her blends on friends and family. As an Agile coach, she says the testing component holds true in her food products as well.

"It's a way of doing work,” she says. “One of the things that we would help companies do is iterate over something—which means you create a hypothesis, you test it out, and you get feedback from your customers. It could be how a screen on a mobile app looks, or what a website looks like.”

Shakshuka with Super Sesame CHUTNI PUNCHWintrich took the same approach with Chutni Punch. “Given my background, I kind of followed the lean startup method,” she explains. “First, I created this out of my kitchen and put it in little containers and gave it to my friends and families and said, ‘Hey try this on stuff. What do you think of it? Give me feedback.’ And then and then I use that to improve my blends and develop my recipes.”

Then she took Chutni Punch to her industry friends. “I have some chef friends and other foodies who know about food,” she says. "This was all important initially to just give out these samples to people get their feedback and then iterate on it.”

Wintrich even continues to get feedback form her Farmers Market customers. “The Farmers Market has been a great source for me because I love interacting with customers,” she says. “I love hearing how they're using it, what they liked about it, what they didn't like about it. And this all informs me to create the best product I can create.”

All the three blends have four major ingredients that make them South Indian - chilies, jaggery, tamarind, and curry leaves. Wintrich tries to source her ingredients locally and domestically—with her garlic and flax seeds coming from Ohio farms; the curry leaves from a farm in California; peanuts from a local family farm in Oklahoma; and sea salt from the west coast.

“[It’s] something that easily allows you to be creative and playful,” she says. “Something that enlivens all of your taste buds—something so magical that it has you craving for more.”

Wintrich says the easiest way to try Chutni Punch is to mix it with a good olive or neutral oil and dip some warm bread or rice crackers into it. “Once you can taste the flavors and heat level, you can start experimenting adding it to your favorite meals,” she says.

Wintrich also tries to ensure that the packaging is sustainable and recyclable—using recycled cardboard and paper labels to biodegradable cellulose sealing shrink bands.

Chutni Punch is available online in two-ounce jars and cost $12 each; $35 for the three-pack. Customers can order online, and she still sells at the Shaker Square Farmers Market (at least until the weather turns too cold). Wintrich’s products are also available at Adun Spice Company in Shaker Heights’ Van Aken District, Still Point Gallery & Boutique in Cleveland Heights, Gingham Market in Lakewood, and The Grocery Kitchen + Market in Hingetown.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.