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Satisfy sweet tooth — and doctors orders

Entrepreneur-cooks' creations would cause a stir in treat aisle
by: VERN UYETAKE, Yashar Mosanen, of Caspian Blossom, cuts up halvah, a traditional Middle Eastern sweet confection, for sale. In the foreground are containers of brown rice pudding, made from his Iranian mother’s recipe, and his chocolate organic baklava.

In a basement kitchen in Southeast Portland's Pine Street Studios, the sweet smells of organic chocolate and honey mingle with the faintly tart aromas of organically grown dried cranberries and apricots.

Yashar Mosanen, owner of Caspian Blossom, liberally drizzles honey onto his fresh baked baklava. He spoons brown rice pudding into biodegradable containers.

His business partner, Elsa Tanguay-Koo, who owns Earthly Delights, assists head baker Amanda Lawrence as a sheet of rice crisp bars soon disappears under a coating of chocolate, nuts and dried fruit.

Alternative sweeteners used

Life is sweet for these three, who staff two startups that embrace a sustainable, responsible business model, all the while providing Portlanders with organic, healthy treat options.

Sold in co-ops, coffee shops and organic grocery stores around Portland, Earthly Delights' bars have become a popular choice for customers looking for a convenient snack made without preservatives, wheat or animal products, said buyer Melody Anderson of People's Co-op.

'They're great; they're gluten-free, and a lot of our members are gluten-free,' Anderson said.

Made with an original spice blend from the Caspian Sea area, the baklava contains whole-grain flour or spelt in the wheat-free version, and evaporated cane juice instead of white sugar.

Brown rice syrup is the main sweetener, with honey as the secondary. Mosanen, 32, uses Earth Balance butter substitute for the vegan baklava, and North Norris organic butter for the nonvegan version.

New diet spurred health alert

The drive for Mosanen to create organic treats grew from a desire to improve his health.

His family moved to the United States from Iran when he was a child, adopting a Western diet and eating fast food. When health problems arose, a family doctor suggested a return to their native diet.

The habit was hard to kick, and Mosanen found himself on a beer and pizza diet in college. His health suffered, but in his junior year, he became a vegetarian. Upon graduation, he began working for natural grocery stores.

'That opened up a whole new universe for me,' Mosanen said. 'That changed my life.'

Now a husband and father, Mosanen said the evolution from working in the natural foods industry and starting his own business felt like the right thing to do on many levels.

'My own want for avoiding toxic chemicals has led me to creating savories with whole grains and organic ingredients,' he says. 'And in my family, we love Middle Eastern pastries and delicacies. With Caspian Blossom, I'm melding the traditional background with a new wave of health consciousness.'

No cardboard catcalling here

Tanguay-Koo of Earthly Delights says she is proud of her bars because 'they don't taste like cardboard.'

'So many of the products out there, even the ones advertised as healthy and organic, they either aren't good for you or they just don't taste good,' she says.

Mosanen and Tanguay-Koo's treats are always fresh, with deliveries often taking place twice a week.

'When you use a three-ply flush packaging that allows you to have a two-year shelf life, is that sustainable?' Tanguay-Koo said.

Portland has been a great market for her products, she said.

'Portland is the hub in the U.S. for local, sustainable, very small businesses. We're microbusinesses; we're artisans basically, and that's really unique.'