Living On the Veg

Nüssli118°Photos courtesy of Nüssli118°.

Nüssli118° creates plant-based treats that defy stereotypes and delight taste buds

It sits on the plate before you, and you do your best not to simply stuff the whole thing into your mouth.

It’s a lemon square. Specifically: A ginger-lemon square with a light maple glaze, on a crust of almonds and cashews, with a creamed cashew center. But, honestly, your eyes and your stomach are ready to pass over such details. No, what’s important to them is, How does it taste? As good as it looks, or…?

Spoiler alert: It looks great and tastes even better than great. Just like everything else served up by Angela Hofmann in her boutique shop Nüssli118° on Mass Ave., where for the past five years she’s been evangelizing the benefits—to people and planet—of a plant-based diet.

And she’s been doing it in the most effective way possible: making ridiculously delicious things. The lemon square and its chocolate counterpart; truffles sweetened with coconut nectar and covered in almonds and cacao nibs; granola sweetened with pear; coconut rounds made from dates; a thick, rich vanilla chai smoothie.

We’d go on, but you’re probably out the door and heading to her shop already.

There you will find Hofmann, with a smile that goes all the way up to her bright eyes. Fifteen years ago, she was a “pretty standard American diet eater” who was pre-diabetic and confounded by the onset of food sensitivities. 

“I started having digestive issues and went on an elimination diet,” she says. “When I started adding back in all the food allergens, like dairy and gluten, I really had a reaction to it.”

Determined to find a way to replace things she loved, like crackers and sweets, she dove into research and determined that a plant-based diet was the best way to go. And because she didn’t want to put the burden on her friends and family to make sure she could eat at gatherings, Hofmann started experimenting with recipes for food she could bring and share that everyone would enjoy.

“That’s sort of how I started creating all these foods,” she says. “I’d ask, ‘What do I have a craving for? I want a cracker.’ But I can’t have a Ritz cracker, that’s like death for me, so what can I make?”

What she ultimately made was a cauliflower and sprouted-seed cracker. It looks artisanal, like something that comes from a restaurant kitchen rather than a box, and if it lacks the crisp snap of a flour-based baked good, it has a pleasingly robust flavor that definitely says “cracker.”

Her experiments were a success with her family, including her Swiss husband, Werner, whom she met at the firm where they both worked as architects. When she decided to take her plant-based recipes to the people five years ago, his heritage was part of the inspiration for the name: Nüssli is Swiss-German for “little nut,” as well as a nod to Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner, the Swiss nutritionist and physician who studied the link between diet and health and who popularized muesli. And 118 degrees is the temperature at which she sprouts her seeds and nuts. 

“We sprout all our nuts and seeds,” Hofmann explains. “It activates enzymes, makes foods easier to digest. If you heat them above 118 degrees, you destroy the enzymes and heat-sensitive vitamins.”

Nüssli118°

Today, her small shop is packed with the results of her culinary experiments, which are especially noteworthy for the things they don’t contain.

“There’s no refined sugar,” says Hofmann. “No dairy, no grains, all gluten-free, no GMOs, there’s no animal products. We have soy-free and nut-free options.”

And, she adds, they represent a lighter impact on the earth than more processed foods.

“It’s huge,” she says of how a plant-based, organically sourced diet can impact the environment. “People think that if they take a shorter shower or recycle or compost, they’re making an impact that is helping the environment. But the most helpful thing people can do is not eat as much meat, not drink as much milk. It’s the factory farming of animals that really depletes our water, pollutes our air. Take a long shower, just don’t eat a hamburger.”

Or, if you must eat meat, she says, make sure it comes from a local farm that pasture-raises their animals. That’s healthier for the environment, the animals, and you.

Which raises another fact: While everything Hofmann produces in her shop is vegan, she isn’t.

“I believe in a plant-based diet, which often gets confused with veganism,” she explains. “Most of the time I am vegan, but if I go to a friend’s house and they spent the time making a beautiful meal with meat, I’m not going to not eat it. My friends call it being a flexitarian.”

The key, she says, is to emphasize the “based” part of plant-based—make it the foundation of your diet, what you eat when you’re on your own, or when you have vegetarian and vegan options while eating out.

And if you find that thought intimidating, as change can often be, she points out that cooking, whether for a vegan or vegetarian or omnivorous diet, takes time, and the more you use plant-based ingredients the more quickly you can put a meal together. “I can make a soup in five minutes if I have the right ingredients in the fridge,” she says.

If you’re still a little hesitant to take the dive, Hofmann holds monthly showcase meals that highlight seasonal fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms. “It’s a really great way to help people understand that, eating a plant-based diet, you can actually have a really beautiful gourmet dinner with plants.”

Asked if she has resources to recommend to the aspiring flexitarian, Hofmann steps over to her desk and returns, laughing, carrying a hefty stack of books.

“These aren’t even all the books—I have a whole library,” she says. “My husband thought I was crazy, he said, ‘What are you doing, getting a Ph.D. in food science?’”

Top of the stack are “Healthy Healing” by Linda Rector Page, one of the places Hofmann started her research, and “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon Morell, founding president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nutrition non-profit.

“These books really talked about the benefits of plants and the actual science and what they provide,” she says. “The overlapping thing about them both was the benefits of what a plant-based diet can give you. That’s really sort of the foundation of my understanding of food.”

That, she says, and what her body tells her when she eats this way.

“I feel great when I eat mostly vegan,” says Hofmann. “And I know it’s great for the environment, sustainability, and all of these great things.”

Nüssli118° is located at 2259 Massachusetts Ave. For more information, visit nussli118.com or call (857) 242-4188.

This story originally appeared in the Environmental Issue issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription.

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