Ingrained Granola: Where Functional Food Meets Art

  • Written By:Julia McVeigh
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My recipes are super-balanced, so that way you feel like you can go and do the damn thing. I don't think food should be the damn thing.

by Julia McVeigh

If you are what you eat, I want to be one of Sydney Verwilst’s Functional Frozen bars. Interesting choice, I know. But just one quick scroll through the Instagram feed of Ingrained — her adaptogen-based food company—and it’s quickly apparent why.

For one, these bars gorgeous: More art than food, really—with technicolor pops of color, psychedelic patterns and an incandescent, sparkly finish. None of it artificial, either; although they may look like Pop Tarts on steroids, but they’re crafted from wholesome ingredients like sprouted cashews, acid-green spirulina, and antioxidant-rich Pitaya. And their delectable sheen? It’s courtesy of their frozen-to-perfection finish.

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But I don’t just want to look good, I want to feel good, too — and Verwilst’s Ingrained creations are most certainly feel-good foods.

She explains, “They’re totally functional: Balanced in fats, fiber, protein and carbs. So, you’re getting all of that nutrition when you eat them.” For Verwilst, striving to attain this optimal balance is all part of her self-proclaimed fascination with the power of food and, fittingly, the driving principle behind Ingrained. She elaborates, “I always had this fascination with fueling yourself with certain things and manipulating the way you feel via what you eat. It’s about tuning into your body when you eat and being very mindful in the process.”

Although her mission is clear now, Ingrained began, like many start-ups do, as part-hobby, part-creative outlet. Verwilst was working in a corporate job, feeling depleted and uninspired; in her free time, she would make granola. Friends, impressed, encouraged her to try and sell her goods locally. She designed her own label, packaged up her creations and walked them down to a local food store. Soon enough, Ingrained granola— with unusual flavor combinations like lemon and lavender—was selling out within hours. Not a small accomplishment, given how saturated of a category granola is.

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It’s about tuning into your body when you eat and being very mindful in the process.

Subsequently, her Ingrained product line started expanding, with her Functional Frozen bars earning a rabid, cult following. These creations, crafted from whole foods and adaptogens, offer a “dessert-type of feel,” without any of the associated guilt, a concept Verwilst admittedly wrestles with. “I grew up with an unhealthy relationship with indulgence,” she says. “I had an eating disorder when I was about 16 years old, and I guess I never got the necessary attention to understand how to address it; it was always like, ‘Just eat more.’” She continues, “Eventually, I did get better. But now I am all about tuning in mindfully while you indulge. For example, I don't believe in Halo Top—a ‘guilt-free’ indulgence. I also don’t believe in eating an entire carton of something, even if it is low-calorie. That’s not a healthy relationship with food, in my opinion.”

In this sense, Ingrained isn’t simply about food. It’s about cultivating a healthy relationship with food. Or, as Verwilst notes, “My recipes are super-balanced, so that way you feel like you can go and do the damn thing. I don't think food should be the damn thing.”

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Her customers clearly agree with this philosophy: Verwilst is swamped with orders for both her signature creations (her Rainbow Peanut Butter Functional Frozen Bar and Original Granola are her best-sellers) as well as made-to-order bars, wherein she custom-creates a recipe to adapt to a customer’s daily habits. Consequently, she’s opening a pop-up shop in Chicago’s River North neighborhood for this summer.

For now, only Chicagoans can enjoy Ingrained’s raw creations—but watch this space, as Verwilst’s success seems assured. (Or watch this space and drool, as I do… mindfully, of course.)

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