You don’t have to be a serious mountain climber, kite surfer or rock climber to appreciate a healthy snack that packs a nutritional punch and provides instant energy. If the snacks can also taste great and help support a local economy, even better.
Jason Thomas grew up in Barrow, Alaska, learned how to hunt in the tundra and fish the open seas, and participated in many outdoor adventures. After high school, Thomas attended Alaska Pacific University, graduating in 2002 with a degree in Outdoor Studies. Driven by an intense curiosity about other cultures and landscapes, he spent the next decade traveling the world, from Alaska to Hawaii, to Europe, Morocco and Southeast Asia. He worked in many different roles, including mountain guide, archaeologist assistant, commercial fisherman and kite surfing instructor.
It was kite surfing that prompted him to visit the Philippines, where he had heard there was a little known place with great surf. It was there that he first tasted a Pili (pronounced peely) nut. In an interview in the Alaska Pacific University newsletter in February 2019, he described how the rich, earthy, buttery taste of the nut “blew me away.” Thomas wondered why he had never heard of this amazing nut and became determined to learn everything about it and where it came from. He was certain it would be immensely popular in the U.S., so he located the region where it was harvested, flew there and purchased 10 pounds to bring home.
His company, Hunter Gatherer Natural Foods, was founded with those 10 pounds of nuts, 100 plastic bags, and a sealing machine and scale purchased on Craigslist. He hired a graphic artist to design a sticker for the bags and he was in business. Combining his passion for kite surfing with his dedication to growing his company, Thomas drove up and down the West Coast, sleeping in his truck, kite surfing, passing out samples at any likely natural food store, and participating in several Paleo and Keto conventions. Slowly interest began to build. In May of 2017, Pili Nuts were carried in 50 stores as well as online. In July of 2017, the roasted nuts were described as having a texture “evocative of plant-based foie gras. (“Pili—The Delicious, Healthy Nut You’ve Never Heard Of,” by Claudia McNeilly) In January of 2018, Molly Shea of the New York Post called pili “health freaks’ nutty new darling.” By February of 2019, Pili Nuts were carried in 150 stores nationwide.
Pili nuts are a good source of magnesium and according to registered dietitian Maya Feller have a full amino acid profile, meaning they are a fantastic source of protein for vegans. Back in the Philippines, pili nuts are usually fried and coated with sugar. To make the nuts healthier, Thomas decided to sprout them and flavor them with various herbs and spices such as turmeric, chili, cacao and Himalayan salt.
The nuts are harvested by hand in the wilds of the Philippines and no pesticides, additives or preservatives are used. They are sprouted by soaking in saltwater overnight and then are dried at a low temperature (but not roasted). The drying process is necessary because the nuts can spoil if they are not dried before packaging.
Pili Hunters also sells nut butters in nine different flavors such as Hazelnut, Pumpkin Spice and Lion’s Mane, and Himalayan Salt & Coconut Oil. Specialty items include Buyo Fermented Hot Sauce, Raw Kiwot Honey, and Pili Healing Salve.