As far back as her teenage years, Gaby Castro remembers being aware of the importance of healthy eating. She and her twin sister, Daniela, were known for their commitment to a healthy lifestyle. Her heritage is an interesting mix of Mexican and French and has definitely influenced her food profiles. Growing up in Mexico, she credits her mom for starting her on the healthy eating path by making healthy, delicious food. After she married and had kids, Gaby got the whole family involved in being health conscious, starting by cutting out sugary drinks and desserts. “I don’t like to put a food label, like vegan, on my eating. My family has surpassed me at being conscious eaters and scrutinizes a wide variety of issues including what foods are inflammatory, sustainability, food origins, and environmental ramifications. We are very careful to look at labels and know where our food comes from,” she comments.
When she decided to give up cheese, one of her favorite foods, she looked at alternatives to fulfill her cravings and was not satisfied with the flavors and textures of plant-based cheeses that were available. So, four years ago, she got busy in her kitchen creating her own recipes, by trial and error, until she had a plant based creamy cheese product that her friends and family loved. “Honestly, the timing was perfect to make my vision a reality. I started the company in Monterrey, Mexico and was then able to bring it here,” she comments. The origin of her almost year-old U.S. company Botko, which stands for Botanical Kitchen Organics, started in a commercial kitchen in Coronado, where she began producing her plant-based cheese and crackers to sell at farmers’ markets. Starting with Little Italy and expanding to 10 other farmers’ markets, she quickly outgrew the original kitchen, and has since moved to a larger production space in downtown San Diego. She has a storefront at 734 Park Blvd in San Diego and also sells online at www.botkofoods.com, Boney’s Bayside Market in Coronado, People’s Market in Ocean Beach, Seaside Market in Cardiff and a variety of stores in Los Angeles. Her company is prospering with many repeat and word of mouth customers. She also showcases her products at demonstrations, events, festivals and expos, including partnering with a Kombucha bar and participating in the Orange County Vegan Festival in October.
She sees the trend going more and more towards plant-based foods and feels that every restaurant should offer options. When I asked if her family had difficulty eating at restaurants, she pointed out that by talking to the waiter or chef about dietary needs, there is usually something they can create. “Sometimes it’s hard to change eating habits because we attach emotions with food, but it’s getting easier to find more delicious healthy options,” she remarks.
Her blog on the Botko website offers a variety of recipes for people to try. She highlights ways to implement products and promotes eating delicious foods while staying away from dairy and grains. She has other products in the works, including a melty cheese which she currently uses at home for enchiladas and lasagna. She is also working on yogurt and cream options, grain-free tortillas and chips, and has the goal to make all her products exclusively organic.
Botko currently has 15 to 20 employees, between the U.S. and Mexico companies, and she hopes to grow it to an industrial capacity. She said that it is a full-time job, but not at the expense of her personal life. “I believe whatever you pursue has to connect with a balanced life. I strive to be effective without being out of balance,” she says. Her favorite guilty pleasure foods (but always healthy) are Persian and Italian, but points out her everyday reality is healthy Mexican and French cuisine.
Botko cheese spreads are made from different nuts because they offer different benefits; for example, almonds have more protein and cashews are pasteurized. Nuts are an excellent source of nutrients and provide a great flavor profile. She is looking into incorporating other nuts, like macadamia nuts. With her almond based cheeses, you can simply add water and make them creamier for additional uses. Botko currently offers five flavors, including original, fine herbs, and a nod to her Latin heritage with jalapeno, chipotle and nacho. They also offer a cracker line. These delicious Botko products are not only non-GMO and plant based, but dairy-, gluten-, grain- and soy-free. They are high in biotin and vitamin E, which are good sources of copper and work for keto, paleo, vegan and other diets.
Gaby grew up coming to Coronado with her family on vacation and she and her husband Alberto Garza moved here with their three children Alberto, Gaby, and Sienna in 2011. They recently hosted the Coronado MainStreet Garden Party fundraiser at their beautifully renovated 1914 historic home. She and her family have embraced Coronado and truly live the lifestyle of their Botko brand. “Eating plant-based foods is proven to be important for our health, yet for most people to integrate this nutritious style is a challenging work in progress. That’s where Botko Foods come in to gently bridge people into trying really clean, yet delicious, plant-based snacks. Our mission is to craft delicious recipes for people to feel amazing and thrive on their health,” concludes Gaby.