Swamp Seeds are a spicy hit

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Cathy Bryant, president of Louisiana Swamp House LLC, is surrounded by packages of Swamp Seeds. They are sunflower seeds seasoned with crawfish boil spices.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Cathy Bryant, president of Louisiana Swamp House LLC, is surrounded by packages of Swamp Seeds. They are sunflower seeds seasoned with crawfish boil spices.

A snack developed by two local friends that fuses the taste of boiled crawfish with sunflower seeds is catching on across the South.

Swamp Seeds are now sold in nearly 10,000 grocery and convenience stores from Texas to Florida, said Cathy Bryant, of Central. A new distribution deal has put the seeds in concession stands at Alex Box Stadium and Tiger Park, meaning LSU baseball and softball fans can munch on the spicy treats while watching the Tigers play.

In spring 2011, Marshall Beall, of Baton Rouge, went to his friend Bryant with a suggestion: How about making sunflower seeds that taste like boiled crawfish?

Bryant operated some small restaurants on the Honduran island of Utila as a side to her business here of hanging wallpaper. But in 2005, Bryant underwent a hip replacement surgery, which made it difficult for her to climb ladders and forced her to find a new career after 30 years.

“For several years, I was looking for something to do,” Bryant, 55, said last week while on her way to Sulphur Springs, Texas, carrying a rental truck full of Swamp Seeds to a distributor.

After Beall talked to her, Bryant started tinkering in her kitchen. She eventually came up with a recipe that merged the cayenne pepper, salt, onion, lemon and garlic flavors of crawfish boil seasoning.

“I started craving them,” she said.

Then Bryant’s son made some drawings of crawfish and a shrimp wearing sunglasses and relaxing in a boiling pot, like it was a hot tub, and Swamp Seeds had a logo.

Bryant and Beall formed Louisiana Swamp House LLC to sell the seeds. Bryant handles the marketing and distribution. Beall owns the trademark, orders the seeds and handles the roasting and bagging.

At first, Bryant was roasting and seasoning the seeds in her home and selling the seeds out of her car, taking them to small grocery and convenience stores. By fall 2011, Church Point Wholesale started carrying the seeds, putting them in Cracker Barrel convenience stores across Louisiana.

“I got lucky,” Bryant said. “Really, really lucky.”

The seeds are currently being roasted and seasoned in Crookston, Minn., by SunOpta, a maker and distributor of healthy snacks.

Doug Cossette, who used to work for Frito Lay, helped invent the process that is used to brine, season and roast the seeds.

Bryant said a secret process that is as much about the roasting as the spice recipe is used to get the boil flavor through the seed.

Swamp Seeds can be found in a number of grocery and convenience stores across the South, including Winn-Dixie, H-E-B and Rouses.

This year the seeds were introduced at concession stands in Alex Box Stadium and Tiger Park.

“They were a perfect fit,” Larry Wallace, director of LSU concessions, said in an email. “It allows us to offer options to our fans.”

Wallace said the seeds have been selling great, although he gave no specific numbers. Plans are in the works to sell the seeds at Bayou Country Superfest over Memorial Day weekend, and Swamp Seeds may be available in Tiger Stadium for LSU football games this fall.

“We always look for new items to keep us current and exciting,” Wallace said.

The next product for Louisiana Swamp House is Swamp Nuts — corn nuts with a boiled crawfish flavor.

“They taste like corn out of the crawfish pot,” Bryant said.

Swamp Nuts should hit store shelves on May 1.

Bryant is also working on seeds that taste like gumbo. Bryant has spent more than a year tinkering with a recipe and working with a spice company in Georgia that figures out how to translate the seeds she makes in her home to a commercial scale.

It’s been difficult to get the subtle flavors of gumbo to work with the sunflower seeds but the recipe is close.

“The last batch tasted and smelled like gumbo, but not like my gumbo,” she said.

If all goes well, those should be released in the fall, just in time for gumbo season.

Bryant also wants to move production of Swamp Seeds to Baton Rouge. Once she starts selling 100,000 bags of seeds a month on a regular basis, she’ll build a plant here. Swamp Seeds are on track to sell 100,000 bags in April, so the move may happen soon.

“I’m all about Louisiana,” she said. “And it will be so much easier to make the seeds here.”