Fruit-based drink gives entertaining, healthy alternative

Matching a mix

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of occasional stories on tenants at the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. That goes for recipes, too.

Elke Ellzey inherited her father’s love of entertaining friends with homemade margaritas, but her husband’s diabetes forced her to change the recipe.

That new recipe became the foundation for the Elkarita, a line of juice-based mixers used for alcoholic drinks, smoothies or marinading meat.

“There’s a lot of versatility that we’re trying to educate people on,” Ellzey said.

Elkarita mixers come in mango, pomegranate, lime and strawberry. They are low in sugar, a fact Ellzey uses to market to cooks like her, preparing food and drink for family members with strict nutrition requirements.

The odd sounding name was a natural fit for a woman named Elke, she said. When she made margaritas at a party, her friends and family would always alter the name to “Elkarita.” The logo even features a set of elk antlers rising from a margarita glass.

“Obviously, with my name, I had a ton of nicknames growing up, so I used the play on words, so to speak, and used the name,” Ellzey said.

Her odd-sounding business has its roots in her father’s love for entertaining. Friends visited the house for his margaritas and fried fish. He even had his own margarita machine, Ellzey said.

After college, Ellzey continued the family tradition, making drinks for all her friends.

But when she was married in 2000, she had to change the recipe. Her husband, David Ellzey, is diabetic, so she needed to cut the sugar.

She tried making him a drink using a powder diet drink, but it wasn’t quite right. Ellzey experimented with different ingredients. Artificial sweeteners never tasted right. Then she found stevia, a sugar substitute made from the leaves of a plant.

Using fresh limes, Ellzey had a tough time making frozen margaritas. Her neighbor, a chocolate maker, introduced her to her “secret recipe,” a fruit puree, which improved the taste of the mixer and the composition of the frozen drink, she said.

Trying several different techniques, Ellzey tested them on her husband.

“He was my guinea pig,” she said. “If it raised his blood sugar, it had too much sugar in it. It (stevia) worked like a charm. It never did.”

Two years ago, Ellzey began bottling her mixers at a food incubator in Norco. The incubator gives cooks with unique recipes a place to professionally cook and bottle their products.

Last summer, Ellzey moved her production to the LSU Agricultural Center Food Incubator at the LSU campus. There, Ellzey began working with Luis Espinoza, a food scientist with the incubator, who helps prepare the products for the supermarket shelf.

“This one is just a dream come true with him sitting there, telling you, ‘This isn’t right, you have to change this,’ ” Ellzey said. “So you know it’s going to come out like it’s supposed to.”

Around 20 stores carry Elkarita products. One of Ellzey’s supporters is Charles Rodrigue, manager of Calvin’s Bocage Market, which carries the Elkarita mixers. It’s all natural, no preservatives,” Rodrigue said, listing why he thinks the product is unique. “She just uses fruit.”

Ellzey touts the positive nutritional aspects of her product, with the number of calories placed prominently on the bottle front. With a master’s degree in clinical exercise physiology from LSU, Ellzey is a self-described “nutrition junkie.”

She teaches exercise classes and swimming lessons and acts as an exercise therapist for one client.

She hopes her part-time job promoting Elkarita could become a full-time gig. The incubator has been a place to get acquainted with the food industry, but she hopes to grow and expand.

“This is a starting place, this is a breeding ground, this is a learning place,” she said. “Their whole focus is to help get you to learn everything you need to learn and set you free.”