True to their name, Luminous Kitchens’ Bum Bars aren’t the fanciest snack at the coffee shop. Rustic and moist, oaty-chewy but not too sweet, these little earthy bars come plainly wrapped in clear plastic, their brown paper label as simple as can be. But the minimal packaging belies the culinary work that goes into these treats, which are not just high in protein, minerals and amino acids, but delicious enough to garner a nod from the notoriously fastidious Cook’s Illustrated editor-in-chief Christopher Kimball.
Bum Bars, made and packaged by hand in a city commercial kitchen, have always been a labor of love for Luminous founder Doug Cullen, a musician and massage therapist who lives in Crown Heights. He started the company in 2004 with his now ex-girlfriend, after spending several years tinkering with the apricot bars that became renowned by his friends.
Cullen, who is also an avid bread baker and loves to experiment with fermented foods, went meat-free over 10 years ago. “When you’re a vegetarian,” he explains, “you sort of have to learn how to cook.”
One recipe he learned early on was a hefty, energy-bar-style snack made from ingredients typically at home in health store bulk bins. it went something like this: take rolled oats, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, wheat flour, unsweetened chocolate, honey and a sweetener like barley malt syrup, throw it into the Cuisinart, then grind it up and stick it in the fridge.
Over time, Cullen’s nearly all-organic bars—which look like a wedge of flattened granola—became the apricot Bum Bar, first sold at a Greenpoint coffee shop near Cullen’s former apartment. (The name Luminous came both from Buddhist studies—the word carries deep meaning for the religion—and from a Björk song, says Cullen, who had the word as his cell phone screensaver when the company began.)
Cullen says he soon found an untapped market in places known for the lotus position—he now sells bars not just at coffee shops like Ozzie’s and Tillie’s and to specialty food stores like Marlow & Sons and Back to the Land, but also to yoga studios around the borough. (Those who partake of neither caffeine nor chaturangas can also find them online at luminouskitchen.com; $12.50 for five 2.3-ounce bars.)
Cullen makes a version with protein-and amino acid-packed hemp seeds (imported from Canada, since they’re still illegal here, he says) and another with hemp and peanut butter. He’s also been working on a kombucha tea—out soon, he hopes.
That, of course, will also have minimal packaging: his plan is to bottle it in refillable containers you can bring back to the store. Luckily, he’ll have plenty of Bum Bars to fuel his research—peanut butter or hemp, that is, since even though he still eats at least a bar a day, he’s had enough apricot to last a lifetime.
Editor’s note: Luminous Kitchens has closed.