Hailing from Houston, Jose Hernandez had a mission. To bring great tasting healthy desserts to Texans.
Today, at his company ChipMonk, Hernandez bakes with all natural ingredients and ensures all goods are diabetic-friendly, keto-friendly and gluten-free.
You may be surprised to learn that one in three people in the U.S. are dealing with diabetes or pre-diabetes, including Hernandez. In a response to these numbers, last year Hernandez and his business partner David Downing were inspired to bring more variety to the health goods market. We had to learn more about Hernandez and the ChipMonk brand.
How did you come up with the idea for ChipMonk?
I was unexpectedly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes four years ago, and my sweet tooth occasionally got the better of me. However, I was sorely disappointed by the lack of taste and clean ingredients in the “healthy” desserts on the market. So, one particularly gloomy weekend, I decided to bake a pick-me-up dessert with alternative ingredients, such as almond flour and monk fruit. I made a chocolate chip cookie, and the results were shockingly delicious.
I gave some to my roommate, David, and it just clicked. It seemed like a big opportunity to fill a market gap. So, we took some cookies to our workplace, set up a table and sold some on the spot. We launched ChipMonk shortly after.
What exactly is monk fruit? Are there other unusual ChipMonk’s ingredients?
Monk fruit is a small fruit from Southern China that was cultivated by Buddhist monks and used in Eastern medicine. The fruit is crushed to collect the extract. It has zero calories, sugar or carbs, but is 150-200 times sweeter than sugar. This makes it the ideal sweetener in low-calorie and low-carb foods and drinks, and safe for children, adults, and people with metabolic conditions. We also use allulose, a naturally occurring sugar, to make up the bulk of our sweetener. It’s low in calories, low in carbs, and like monk fruit, does not affect blood sugar.
Can you tell us about your journey with diabetes?
While I didn’t fit the typical description of a person with diabetes, my energy said otherwise. I found out my A1c (an average measurement of blood sugar over 3 months) was 6.9. For reference, 6.5 is the diabetes threshold. I was prescribed medication, but coming from a science background, I turned it down. I figured that if food led me to diabetes, I knew I could manage the disease through food too. As Socrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” So over the next 2 ½ months, I went on a strict low-carb, high-fat diet. I went back to the doctor to get my blood sugar tested again, and my A1c had fallen to 5.3. I was elated, and it reinforced my belief in holistic health.
Unfortunately, the foods I loved to eat, including bread, pasta, rice and desserts were the foods I’d had to give up. I found alternatives via vegetables for some items, but had to resort to making my own baked goods. To this day, I follow a low-carb, high-fat diet consisting of vegetables, meats, nuts, seeds and cold-pressed oils with the occasional indulgence.
What do you do in your free time when you’re not baking?
I’ve always been an active person, and I love the outdoors. I try to spend as much time in nature as possible and regularly cycle, rock climb, hike and camp. I also like to read novels, self-improvement books, and anything about sports. I like to challenge myself physically and mentally.
Who inspires you the most?
My inspiration is my grandmother, who was the master chef and baker of the family when I was growing up. She was always serving up desserts like sweet empanadas with caramel, pineapple or cheese fillings. There’s nothing quite like them. Someday, I hope to modify her recipe using low carb ingredients in an attempt to recreate my childhood, though I don’t expect to match grandma’s empanadas! In a way, I’m following in her footsteps by spreading joy through food, especially desserts.
What do you love about living in Texas?
I’m a Houston native but spent five years living in Austin and have to say that I absolutely love Texas. The state is so vast that it offers a little bit of everything. We have beaches, amazing lakes, countless state parks, two beautiful national parks (Big Bend is the best), and the Hill Country for hiking and camping. We also have four of the biggest cities in the country, and the diversity is unparalleled. Being an outdoors guy, Texas has it all, and I wouldn’t live anywhere else.
Cover: ChipMonk co-founders Jose Hernandez (left) and David Downing. Photo courtesy Michelle Nguyen Photography
Gracie Watt is an Editorial Intern at Texas Lifestyle Magazine and a junior at St. Edward’s University in Austin, studying Journalism. When she’s not writing, Watt enjoys singing, playing the guitar and doing volunteer work. @gracie.whatt