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The Secret to Healthier Coffee? A Special Kind of Dirt

Following a cancer diagnosis, the mother-son duo behind Dirt Food invented a recipe to alkalize acidic foods
Courtesy of Dirt Food

By Holly Regan

“Would you like to try my dirty balls?”

It’s not what you expect to hear at the farmers market, much less from a fresh-faced, wide-smiling young man. And then comes the reply from his mom: “They’re not his balls. They’re my balls,” she deadpans.

Dirty Balls are the flagship product of Dirt Food, a San Diego business operating according to the adage that food is medicine. Founded by Nikka Blunt, who runs the company with her son Anthony, its VP of customer relations, Dirt Food sprouted from their home kitchen before reaching local retailers and farmers market stands around SD and, eventually, sprawling beyond city limits. 

They joke because they’ve moved through pain and fear to be here. Ten years ago, they never would have imagined it. 

Mother and Son founders of Dirt Food  Nikka and Anthony Blunt at a farmers market stand in San Diego

In 2012, Nikka’s life changed. She had pushed through 16 years in a high-powered corporate job, once ringing the bell on the New York Stock Exchange, and it was wearing her out. That’s when she was diagnosed with cancer—the first time. Her body was trying to tell her something, it seemed. In 2014, while living in Texas and going through a divorce, she quit her job to try and heal.

“She did the ‘normal’ route, beginning with chemo and radiation, and it didn’t work at all for her,” Anthony says. “It was destroying everything, and you just hope it kills the cancer first.” Watching his mom wither away was heartbreaking for Anthony, in high school at the time. “In the middle of it, she said, ‘I can’t do this,’” he recalls.  

In 2016, she was diagnosed again, with uterine cancer this time. Nikka became determined to find a more holistic way of healing. Anthony, having since gone to college, wanted to support her, and came home. The two left Texas and moved back to Nikka’s native California. 

“I started treatment—surgery and radiation and chemo—and immediately felt like I was dying inside,” Nikka says. “I thought nutrition and fitness would be a better route for me.”

Certain studies have found that acidic diets are associated with increased risks of cancer and plant-based, alkaline diets with lower ones. Nikka’s nutritionist said to immediately eliminate gluten, processed sugar, dairy, animal products, and coffee and black tea.

While changing her diet was hard, Nikka could stand to part with all of it—except those last two. 

The nutritionist told her, “‘If you can alkalize it, you can keep it,’” Nikka recalls. “I immediately went to work in my kitchen, trying to figure that out as a non-scientist.” 

Mother and son became alchemists, pulling spices out of the pantry and trying different combinations to balance coffee’s pH, using themselves as the guinea pigs. Baking soda turns coffee alkaline, but they needed to make it taste good, too. “We began playing with different ways to alkalize [the mix] that were both delicious and nutritious,” Anthony says. 

Dirt Food's Alkalizing Dirt Spice superfood creamer at a San Diego farmer's market for sale

They eventually created a sweet-and-spicy mix based on Ayurvedic principles of balancing elements: cardamom for its cooling effect on the body, as well as warming spices that support digestion, like ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne. They went through four iterations of the melange before arriving at the current version of the Dirt Spice blend, which also includes cacao, turmeric, Ceylon cinnamon, nutmeg, and powdered coconut sugar, milk, and oil, plus supplements like maca and magnesium citrate.

“If you can tune in and listen, your body will tell you exactly what it needs,” Anthony says. Nikka realized she had not only won back her coffee, but had a remarkable, multipurpose food on her hands. She devoted herself to starting a business in 2019, and Anthony soon joined full-time.

They started baking with the spice, testing granolas with family and friends, and people began begging them to sell it. When a cancer-charity partner asked for a more portable snack—not granola, but “little balls”—Nikka and Anthony couldn’t help themselves, creating the now-infamous “Dirty Balls.” Today, they’re the cornerstone of the business. 

Dirt Food's Protein Dirty Balls available for sale at a San Diego farmers market

The whole experience changed the way the Blunts live, eat, and work. “I learned so much about how what we’re eating can either hurt or help,” Nikka says. 

Nutrition, they learned, is about more than just eating vegetables or avoiding certain foods. It involves examining the whole ecosystem of your diet, behavior, and environment, as well as the invisible systems within your body, bringing balance and intention to them all. On top of a new workout routine for Nikka, they started adding the Dirt Spice mix to everything, even spaghetti sauce to temper tomatoes’ acidity. 

Dirt Spice is the primary ingredient in their superfood snacks, which Nikka and Anthony began selling at San Diego area farmers’ markets in 2023, starting with Scripps’ Ranch and expanding to six weekly stands, including the bustling Little Italy and Hillcrest markets. 

During the pandemic, the pair cultivated relationships with local hotels, cafés, shops, and wellness centers, where they still sell today. They’ve also expanded to nationwide distribution online and through Amazon, growing their booming business. Nikka and Anthony have even applied to Shark Tank.

Best of all, Nikka’s cancer is in remission. Now their goal is not only to feed people, but educate them about the body’s natural capacity to heal through more focused nutrition, one bag of alkalizing dirty balls at a time.

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