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Popped, Pickled, and Caramelized: Trends from the 2013 Summer Fancy Food Show
I recently returned from the 2013 Summer Fancy Food Show (you’re supposed to call it the Specialty Food Show now; they’re re-branding themselves). The Show occupies Javits Convention Center in New York City, and it’s enormous. This year there were some 2400 exhibitors (yes, that’s two thousand four hundred), and I estimate that at least 90% of them offered samples. You walk and eat and walk and eat and walk and eat for six to seven hours a day for three days, or until you can’t stand up any more. It’s an incredible amount of fun, utterly exhausting/overwhelming, and open only to those associated with the specialty food trade. After walking every aisle this summer, I picked out some of the latest trends. Here they are . . .
When did this get so big? Suddenly, there has been a sharp increase in the number of smaller-scale businesses producing flavored popcorn. I’m not talking about the rainbow-colored junk you can buy at shopping malls; much of this is of far better quality, and there are some good flavors being made. If you don’t know about 479° Popcorn (www.479popcorn.com), you should. With flavors like Black Truffle + White Cheddar or Madras Curry Coconut + Cashews, it’s hard to go wrong. Try Popsalot (www.popsalot.com) for Clandestine Caramel or Saigon Sunrise, a kettle corn with the surprise (and welcome) addition of cinnamon. For microwave popcorn that’s better for you as well as the planet, there’s Quinn Popcorn (www.quinnpopcorn.com). Their Lemon and Sea Salt flavor rocks!
Multiple businesses have seen the success of companies like Rick’s Picks and Boat Street Pickles, and people are pickling almost everything that doesn’t move out of their way quickly enough, occasionally in non-traditional flavors. Conscious Choice Foods (www.consciouschoicefoods.com) has the Original Beer Pickles, “inspired by the flavor desires of long-distance bikers and barroom brawlers”. This company also has a Scary Facts section on their site which is definitely worth a look. How about Chipotle Lime Pickles or Bloody Mary Pickles? You can find both at www.fm1926.com, the online home of Farm to Market Single Barrel Pickles.
And then there’s the most unusual pickled product I saw at the Show, possibly the most unusual I’ve ever seen. It’s Slawsa (www.slawsa.com), sort of a cross between coleslaw and a salsa. There’s pickled cabbage combined with a mustard base, a bit of sweetness, and other ingredients. It’s available in Original, Spicy, Garlic, and Spicy Garlic. I never eat condiments like this, but I really enjoyed Slawsa.
Still as popular as ever. Individual caramels (often, but not always, covered in chocolate) competed for attention with caramel ice cream/gelato, caramel-flavored beverages, caramel popcorn, and more. If the flavor is listed as caramel (as opposed to dulce de leche), there’s frequently salt involved, as well. McCrea’s Candies (www.McCreasCandies.com) makes a dandy caramel, in flavors ranging from Ginger Fusion to Highland Scotch. If you’re seeking a non-dairy version, try the exceptional coconut-based JJ’s Sweets Cocomels (http://jjssweets.com). I’m a big fan of both their Sea Salt and Vanilla versions. Trying to play it cool? Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (www.jenis.com) can help with their Salty Caramel Ice Cream (and don’t forget the Salty Caramel Sauce).
“Clean” and/or “Pure”
Over a dozen representatives from an equal number of companies assured me that their products fit at least one of these two descriptions. Unfortunately for them, I was not impressed. These adjectives are simply hogwash. Your crackers or olive oil or preserves are “pure”? As opposed to what? And what’s a “clean” food product? Does that mean that competing brands make similar products that are unclean? Does it mean that your ingredients undergo an extra rinse before use? Who knows? It’s all ridiculous marketing hype.
Alas for poor gluten, one of several current unjustified dietary villains in the US. A significant number of the businesses at the show were exceptionally anxious to let attendees know that their products are gluten-free. That’s OK if you make something like pasta or cookies, but when you are solemnly assured that Brand X’s chocolate bar or salad dressing is gluten-free, it can lead to a serious loss of perspective, given that these foods (and many others) don’t typically contain gluten to begin with.
Still not as big a player as it should be, but it’s getting there. A significant number of businesses have jumped onto the non-GMO bandwagon, whether they’ve been certified by the Non-GMO Project (www.nongmoproject.org) or not (remember, just because a company hasn’t been certified, it doesn’t mean their products contain GMO’s). Storye Rye Breads (www.storyebread.com) are European imports. I don’t know who developed their formulations, but whoever it was knew a thing or two about bread-baking. I love the Fine Rye with Fruit & Nuts. I’ve used products from Wholesome Sweeteners (www.wholesomesweeteners.com) for years, especially their Organic Sugar, which has a lovely hint of molasses. And if you’ve never had a falafel chip, now would be a great time to try one. Flamous Brands (www.flamousbrands.com) has Original and Spicy variations on this theme, in addition to four dressing-dip mixes (I like the sound of the Sweet Cranberry and Mediterranean Basil).
Not surprisingly, more products than ever fit into these two categories. I’m seeing more vegan chocolate these days, without question, but that’s just the beginning. Beanfields (www.beanfieldssnacks.com) has some amazing vegan Nacho Chips. I wasn’t sure what they’d taste like; I usually miss my dairy in foods where I’m accustomed to it. But if I was not told that these are vegan, I never would have known. If you’re looking for a superior vegan soup base, something you can make your own with a little creativity, Wild Veggie (www.wildveggie.com) is the answer. A frozen soup puree and recipe starter, this is available in six varieties. I like the Butternut Squash and Red Bell Pepper Soups. There are many recipes on the website.
The grain-of-the-moment. Whether you try it in the Mighty Oats ancient grains breakfast cereal for kids from Little Duck Organics (www.littleduckorganics.com) or Wholesome Kitchen’s (www.wholesome-kitchen.com) simple-to-prepare offerings (I like the Plain, as I can add my own herbs, aromatics, and dried fruits), quinoa (which is really a seed and not a grain) provides high-quality protein, and it’s high in fiber as well as nutrient-dense.
Frozen Convenience Foods
These are not your parents’ TV dinners! We’re talking about decidedly upscale snacks, entrees, and more, often with an ethnic twist or two. Witness the glorious Vietnamese eggrolls and spring rolls from Spring Kitchen (www.springkitchen.com). Brilliantly executed and easy to re-heat at home, these taste as though they’re freshly-made. Go Fusion Foods (http://gofusionfoods.com) has sandwiches in buns, in flavors you’d never expect. I loved the Braised Teriyaki (beef strips, teriyaki soy sauce, and cheese in a honey wheat dough bun), but you might prefer the Lemongrass Curry or the Korean Jambalaya. I returned to this booth for samples a disgraceful number of times. And you must, must, must try the Vegetable Pot Pies made by Flourish Baking Company (www.flourishbakingcompany.com). The Slow-Cooked Greens variety was just beautiful. Flourish also offers Fruit Bars, which I didn’t try, and a terrific veggie burger, which is new (I don’t see it on the website right now).
Coconut and Coconut Oil
Remember when coconut was considered bad for you because it was so high in fat? Those days are long gone; coconut and coconut oil are used by themselves and as ingredients in a plethora of food products. Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss (www.coconutbliss.com) is a line of frozen desserts made with a coconut milk base and sweetened with agave. If you’re as much of a purist as I am, try the Naked Coconut Bars. And Vermont Raw Nut Butter (www.vermontrawnutbutter.com) has a stone-ground, raw coconut butter, made with organic coconut flesh that’s never heated above 100 degrees F during processing. I can see that as a finishing “butter” for a lentil soup made with Indian spices, but it would have many other uses, as well. (Their raw cashew butter is also excellent.)
And Then There Was…
There are invariably a few products at the Show that don’t necessarily fit into top trends, but are nonetheless unusual enough (and tasty enough) that more people should know about the. Chief among those this year: Stöger Seed Oils (www.culinary-imports.com). I was fascinated by the Cherry Seed Oil, with its delicate almond flavor; this would be a beautiful finishing oil or, according to the importers, is wonderful drizzled over ice cream or aged cheese. There are also Chile Seed, Tomato Seed, and organic Pumpkin Seed Oils, which I did not try. Citriburst Finger Limes (www.shanleyfarms.com) are an Australian lime species, typically available in the US from late July-early August to January. The juice vesicles in these small limes are tiny spheres and can be scooped out and sprinkled over other foods. When you bite into one, you get a burst of tart lime flavor. They’re often used for sushi or salad, but I’d try them atop a key lime cheesecake or stirred into lime yogurt.
And CocoaPlanet (www.cocoaplanet.com) describes their product as “pearls of flavor suspended in a thin chocolate wafer”. I think of wafers as being, well, wafer-thin, and these are not. But the technology is intriguing; you do indeed get pearls of flavor as you bite into the chocolate, which is 64% cacao solids. There’s good-quality chocolate used here, and I’m partial to the Mandarin Orange variety, though the Salted Caramel samples disappeared in the blink of an eye. The online store should be up as of August 1, 2013.
Stephanie (HandOverTheChocolate@comcast.net) is a freelance food writer.