Imagine Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco filled with room after room of tantalizing food and drink from over 1300 exhibitors offering 80,000 products to taste from all over the world. What if each company offered you a sample of their latest creation and you only had 5.5 hours to navigate through the maze?
Well that’s how I spent last Monday at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. For your virtual tasting pleasure, here is my recap of the highlights, hoping to tease and tantalize you with my discoveries.
According to the Fancy Food Show trendspotters, the five top trends at the show were: (click here for their quick video about the trends if you want to see all the product examples)
- Sriracha in everything
- Healthy crunchy snacks
- Low sugar sips
- Mint in everything
- Creative condiments
Adding my interest in Middle Eastern ingredients to that trend list, I took a quick browse through the What’s New What’s Hot room and then headed out to find the products that piqued my interest. Despite my best effort at staying on task, I was constantly distracted by booth after booth of other intriguing finds. For example, who wouldn’t want to taste whatever was in these giant glasses? Which turned out to be fantastic hot fudge style toppings by a company called Somebody’s Mother’s. My favorite was the Mocha Sauce - too bad their booth was not next to Three Twins ice cream.
With the trends mentioned above in mind, here are the highlights of my semi-organized booth hopping:
Hot and Spicy
Besides seeing sriracha as a flavoring in many foods from jams to chocolates to savory snacks, I also noticed many alternative bottled sriracha sauces beyond the one we are all used to seeing on the table at our local Pho restaurant. Spicy is definitely a hot product category.
As for healthy and crunchy – there was a lot of both.
If you think garbanzo beans or chickpeas are just for hummus. Think again. These protein-rich healthy beans are a winning crunchy snack alternative, able to accept many flavor profiles. These tasty treats are from a company called The Good Bean, who has now extended their bean-based snack products to include snack bars as well.
While we’re talking about munching, I hope these Pop’d Kerns, halfway between a tooth-breaking corn nut and fully popped corn, arrive at my local New Leaf Community Market shelves soon! They were a salty, sweet, savory fun nibble.
And I learned that there is more to peanuts than Planters. The extra large Virginia type peanuts are super crunchy, flavorful, and not at all oily or greasy. If you are a nut lover, these Virginia Cocktail Peanuts will transform your view of peanuts.
My award for most unusual snack item has to go to D’vine Crush – a nosh that is based on the by-product of the winemaking process known as the Crush. In the spirit of no-waste, D’vine Crush harnesses the flavor of the crush, adding fruit and nuts to create these munchy mixes that mirror the taste of the wines they start with – what a great conversation starter for your next cocktail party!
Coconut chips were everywhere. A great snack food - gluten free, non-GMO, vegan, high in fiber and lauric acid and containing no cholesterol - these Dang chips were all the rage. Dang is a family run business based out of Berkeley, California and inspired by the great street food of Bangkok.
Other crunchy snacks spotted – pasta chips (really), quinoa chips, flavored pita chips, crunchy seaweed and the list could go on.
Not Soda, Not Water
As far as low sugar sips, the choices were abundant. One of my favorites was this Silk Road Soda that uses vibrant Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors. In fact – they combine two of the show’s trends – low sugar sips and mint – in every bottle. I loved the pomegranate mint combination. While at their table, I met a family from a Northern California pomegranate farm called Skylake Ranch. They heard me mention pomegranate molasses, an ingredient we talked about in September for Tasting Jerusalem, and asked if I knew how to make it as they are working on a recipe for an all natural, no sugar pomegranate molasses!
This Bruce Cost Ginger Ale also incorporates so many healthy Middle Eastern and Asian-based ingredients like fresh turmeric which is pictured in the foreground and looks like ginger but has an orange undertone.
And there was Gus – Grown Up Soda – offering both traditional cola and root beer flavors as well as some tangy fruity alternatives like cranberry or grapefruit.
Another trend in beverages is the return of fine craft cocktails -- all of these low sugar sips make great starters for creative cocktails.
Tea was quite prevalent at the show with lots of organic choices and unusual flavor combinations. Even chocolate, which we are so used to seeing paired with coffee, can now be found sneaking into many tea offerings. But my favorite tea creation was this Owl’s Brew -- a tea blend made especially to be used as a cocktail mixer. Very clever indeed.
The Flavor Factor
As for the final listed trend - creative condiments – I’ll expand this flavor enhancing category to include spices as well.
Variations on ketchup were all over. Stonewall Kitchen was featuring a new take on the red staple with truffles included! Didn’t get a chance to taste it, but I understand it was quite a hit, using white truffle oil as its flavor maker.
And Traina Foods, a dried fruit company from Patterson, CA, the apricot capital of the world, was featuring a sundried tomato ketchup which elevates the red condiment to a more sophisticated level of flavor.
And then there was a new condiment line by Erika Krekes of the blog In Erika’s Kitchen called Not Ketchup – made with fruit instead of tomatoes offering three creative flavors so far: Cherry Chipotle (my favorite), Blueberry White Pepper, and Smoky Date. The basis for these sauces are various fruits instead of tomatoes – with encouragement from her tagline for us to Dip Differently. Three cheers for creativity Erika!
Not Ketchup was featured in the Arianna Trading Company booth where they were displaying a velvety tasting Greek olive oil. Laura Bashar of the blog Family Spice and Mary Platis of California Greek Girl blog were special guests in the booth and offering a splash of the oil in their pomegranate martinis -- just one of many great ideas that these two food bloggers offer up in their new book “Cooking Techniques with Olive Oil”
In the Savor California booth filled with small vendors from all over the State of California, I found a unique “not” vinegar product with less acidity than vinegar but overflowing with flavor called Sonomic Almost Vinegar
And a local-to-me family from Los Gatos, California making a knock-your-socks-off salsa called Mrs. A's Famous Salsa Buena. The creators of this product, both teachers, were urged by their students to bottle it up and so they have. Spunky flavor and terrific texture for dipping or drizzling.
Wine infused grapeseed oil by Salute Sante also intrigued me – they don’t waste any of the grapeseed, which they use after the grapes have been crushed for wine-making. Grapeseed oil is a flavor neutral, high smoke point oil that is perfect for cooking. But with a new line of flavor enhanced oils and flours (gluten-free), they have added a whole new dimension to this terrific cooking product.
In the dry spice category – there were two standouts for me. Victoria of Victoria’s Gourmet. She creates spice blends in a vast array of flavors (and colors) as well as offering origin spices, sea salts and more. I was intrigued by the Honey Aleppo blend – Aleppo pepper is unique to Syria and Turkey and has a sweet and spicy flavor, some say even reminiscent of the flavor of a sundried tomato but with a kick.
And my very last stop of the day was this unique company Canaan Fair Trade, selling Middle Eastern products that are hand-crafted in the land of milk and honey - Palestine - and sold in the spirit of fair-trade. The za-atar blend caught my eye – za’atar is a unique blend of thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, and salt. Prevalent all over the the Middle East, especially Lebanon, the tangy bright flavor marries beautifully with olive oil, tomatoes, most proteins, and so much more. For more on Palestinian food and this company, you can read this story from the December issue of Saveur Magazine.
A few miscellaneous finds:
California-grown Japanese rice from Koda Farms – a family business since 1928, they are the oldest family owned & operated rice farm in California. If you haven't cooked with medium grain Japanese Kokuho rice, white or brown, give it a try - the texture and stickiness is just perfect for sushi or a side dish.
One-cup pour-over coffee filters from Caffe Borsa – If you are a pour-over coffee fan, this would be a nice product for a rushed morning when you still want a high-quality tasting cup of coffee before you run out the door.
Noodle Kugel made your grandmother's way by Kugel Co in small freezer-portioned packaging, each flavor looking like your grandma's recipe card (if in fact your grandma used recipes!)
And one last pick from a local San Francisco company - hummus produced with fava beans instead of garbanzo beans. According to the Fava Life web site, favas might be the beanstalk that Jack was climbing. In any case, they are a nutrient packed member of the pea family and do a great job as the basis for a unique alternative to traditional hummus.
If you were going to attend the show - what foods would be first on your list?