Healthy and Tasty Coexist at the Winter Fancy Food Show 2018
When I was a kid, more than a few years ago, I remember my dad reading Prevention Magazine and taking a hefty handful of vitamin supplements every day. Somehow, he even convinced us to put brewer’s yeast into our orange juice in the morning. I still gag just thinking about it. He was what we affectionately called – a healthfood nut. Well, he’s still alive at 90, living at home, riding his stationary bike three times a week, popping vitamin pills daily. Maybe he’s on to something.
But I grew up associating healthy food with bad taste. And sometimes this was not a figment of my imagination but a harsh reality of low-fat, low-sugar creations (and yeast in my OJ).
My takeaway from the Winter Fancy Food Show 2018 is that food companies are winning the battle of creating healthy products that taste great. All while trying to be more responsible stewards of our environment.
Here are a few of my favorite finds. They may not all fit into your or my definition of healthy, but they were all tasty.
As the co-leader of a cooking community called Tasting Jerusalem, I am always on the hunt for ingredients that can bring a taste of the Middle East to our dinner tables. I found the spice mix cHarissa – a play on the North African hot pepper sauce called harissa that is also used effusively throughout the Middle East – has a decidedly Moroccan flavor. In this version, the company removed some of the red peppers typically used and added more cumin. I’m not usually a huge cumin lover but they’ve elegantly blended this spice mix – both the dry and wet version – making it a perfect foil for everything from fish to potato chips.
Arab Street Food in Oakland, CA
La Cocina – an incubator in San Francisco, California for small food startups always offers an interesting array of new tastes at the show. One of my favorites this year was the za’atar spice blend created by Reems California – an Oakland eatery offering authentic Arab street food. Not only was the blend on its own reminiscent of the blends I tasted in Israel this summer, but they are creatively offering it up in a granola!
Pomegranates and Quince Oh My!
When I searched the Fancy Food Show app for Tasting Jerusalem related products, I did a search on pomegranate and found a company from Azerbaijan called Aznar that’s been producing and selling pomegranate juice for almost 60 years. Turns out that the former Soviet Union country has several excellent climates for growing pomegranates. Not only is it pure pomegranate goodness but they have branched off into other interesting juices such as quince – a juice I have never seen before. Their products are currently available on the east coast of the U.S. and throughout the world. I hope they find their way to my neck of the woods soon.
Follow the Saffron Road
With minutes to spare before the show floor closed on day 2, I made it to the Saffron Road booth to sample the crispy chickpeas and crunchy lentil chips and chat with their new enthusiastic Southern California sales rep. Saffron Road’s mission is to bring the flavors of the ancient Silk Road to our plates in the form of snacks, sauces, and frozen goods. Their extensive product line uses halal meats, non-GMO certified ingredients, and represents the diverse cuisines of the Silk Road (which ran from Asia through the Middle East and up into Europe). In business since 2010, their products can be found in most large chain grocers and small specialty stores. And yes that is chocolate on chickpeas >> YUM!
Where War, Afghanistan, and Saffron Intersect
Rumi Spice’s company story overflows with inspiration and unexpected creativity. Started by U.S. military veterans who served in Afghanistan, Rumi sources and sells saffron from Afghan farms and employs over 300 local women to hand-pick this delicate spice. The story is so inspiring and the valuable fragrant spice so highly praised that you may have heard about Rumi on NPR, watched them pitch for money on The Shark Tank, or have eaten their product in such highly lauded restaurants as Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in the Napa region of California, Daniel Boulud’s restaurants in New York City and Ana Sortun’s Middle Eastern-inspired restaurants in Boston. While the cost of saffron seems daunting, know that a tiny bit goes a long way in seasoning a dish. There is no other flavor like it, and buying it from Rumi Spice is supporting a humanitarian way to find peace and partnership with a country ravaged by war.
When Dairy isn’t Really Dairy
Kite Hill, based in Hayward, California, is bringing “cheese” to those who no longer eat dairy – whether that be for a vegan lifestyle, allergy, or lactose intolerance. Admittedly, I am skeptical of calling anything “cheese” when it has no dairy in it, but Kite Hill is making me a believer. They were featuring a new Almond Milk Greek-style yogurt which, in the spirit of full disclosure I didn’t love – but their regular almond milk yogurt is wonderful and their soft cheese including their “ricotta” are quite dazzling. Also – staff in the booth get an A+ for energy and enthusiasm and I don’t give high marks out easily!
Time for Some Coconut
Coconut yogurt options were abundant – another way to remove dairy from a diet. I tasted two options – one from a company based in the United Kingdom called the Coconut Collaborative. They offered multiple yogurt flavors as well as mini desserts that were as cute as they were yummy. The yogurt and desserts were especially creamy with an excellent mouth feel. The other yogurt I tasted in the new products area is cleverly called The Coconut Cult – they offer culture-filled probiotic coconut yogurts. So cultured, in fact, that they suggest when you first eat them, to limit yourself to just a few spoonfuls as your gut adjusts to the level of probiotics. They come in three flavors – original, coconut cream, and mango cream. Pretty surprising to taste a non-dairy yogurt with lots of tang. Very creative concept.
Waste Not, Want Not
One trend I’ve seen for the last few years are companies making a new food out of the byproduct of another food process. For example – grapeseed flour out of the waste from grapes – the seeds – by SaluteSanté. A San Francisco-based startup called ReGrained is using the waste product from beer to make SuperGrain flour and tasty nutrient rich energy style bars in three flavors – Honey Cinnamon, Chocolate Coffee Stout, and Blueberry Sunflower. All had recognizable flavors to match the name along with soft yet crunchy chewy textures. I would eat them again.
From Challenge Comes Opportunity
Edison Grainery based in Benicia California was born out of necessity and circumstance. When faced with life- threatening medical issues, founders Amy and Jeffrey Barnes turned to food as part of the way back to health. This included the medical need to eat gluten-free. As Jeffrey became the primary caregiver and did the shopping he realized healthy options were often outrageously expensive. With his background in the grain business, he and his wife created a line of gluten-free grain-based products that are also affordable. Their commitment to quality and value – along with their infectious enthusiasm – seems like a certain recipe for success.
Big Things Can Come in Small Packages
Becca’s Petites is a small producer whose product packs a big punch of healthy and tasty. She calls them Bouchées – it’s a grain-free, gluten-free, dairy-free granola-like snack she developed initially for a sick friend. As part of the Savor California booth, she had a tiny space to make an impact and she served up a winner. The bouchées taste sweet and savory, just as described, and the texture is crunchy and satisfying. And Becca’s personality and enthusiasm for her business should propel her small business to great success.
Bananas for Ice Cream
I’m lactose intolerant but I love ice cream – so much so that I packed a huge box of Lactaid supplements and ate gelato twice a day in Italy. But seeing dairy-free alternatives pop up that also tantalize my taste buds inspires me. Based in Southern California and founded by two CAL Berkeley friends, Hannah Hong and Mollie Cha (go Bears!), Hakuna Banana makes “ice cream” out of bananas and uses dates for sweetener. If this is what dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, paleo friendly, refined sugar-free desserts taste like, I’m all in!
Look out Sriracha, KPOP is here!
For some more University of California entrepreneurial ingenuity, we stopped by the new products area and met the future of Korean food in the U.S. – KPOP Foods. Two business school grads – Theo Lee and Mike Kim – want to bring the flavors and family feeling of sharing Korean food to everyone in the United States. Their first product is a Gochujang-style spicy sauce that they suggest works on everything from eggs to fish. It packs a punch of spice and flavor that is distinctly identifiable to me as Korean and not like any other hot sauce I have in my fridge (and we have a lot). Looking forward to seeing what they come out with next.
Japanese Spice Blends
On a whim, I stopped at a tiny booth in the back of the International section to try three Japanese spice blends that were offered as flavorings on edamame beans. The company that makes them originates from the tiny Japanese prefecture known as Kagawa – the chili pepper they use that originates from this region. The dried Kagawa pepper was offered on its own as well as part of a blend called Tokyo City Blend that also included yuzu (a citrus), red shiso (a Japanese leaf w a mild anise flavor), and sesame. And the third offering was a mix of yuzu and sea salt. All three flavors wowed my taste buds. I can’t wait until they find a distributor in the United States so we can all enjoy these clever creations.
Affordable Organic Fair-Trade Chocolate
I never pass up an opportunity to sample chocolate. When my friend Jane of The Heritage Cook – who posts a chocolate-based recipe every Monday – suggested we stop by Artisan Kettle, I walked briskly to their booth. Artisan Kettle cocoa beans are sourced from South America and are Fair-Trade Certified. The packaging for their chips is re-closable – brilliant. And they stand up on the shelves. I’m most excited about their mini chips which is my secret shortcut when I make rugelach. Their products are available on Amazon and also many mid- to high-end grocers.
Supporting my Local Hood
I was glad to see a booth from my very own neighborhood in South San Jose represented at the Fancy Food Show 2018. Lee’s Sandwiches are legendary in our area – traditional Vietnamese banh mi for under $4 a sandwich, with fresh bread coming out of the oven all day every day. But their focus at the show was their fresh ground coffee filter packs – essentially a pour-over on the run. While I am more likely to grind my own beans at home, these on-the-go packs are great for travel, camping, work, or a rushed morning. Both flavors – New Orleans and Parisian – create a bold-tasting cup of coffee. From an environmental perspective I wouldn’t want to rely on these every day, but in a pinch, they’re a a well-thoughtout and flavorful alternative to brewing from scratch.
Bonus Bite: Alfajores from Argentina
For the uninitiated, alfajores are South American cookies comprised of two shortbread cookies held together with dulce de leche (milk caramel). Andreas Ozzuna – the owner and head baker at the Wooden Table Baking Co. learned to cook by her grandmother’s side in Argentina. Now she gives us the opportunity to take a bite of her flavor memories. She’s taken some liberties with her alfajores – expanding to flavors dipped in chocolate, using lemon, or amped up with coffee, to name a few. And she also makes some amazing chocolate creations she calls bonbons. She has also opened a tiny but mighty café in downtown Oakland. A couple minutes talking to Andreas (and a few samples later), and you just know there is love baked into every cookie she creates.
In Loving Memory
This post is dedicated to my son, Gregory Lee, who tragically passed away on March 3, 2017. He was my partner every year at the Fancy Food Show – tasting, schmoozing, taking photographs and video and loving every minute and every bite as completely as I do. His left and right brains worked magically together – his palate and eye behind the camera astounded me but his technical prowess, all self-taught, even outmatched his UC Berkeley Computer Science graduate Google-employed best friend (says he not me).
Gregory always found the most valuable tastes at the show – think caviar and truffles. At the end of the first day this year, my friend and food PR professional Jodie Chase and I happened upon some ravioli filled with fresh ricotta and truffles and then a new product not even on display – brioche studded with truffles. We couldn’t help but wonder: were those bites serendipitous or was Gregory guiding us through the day just a little bit. He would have been proud of our finds, that much I know. You can learn more about Gregory’s very big but too short life on his memorial web site.
More recaps of great finds at the Winter Fancy Food Show 2018
My Previous Coverage of the Winter Fancy Food Show
Disclaimer: I attended the show as press and am not currently working with any of the companies in this post, though occasionally I do receive samples to taste after the show. I do have an Amazon shop where you can check out some of my favorite food-related products. If you head over there and purchase anything, I receive a small affiliate fee but it never affects the price that you pay. Thank you for supporting OMG! Yummy.