NEW YORK — What are Americans hungry for?
If the recent Summer Fancy Food Show is any culinary barometer, a growing number of us want foods that are not only healthy and good for the planet, but also exciting with adventurous, global flavors.
For example: like mushrooms? It may be time to start, as the fungi popped up as an ingredient in everything from Muse’s sustainable vegan Ecuadorian chocolate to Popadelics’ flavored snacks to Bee Shepherd’s adaptogenic honey at the New York show, which took place in mid-June.
Or maybe gut health is a big concern. No worries, because specialty food companies like American Vinegar Works, with its naturally fermented vinegars in small batches for cooking and cocktails, and Hidden Gem, which brews an antioxidant-rich, kombucha-like drink from upcycled avocado seeds called Reveal Avocado Seed Brew, are ready.
Brands reimagining classic dishes include The Great Knead, which debuted allergen-free soft pretzel nuggets; Carbone Fine Food’s onion- and garlic-free marinara “delicato” sauce, aimed at those with digestive problems; and Nutcase Vegan Meats’ “meatloaf” of Michigan, made with quinoa, hemp seeds, brown rice, and nuts.
With more people than ever happily eating their veggies, plant-based foods were among the show’s top trends, according to the Specialty Food Association, the trade group founded in 1952 that produces the event.
Foods and beverages with sustainable and ethical features were also on trend spotters’ radar, along with alternative comfort foods, including Current Foods’ plant-based tuna and salmon (made from pea protein), pizza and pasta sauces, adult flavor twists (infused whiskey or sparkling mocktails, anyone?), pepper sauces and global flavors, such as Freshe’s canned gourmet fish meals.
These trends even extend to baby food, with brands like Kekoa Foods and Little Pickins making a splash. The former uses herbs, roots and spices to create its squeezable pouch puree in adventurous flavors such as Curry, Vegetable Mango and Beets, Fennel and Kale; the latter makes pre-cooked vegetarian organic “meal bites” packaged with cute names like Broc N’ Roll and Love You, Tofu.
Some 1,800 exhibitors trotted to the 66th show emerging and new specialty food products from around the world. The goal: to connect and promote their products to national and international buyers – often with a tasty sample.
The U.S. specialty food and beverage industry is big business, with sales reaching a staggering $175 billion in 2021, according to the Specialty Foods Association. It includes everything from meat, seafood, cheese and chilled entrees to snacks, pastries, chocolate and other confectionery, and beverages such as coffee, water, and hot chocolate.
Particularly spectacular was the Italian Pavilion, designed to take guests through 300 Italian companies on a culinary tour of Italy. In addition to live cooking shows, attendees were treated to samples of Parmigiano-Reggiano and thin strips of prosciutto di Parma along with slices of pizza.
There were also major exhibitions from Japan, Morocco, Australia, Mexico, Turkey, Poland, Korea and a host of other international exhibitors – 54 countries in all.
With only about eight hours on site, it was impossible for a reporter to see and taste it all. But a few items stood out. Here are a few that caught my eye.
Maple syrup that sparkles
Has the pandemic made you sad? The folks at Runamok Maple in Vermont found it did for them. So in 2020, they decided to create a product that would bring joy and “make people smile in the darkest time,” said marketing manager Dan Robbins — a syrup infused with glitter. Within months, the maple syrup company’s shimmering Sparkle Syrup, made with pearlescent mica, was a best-seller. Runamok also makes a limited-release Sparkle Tonic cocktail mixer that gives drinks a sweet sheen.
Anyone cooking at home during COVID-19 fueled rapid growth in the pasta realm, but really, you can only eat so much spaghetti. Sfoglini came up with a new pasta shape that it claims maximizes the food’s sauce, fork and “tooth sink” ability. The curved, ruffled noodles created by Dan Pashman of the “The Sporkful” food podcast are called Cascatelli (Italian for “waterfalls”) and took three years to formulate.
Funny tea bags
More Americans than ever are drinking tea. We also love political parody and satire. Noah Bleich paired the two with a line of organic and kosher teas packaged in whimsical packages. The TeaBook’s collection of tea bags features historical and political figures from underrepresented communities, created by artists from diverse backgrounds. Seriously, who doesn’t love a cup of Vincent Van Goghji Berry Tea or Ruth Bader Ginseng Lemon Green Tea?
Potato chips for wine drinkers
Wine is often served with cheese and crackers. What boring! Wine Chips calls itself the only chip in the world designed specifically for wine. The premium toasted chips are available in flavors such as Smoked Gouda, Manchego, Blue Cheese, Serrano Cheddar and, for the truly adventurous, Spicy Calabrese.
Chewing gum that is good for you
Even before the pandemic, Mathew Thalakotur had trouble remembering to take his vitamins. So the former brand manager of Beech-Nut, Procter & Gamble, and The Coca-Cola Company decided to turn his chewing gum habit into something that was not only “fun, but guilt-free” but also good for you.
In 2020, with the help of nutrition scientists and herbalists, he launched Seattle-based Mighty Gum. The immune-supporting sugar-free gum is made with vitamins, zinc and the healing botanicals ashwagandha, elderberry and reishi mushroom.
Fried snacks taste so good, but we all know they’re bad for you too. Popadelics are crunchy shiitake mushrooms “redesigned for the modern superfood snacker”. The better-for-you chips are made by vacuum frying, a process that uses air pressure and hot oil to cook food at much lower temperatures, preserving more color, nutrients and flavor. In fact, it’s founded and owned by women, and purchases help fund charities and charities that focus on health and wellness.
If you like StarKist pouches for lunch, you’ll really love Fresche’s gourmet tuna and salmon meals. The sustainably sourced proteins from Portugal come ready to eat in colorful palm-sized tins infused with savory herbs and spices. Varieties include Sicilian Caponata, Thai Sriracha Tuna, and Moroccan Tagine Salmon.
Mood Changing Drinks
Feeling stressed? “Glide” green tea from The Hemp Division will help you chill. It combines monk fruit with a body-relaxing, mood-boosting infusion of CBD hemp extract.
As a parent of someone with celiac disease, I’m always on the lookout for gluten-free noodles. Caloless Noodle Zero pasta is made from something I had never heard of – konjac glucomannan powder, a dietary fiber made from the root of the konjac plant. Low-cal and low-carb, they’re pre-cooked and ready to go; just rinse and add to your favorite sauce, soup or stir-fry. They come in chili, beef and seafood flavors.