Expo West Exposé

Natural Products Expo West is like Christmas for food professionals and obsessives alike, bearing wilder, bolder, and more brilliant new products than one could have dreamed possible just the previous year. Science has come to meet the art of cooking, marketing, and cravings all at once, giving us more than mere eye candy to look forward to. It would be impossible to share everything that caught my eye for this round, but a few bold trends definitely emerged from the pack.

Beans are the New Rice: It’s no longer enough to have certified gluten-free whole grains anymore. Transforming legumes into higher protein alternatives is the latest and greatest side dish to grace the dinner plate, offering a range of nutritional and culinary advantages over plain starches. Made much like their gluten-free pastas, Banza features garbanzo beans, while Pedon uses an assortment of peas, lentils, and chickpeas to make their colorful new options. Seapoint Farms has taken a different approach with their Riced Edamame, simply chopping it into a coarse meal, it much like you would expect from cauliflower “rice.”

Meat Your Maker: If it bleeds, it leads. Such is true of journalism and the race to create increasingly authentic facsimiles for meatier, beefier burger patties. Impossible Burger set the trend, but the exciting rumor I picked up on here was that it would be coming to grocery stores soon, rather than being available only as a finished entree in select restaurants. Beyond is keeping up with the race quite admirably, unveiling a ground beef made of the same stuff as its famous patties. Mega brands MorningStar and Lightlife have entered the ring as well, but a standout in this fight for me was Sweet Earth, offering a stunningly “authentic” experience with superlative texture in their new Awesome Burger. Danish import Naturli’ Foods is looking to take the US by storm with its line of Minced fresh grounds, based on peas, while Good & Green stands out in the field by slicing unimaginably accurate renditions of prosciutto and carpaccio out of humble beans.

 

More Fish in the Sea: At last, what I’ve long regarded as the final frontier of veganism, seafood alternatives are reeling in accolades across the board. Good Catch is swimming upstream through the guppies and tadpoles, presenting a soy and pea protein blend that might just taste more like tuna than the fish itself. Category veterans Loma Linda, Worthington, Vegetarian Plus are all staying afloat admirably through this sea of change, with their Tuno, Plant-Powered Vegan Tuna, and Vegan Tuna Rolls, respectively. Sophie’s Kitchen continues to offer the only alternative Smoked Salmon for sale, in addition to their fishless lineup of faux shrimp, scallops, crab cakes, and fillets. Going where few frozen foods have before, Sol Cuisine is slinging a Lemon Dill Salm’n Burger that’s ready to grill and thrill.

Better Butter: Bake, melt, and schmear to your heart’s delight, because there have never been so many superlative spreads. Miyoko’s has been the leader of the pack but now faces stiff competition from New Barn, Milkadamia, Naturli’, Medlee, Wild Brine, Wayfare, FabaButter, and Riot Eats. Whether you’re seeking something soy-free, nut-free, palm oil-free, cultured, or seasoned, you’ll suddenly find a rich range of choices.

Knee-Jerk Reaction: The question is no longer “Will it blend?” but “Will it jerky?” It seems like the answer from retailers is a resounding: “YES!” Plant-based jerky is popping up in a variety of savory flavors, most notably on a more diverse range of chewy proteins, fruits, and vegetables than ever. For high-protein savory snacks, Upton’s is slinging seitan Jerky Bites in tropical flavors, Unisoy and Myrte Greens keep it classic with soybean-based Vegan Jerky. No Evil Foods will soon be expanding their range of refrigerated wheat meats to include some shelf-stable jerky snacks with unconventional seasonings such as Pastrami and Al Pastor, among others. Taking the “plant based” concept to the next level, Wild Joy Goods is crafting Banana Jerky from- you guessed it- good old bananas, while Cocoburg favors coconut strips, and Pan’s Mushroom Jerky packs an umami punch with soft and chewy shiitake slices.

Ditching Dairy: Big brands are now looking for milk money by different means. Nestle has rocked the baking world by unveiling Simply Delicious White Chocolate Morsels, which are free of the top 8 allergens, making them the very first vegan option on the mainstream market. Reddi Wip has begun embracing coconuts and almonds as fluffy whipped dessert topping to fill their iconic aerosol cans. Following suit, Coffee Mate has expanded their line of Simply Natural creamers to include these two top picks, along with a creamy oat milk option. Presenting one of the only options for non-dairy kefir, Lifeway has unleashed Plantiful, pea-based probiotic beverages. Arctic Zero is not just offering dairy-free options, but has converted its entire line of light frozen desserts from a whey to pea protein base.

1, 2, 3, CBD: This is not a passing trend, this is an all-out takeover of the traditional food, beverage, and cosmetics industry. Anything and everything is being infused with CBD now, from the predictable gummies and tonics to cakes, teas, air fresheners, dog biscuits, and beyond; there are genuinely too many products and brands to list. Brace yourself for (but also, chill out about) the CBD inundation.

Have you seen any of these edible innovations on store shelves yet? What are you most excited about? It’s a brave new world out there for vegan eaters, allergy suffers, and gastronomes alike.

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Sushi Cups for the Rest of Us

Love sushi but hate the fuss and mess of making it at home? You and me both. Despite best intentions, such ambition inevitably leads to walls spackled with sticky rice, sesame seeds burrowed deep within kitchen tiles, and nori plastered across the table. Rolling up the compact parcels isn’t such a demanding task on paper, but in real life when deadlines loom and hunger gnaws with terrifying ferocity, all bets are off. If it’s still reasonably edible by the time I give up and scrape the mangled scraps into a bowl, I’d consider the venture a reasonable success.

For anyone else in the same sort of sushi boat, I’d like you to meet your new life (and sanity) preserver. Edible cups made of classic nori seaweed, crisp and delicate, in addition to more avant-garde carrot and daikon papers, are here to save the dinner. Swaddle your rice in flavorful wrappings without the need to roll. More elegant than the usual mess of fillings dumped into a bowl, these savory cupcakes are just as charming as they are delicious. Feed yourself or a number of last-minute guests with ease, even if some visitors aren’t fond of the “fishiness” that traditional maki rolls possess. Pale orange carrot cups have a subtle, natural sweetness that makes them an ideal offering for more picky eaters or younger palates, white the daikon option has a slightly bitter edge, perfect for cutting the richness of creamy avocado or a generous drizzle of miso mayo. In both cases, the only additional ingredient in the mix is agar, holding these thin edible vessels together.

It’s with equal parts excitement and frustration that I share this fantastic innovation, though, if you might have guessed from the previous product links. I first encountered these savory sushi cupcake papers at the Winter Fancy Foods Show, and regrettably, have yet to hear a word from or even about the company since. Why on earth hasn’t this concept caught on to spread like wildfire? There might be more competitors on the horizon, which is a relief, since my small stockpile has long since been exhausted. It’s an idea that’s just too good to keep to myself, regular availability not withstanding.

In lieu of perfectly formed nori, carrot, and daikon cupcake papers, what’s your quick fix solution when sushi cravings strike? Temari sushi or larger onigiri are probably the most direct conversions, offering single-serving bites of rice and vegetables without the need to roll, while temaki would be ideal finger foods to pass at a party.

Though this feels like another tale of “the one that got away,” I’m holding out hope that these sushi saviors will make a big splash on the market in the days to come. Either that, or someone will devise a press to turn nori into cupcakes at home. A hungry but lazy cook can dream, right?

Got Greens?

Milk mustaches are out; juice mustaches are in. Unlocking a world of flavor and liquid nutrition that dairy could only dream of, it’s no surprise that fresh pressed produce has taken up the torch in this race for beverage dominance. Green Mustache is one of many companies making a splash with blended fruit and vegetable smoothies, all built upon a foundation of leafy greens like kale and spinach. Inspirational though unexceptional in this burgeoning field, the differentiating factor in their origin story is that these drinks are blended with younger tastes in mind, palatable for both kids and adults alike. More importantly, they don’t neglect the need for more traditional snacks with more mainstream appeal, which is what first sparked my attention- And appetite.

Though not green in color or overt taste, Mustache Munchies “Cheddarish” Crackers quietly sneak a serving of vegetative goodness into these adorable handlebar crisps. Tanned to a gentle golden hue, these aren’t the screaming florescent orange wafers of similar mainstream competitors. Instead, they’re a study of careful balance and nuance, bearing a subtle nutty undertone and light but naturally cheesy essence. Each piece is a perfect little bite, ensuring no crumbs nor mess to contend with later when munching on the run.

As a serial granola bar-eater, sweet snacks start to lose their appeal early on in the day, which makes these satisfyingly crunchy crackers an ideal alternative. I never thought a mustache might look good on me, but these lightly salted morsels could add stylish new flair to any smiling face.

Aquafab-ulous

“It’s made with WHAT?!” she reared back in a moment of candid horror and mild disgust, suddenly eyeing the open jar with suspicion.

It’s the not-so-secret ingredient taking the world by storm, dubbed a “miracle” by some and a food science breakthrough by others. Admittedly, to the uninitiated, it does take some careful explaining. In case you hadn’t heard, aquafaba is the excess liquid found in any ordinary can of chickpeas, just like the ones likely sitting in your pantry right now. Describing it simply as “bean water” hasn’t proven very effective in my experience, so be prepared for some serious questioning from the less adventurous eaters.

Beans in general are still a rather contentious ingredient in desserts, but even the most crunchy granola types give pause when considering more savory applications for this new baking staple. It takes a whole lot of moxy for a national brand to adopt such a potentially polarizing new concept, but Sir Kensington’s seems to have no qualms diving into the aquafaba deep end. Despite producing traditional, non-vegan mayonnaise options as well, their innovative Fabanaise is entirely eggless and plant-based.

Plain mayonnaise is a tricky thing to review. As a sandwich spread, it must have enough character to warrant an invite to the party, but not so much that it dominates every conversation in the room. No one is eating plain mayo on a spoon (at least, I hope not.) So to say that this creamy condiment is a great addition to other dishes, but doesn’t have much to say by itself, is a compliment by my estimation. Fairly neutral and mild in flavor, I’m happy to report that the Original Fabanaise nowhere near as sweet as something like Miracle Whip, while still retaining a well-rounded profile. My gold metal for mayo still goes to Vegenaise, but this is a very close second finisher.

Where Sir Kensington’s really excels is in their Chipotle Fabanaise. I simply couldn’t get enough of this creamy orange condiment, flecked with red and black pepper, sparkling with spices in every smear. Despite that threatening appearance, it delivers a more subtle warmth, rather than outright heat. Call it mild in terms of sheer scoville units, but the rich, smoky flavor infused throughout ensures that every bite will be boldly seasoned. Slathered on lightly charred corn on the cob, I couldn’t get enough, hitting the bottom of the glass jar before the grill could even cool down.

Consider Fabanaise another big win for one tiny bean. As if you need another excuse to enrich your own pantry, the aquafaba employed by Sir Kensington’s is diverted from an upstate New York hummus company, so your purchase helps reduce food waste, too. Sounds (and tastes) like a win-win-win situation to me.

An Earth-Balanced Diet

Having nearly cornered the market on vegan butters, both nut- and soy-based, Earth Balance now seeks to conquer the whole buttery world. Expanding their empire exponentially in one fell swoop, those who eschew dairy can now spread it on thick with no less than three types of Mindful Mayo, plus a Coconut Spread. Specifically trumpeting the lack of soy in half of these new products, it’s clear that Earth Balance seeks to provide a little something for everyone, vegan and allergic alike.

Most groundbreaking of the bunch is the Coconut Spread. Claiming to be “perfect for baking and cooking instead of butter!” a challenge has been clearly declared and battle lines drawn. Tall promises for a humble ingredient, it does fill a niche left yawning wide open for decades, providing a soy-free option for those wary of the maligned bean. Pure white and somewhat waxy in appearance, it has no discernible scent out of the container. Solid straight out of the fridge but fast to melt, it smooths easily over a slice of hot toast, fresh from the broiler. Subtly sweet in the way that coconut naturally is, with a decent hit of salt to round out the fresh coconut flavor, a faux-butter, this is not. Don’t expect a straight butter replacement in the flavor department, as the Coconut Spread is true to its ingredients, tasting for all the world like a more spreadable coconut oil. Whether you like the flavor of coconut or not should be the deciding factor of your preference for this product.

The real question, however, was how would it bake up compared to Earth Balance’s more buttery offerings? Though I generally do not recommend using spreadable, tub-based margarines for baking, as they contain a greater percentage of water than stick-based “butters,” I gave the coconut spread the benefit of the doubt. Whipping up a simple chocolate-chocolate chip cookie, made many times over, I noticed a difference in the consistency of the dough right away. Far softer than usual, even a brief chill in the fridge did little to firm it up. Though they baked up just fine and were quite tasty, there was a marked variation in texture from the norm. Cakey rather than chewy, I would have to say that the coconut spread is not a viable direct substitute in baking, if you’re hoping to achieve exactly the same results. It will certainly work, and for those with no other option, fire up that oven by all means. I’m just not about to trade in my buttery sticks just yet.

Once my culinary nemesis but now a guilty pleasure, the Mindful Mayo couldn’t have been released at a better time. Now primed for a tasting, I was still reluctant to sample the spread in such a naked format, but I did it for you, my dear readers. Short of plunging in a spoon and eating it straight, it seemed that including it in a classic BLT would be an acceptable format for getting a good read on the flavor. Using tempeh bacon for the “B” portion of the sandwich, I made sure to really slather it on thick, as much as common sense told me not to. Thank goodness, my fears were unfounded, and it was a genuinely delicious sandwich! Thick and flawlessly creamy, you could easily stand a spoon straight up in the jar, which meant that it held up beautifully to the more hefty filling ingredients. Tangy, with a strong flavor of lemon and mustard than Vegenaise, it’s incredibly well balanced and adds serious “umph” to an ordinary bread and veggie assemblage.

Available in three varieties, I found the Organic and Original to be indistinguishable in flavor, unsurprisingly, but the Olive Oil mayo did mix things up a bit. Soy-free, whereas the aforementioned spreads are not, it’s a solid option, and one of the few available for those avoiding dairy, eggs, and soy all at once. However, I did find it a touch looser than the previous, and tangier, with a more fruity flavor as you would expect from decent olive oil. Lighter on the palate and perhaps a bit less rich, it’s a nice light option for those not as crazy about the traditional taste of mayonnaise.

Now fully stocked with three full jars of vegan mayonnaise, I had to do something to work down my excess. A simply green garlic dip easily filled that need, providing an excellent accompaniment to any party platter of crackers, veggies, or chips. Thanks to a serendipitous find of frozen garlic scapes, it took just a push of the “blend” button to churn out a gloriously emerald-hued and garlic-imbued dip.

Yield: 1 Cup; 4 - 8 Servings

Green Garlic Dip

Green Garlic Dip
An excellent accompaniment to any party platter of crackers, veggies, or chips, this gorgeous green dip will be ready to please in minutes.
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 6 Ounces (1/2 Package) Extra-Firm Silken Tofu
  • 1/2 Cup Frozen Chopped Garlic Scapes, Thawed
  • 1 Cup Fresh Spinach, Packed
  • 1/2 Cup Vegan Mayonnaise
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 2 Teaspoons White Miso Paste
  • Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Instructions

  1. Simply toss everything into your food processor or blender, and puree until perfectly smooth. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, to ensure that everything gets incorporated. Season to taste, and chill thoroughly before serving.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 98 Total Fat: 8g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 6g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 146mg Carbohydrates: 6g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 1g Protein: 2g