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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Vital Hit

No one could ever accuse the preeminent pioneer in blending technology, Vitamix, of being too limited in its scope, and yet the industry leader continues to innovate with cutting edge adaptions to the original. Seemingly out of left field, the Vitamix Aer Disk Container has landed to pulverize the competition in an entirely different way. The famously razor-sharp blades are replaced here by a perforated disk, designed not to chop and puree, but to whip, foam, muddle, and emulsify. Rigorously testing out each prime function with unscientific glee, my 10-year old classic 5200 base felt like a brand new toy all over again.

No need to lug out the stand mixer anymore to put a fancy finishing touch on your desserts. Instantly churn out whipped coconut cream, fresh and fluffy, firm enough to stand at attention in high peaks, with just the flip of a switch. That said, my greatest disappointment in this trial was in an attempt to make meringue; even the thickest aquafaba refused to do more than bubble and foment from the agitation. There is clearly a trick to this whip, but I haven’t unlocked all the secrets yet.

Cold foam is all the rage these days thanks to the relentless marketing push from Starbucks, who now whip it up in a variety of flavors. The thing is, they don’t offer a dairy-free option! As with making lattes, different brands can create very different results, but a bubbly beverage takes just a flip of the switch, no matter your “milk.” Start with at least 1/2 cup of steamed liquid, fully covering the disc, for most effective frothing. Compared to a dinky handheld electric whisk, this matrix of trapped air bubbles is much denser, consistent, and long-lasting.

Muddling is really not my style, as I rarely drink, let alone create cocktails, and let’s not even start with the alternate meaning of the word that alludes to my typically jumbled, disorganized state of mind. However, I quickly found that there’s much more to the concept than just mojitos and caipirinhas. Lemonade made with whole citrus means no zesting, no juicing, no waste and no mess. This trick works for plain old, straight-up fresh orange juice, too. Equal parts lifesaver and party starter when summer rolls around, you can even pop a handful of ice cubes in there to instantly chill your brew without crushing or diluting while you’re at it. It’s a nifty trick designed to wow a crowd, since it works best when you start with at least 1 1/2 – 2 cups of liquid to keep the citrus slices moving.

Water and oil, sworn elementary enemies, would never be caught dead mingling in public, let alone wrap each other up in a full, cohesive embrace. It takes considerable force to smooth things over in a proper vinaigrette, hollandaise, or mayonnaise, with every additional drop threatening to break this uneasy truce. Just call VitaMix a seasoned peacemaker because the Aer has some impressive diplomacy skills. While the standard canister can ace this test as well, I was genuinely surprised to find more consistent results with the risk of over-processing safely out of the picture. Notice that the herbs and spices remain fully intact in the mix despite the merciless blending, allowing each component to shine more brightly within the harmonized liquid mix. Joining balsamic with EVOO harmoniously, till dinner do they part, my dressing game has never been smoother.

Compatible with all full-size (Classic and Smart System) Vitamix blenders, there’s officially nothing this indispensable tool can’t whip into shape. Like any other Vitamix attachment, the Aer Disk Container can clean itself in 30 – 60 seconds with just a drop of dish soap and a quick bliz, no disassembly required. If that’s not a gift that keeps on giving, I don’t know what is.

This review was made possible as a collaboration with Moms Meet and Vitamix. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

Baking a Difference

You wouldn’t know it at a glance or from the taste, but there’s a lot more than meets the tongue baked into every immaculate mahogany and tawny brown square from Greyston Bakery. If you can temper your appetite long enough to examine the label, you’ll know there’s something different about these treats beyond the essential formula. Raising up people within the community is just as important as raising dough, literally and figuratively, which their Open Hiring Model especially admiral. It should come as no surprise that this progressive company would partner with fellow corporate radicals, Ben & Jerry’s, to supply the infamous brownies in their game-changing vegan pints. My first taste of those darkly decadent, fudgy chunks came smothered in rapidly melting chocolate ice cream, but it wasn’t long before they compelled me to seek out a whole, bare bite.

Genuinely baked bars of soft dark chocolate, they’re the platonic ideal of any brownie, making the case for vegan desserts on a grand new scale. Very sweet, undeniably indulgent, super chewy, and complete with gently crackled top, I dare you to find a single flaw along those edible fault lines.

Now, after 36 years, achieving such lofty goals with unprecedented success has encouraged these bold bakers to expand their offerings with that same spirit of inclusivity in mind. For their second act in vegan baking activism, at long last, a blondie has been born.

The Vegan Cinnamon Roll Blondie is so soft and tender, each sweet morsel practically melts in your mouth. Sprinkled with cinnamon sugar for a light crunch and extra pop, they could be alternately called “snickerdoodle bars” to suit the simplistic approach. No nuts, no fruits, no nonsense, they’re sure to please the pickiest of eaters. Every bit as dense and satisfying as their cocoa counterparts, it’s a victory for all of us to celebrate, right down to the factory line, alongside the workers themselves.

Though it’s hard to beat a fresh blondie straight out of the box, they really come alive when served slightly warm… And, it should come as no surprise, with a scoop of ice cream on top.

Foam, Sweet Foam

Long gone are the days of curdled soymilk clouding an otherwise lovingly crafted cup of coffee. Alternative milks have reached such astounding levels of acceptance in mainstream markets that even the most basic establishment will have at least one suitable substitute, if not two or three, for the dairy-adverse. Home brewers have even more to raise their mugs to, with more options available than one could hope to drink in a lifetime, no matter how prodigious their caffeine consumption. While almond has become the new default alt-milk, coconut is no slouch these days, and oat milk is now making a big splash on the scene, too. A whole world of creamy contenders remains on the fringes of widespread awareness, though, unsung and unappreciated for their own unique qualities. One such challenger poised to hit the big time is macadamia, if the latest submission from Milkadamia is any indication.

Differentiating themselves from the existing “Latte Da Barista” Macadamia Milk, this new line of coffee whiteners is aimed at home users looking for a simple splash of cream in their morning cuppa Joe. They’re so new that information is scant online; even their website hasn’t been updated to include these hot options. Shelf-stable and available in three flavors, Unsweetened Vanilla provides the most clean, neutral flavor while Vanilla and Fudge add an indulgent twist to the array.

Of course, with access to some world-class baristas at my second home at Nourish Cafe, I had to ask the experts what they thought of these innovative creamers. Across the board, everyone was impressed by the most basic entry, finding it hard to believe that absolutely no sugar was included in the unsweetened option. Smooth and rich in a way that’s near impossible to replicate with homemade recipes, this simple blend had genuine body that came stunningly close to true heavy cream. Though it wasn’t designed for foaming or latte art, it performed remarkably well when put to the test, too.

Turning up the flavor dial to 11, the sweetened varieties became my fast favorites, despite my penchant for plain, jet-black coffee in the morning. So called “fudge” lives up to its name, with a round chocolate flavor akin to liquefied truffles. Suddenly, I understood the craze surrounding flavored, fanciful lattes. Though clearly designed with the standard roasted bean in mind, I found it dangerously habit-forming in hot matcha, both green and blue.

I’m already craving my next fix, waiting for supply to keep up with demand. These new creamers from Milkadamia should be hitting store shelves sometime this month, and I’ll be first in line to add a generous splash to my next fresh brew.

Cut and Dried

Populated by little more than starchy potatoes and papery onions mere weeks ago, market stalls are suddenly bursting with a rainbow of fresh produce. Giant, plump blueberries the size of grapes; gnarled heirloom tomatoes as unique and delicate as snowflakes; peaches fragrant enough to double as air fresheners; I want them all, and I want them in volume. I’m that hungry shopper tasting one of each sample, even when I know exactly what I’m going home with that day. I’m the one buying three pounds of strawberries for a recipe that only calls for two. The lure of summertime produce is one that I’m powerless against, buying in bulk despite cooking for one. I’ll eat cherries one after another, no matter how many are piled up high, until all my clothing is hopelessly stained red.

Still, endlessly voracious for that taste of sunshine, I can never get my fill. There’s only so much space in my freezer to save that seasonal bounty, and the laborious process of proper canning still eludes me. Options for preservation beyond a day at best have been severely lacking, until I stumbled upon the world of dehydration.

Embraced by the raw food movement for its ability to “cook” while preserving more nutrients than conventional heating methods, the concept itself is as old as time. Leave something edible out in the sun, keep away the bugs and prevent it from getting moldy, and slowly draw out the moisture until it can be stored for leaner times. Humidity, fluctuating temperatures, and the open air itself present serious barriers to upholding this time-honored tradition. Modern technology has gotten into the game, reviving the dehydration concept as more than just a utilitarian function, but also a doorway to more creative cuisine.

Given the opportunity to investigate the power of the Tribest Sedona Express, I jumped at the offer. Though I had dabbled in dehydration with a dinky little toy of a machine salvaged from a yard sale, my experience was limited, not to mention, unsatisfying. Now, after a year and a half of use, I can’t claim that it’s the first contraption I break out when developing new recipes, but it’s proven its value many times over.

This thing is a food drying powerhouse, bearing 1430 square inches of space across 11 trays to accommodate all the produce your heart desires. It heats up quickly and holds temperature reliably, unless you’d like to specify the intensity yourself at anywhere between 75 – 170 degrees. Long processing times are par for the course still, but no trouble with a 99-hour timer.

My studio is spatially challenged, to put it lightly, so I was reasonably concerned about adding the inherent noise that comes with such a hulking piece of machinery into the mix, working away through all hours of the night. Mercifully, my fears were unfounded; no louder than a modest propeller-driven table fan even on high, I slept soundly while the dehydrator powered through the AM hours.

That’s all well and good for basic pantry stockpiles, but what about the more important issue… Could it keep up with my snacking demands? Happily having munched my way through countless rounds of zucchini chips, coconut macaroons, and assorted fruit leathers, I can confidently report nothing but delicious experiences. One particular favorite that emerged through these trials was a buttery, cheesy vegetable in disguise that I like to call “CauliPop.” Cauliflower all dressed up like movie theater popcorn, it’s a compulsively edible nosh. While it would be a struggle to plow through a full heat of the stuff raw, it seems to disappear instantly once kissed by the warmth of the dehydrator. It’s the kind of deceptively simple formula that you’ll soon find yourself doubling and tripling to keep up with demand.

Emulating one of my favorite snack bar options, I knew it would be easy to cut the crap to fabricate an even simpler dupe. Only three ingredients are needed for these soft, chewy, and super sweet Banana-Nut Chia Bars, all of which are readily apparent from the title alone. In fact, you probably already have what it takes to make them right now! That trusty dehydrator was running nonstop when I finally hit upon the perfect ratio, handily replacing those packaged bars at a fraction of the cost.

Well into my 20th month with this beast on my side, I’m still finding new and delicious ways to use the Tribest Sedona Express. The manufacturer was kind enough to provide one for review, but no amount of fancy equipment could ever buy my praise. I can honestly say that if you’re serious about preservation, healthy snacking, or just playing around with your food, this is the model you want to harness.

Yield: Makes 1 - 3 Servings

CauliPop

CauliPop
Cauliflower all dressed up like movie theater popcorn, it’s a compulsively edible nosh. While it would be a struggle to plow through a full heat of the stuff raw, it seems to disappear instantly once kissed by the warmth of the dehydrator. It’s the kind of deceptively simple formula that you’ll soon find yourself doubling and tripling to keep up with demand.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 12 hours
Total Time 12 hours 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Medium Head Cauliflower
  • 2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil, Melted
  • 2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
  • 1 Teaspoon Coarse Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric

Instructions

  1. Chop the cauliflower into approximately 1-inch florets, as consistent as possible to ensure they dry at an equal rate. Blanch them by plunging them into boiling water for 3 minutes, until fork-tender but still firm. Drop them into an ice bath to immediately stop the cooking process and drain thoroughly. Transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Drizzle in the coconut oil and toss with the remaining seasonings until evenly coated. Place the florets directly on a wire rack, allowing ample space for air circulation, and set the dehydrator to 115 degrees. The “cooking” process will take anywhere from 12 – 24 hours, depending on your preferences. Pull the cauliflower earlier for a softer interior, or let it the machine run for the full cycle to get a crunchier bite throughout.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

3

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 144 Total Fat: 10g Saturated Fat: 8g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 737mg Carbohydrates: 10g Fiber: 6g Sugar: 4g Protein: 6g
Yield: Makes 6 – 8 Bars

Banana-Nut Chia Bars

Banana-Nut Chia Bars
Only three ingredients are needed for these soft, chewy, and super sweet Banana-Nut Chia Bars, all of which are readily apparent from the title alone. In fact, you probably already have what it takes to make them right now! That trusty dehydrator was running nonstop when I finally hit upon the perfect ratio, handily replacing those packaged bars at a fraction of the cost.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Additional Time 30 minutes
Total Time 6 hours 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Large, Ripe Bananas
  • 1/4 Cup Chia Seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons Walnuts, Chopped

Instructions

Mash the bananas and stir in the chia and walnuts. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes for the chia seeds to gel. Spread the mixture evenly over a non-stick drying sheet approximately 1/4-inch thick.

Dehydrate at 145 degrees for 4 – 6 hours, or until dry to the touch, firm, and sliceable. Cut into squares or bars as desired.

Notes

Not a big banana fan? Try using 1 cup of fresh apricot, mango, or peach puree instead.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 72 Total Fat: 3g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 3g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 1mg Carbohydrates: 11g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 4g Protein: 2g

Faux Moo, Real Flavor

To any ice cream enthusiast feeling freezer-burned by airy, bland, or over-sweetened pints: This scoop’s for you. FoMu has been churning out the goods in Massachusetts since 2011, steadily gaining ground as a frozen force to be reckoned with. Super-premium indulgence is their calling card, building each flavor upon a base of buttery, velvety coconut cream. Always on the periphery of my awareness but firmly out of reach, I could only dream of stealing a spoonful for many years, admiring their innovative offerings from afar. Now FoMu is much more than an isolated brick-and-mortar ice cream parlor, expanding rapidly into online sales with nationwide shipping. Dairy-free decadence is just a few clicks away, and I couldn’t resist the urge to finally dive in.

Bourbon Maple Walnut captured my attention first, melding a compelling team of power players into one robust, deep, and soulful blend. Notes of oaky, wooden bourbon barrels are clearly present throughout the creamy base with a rum-forward first bite. This scoop is certainly not shy, while still managing to resist the easy path of tasting purely alcoholic; it’s assertive, not aggressive. Rich like softly whipped cream, frozen before setting into firm peaks, the otherwise unblemished landscape is speckled with small but well-placed walnuts, fresh and crisp, adding a nice crunch. Maple is a bit of a silent partner against these more vocal components, but it does come through in subtle hints, particularly as the ice cream begins to warm and melt, revealing its full bouquet of flavors. Like a good wine, the eating experience morphs as the temperature shifts. It’s truly an intoxicating experience from start to finish, and quite possibly my favorite ice cream of the season thus far.

Salted Caramel treads familiar terrain with a deft confidence unmatched among fellow ice cream innovators. Buttery, subtly burnt notes enclose a darker caramel flavor than the tanned color might suggest. Sticky, almost chewy straight out of the freezer, each scoop is like pure caramel candy. Instantly it begins to melt once freed from the pint, turning into a brilliantly, satisfyingly messy reminder of childhood. Notes of salt ring out clearly in each mouthful, highlighting the toasted, nutty flavors. Ultimately, it’s a simple concept executed with a finesse that’s difficult to rival.



Fresh Mint Chunk
shines white like fluffy snow, punctuated at random by chocolate shrapnel. Soft, gentle, sweet mint flavor delicately leads the way, a far cry from the “toothpaste” flavor that haters typically condemn. Those abundant cacao chunks provide a satisfying crunch with a swift bite, but can just as easily melt into fudge puddles when savored slowly. Well-rounded, herbal, and subtly grassy notes prove that the origins of this mint are all natural. Though not quite as punchy as I hoped, the end result is highly refreshing all the same, perfect for taking the edge off a hot summer’s day.

Avocado was perhaps the most daring of the batch, a wild card to tempt more adventurous eaters. Pale green, you would be forgiven if you mistook it for pistachio at a glance, but one lick will instantly clear up that confusion. Definitely, unmistakably avocado, it’s almost more savory than sweet. Notes of the coconut base are most prominent in this one, where the spare, subtle blend leaves it no place to hide. Exceedingly rich, buttery, and even a touch grassy, much like a smooth olive oil, small scoops will easily satisfy. Startling at first, give it a chance and it will really grow on you. Though unconvinced at first, I found myself going back for “just one more taste” until the pint was empty.

Although I wish FoMu might open up shop nearby, perhaps it’s better that this sort of treat remains only on special order. Accessible, but not a daily indulgence, it’s easier to rationalize those oversized servings as a rare luxury.