For more years than I care to number I have attended the Summer Fancy Food Show, scouring the aisles of New York’s Javits Center for great new finds and emerging trends in the world of specialty foods and beverages — everything from condiments, confections, cheeses, meats, snacks, beverages (alcoholic and non), sauces, and spices, to the world of all-natural, gluten-free, and organic, produced and hawked by both major and artisanal producers.
This year’s show, since 1955 mounted by the Specialty Food Association (www.specialtyfood.com), was held over three days at the end of June. It’s always fun to spot trends and discover new artisan producers, and 2014 proved to be a banner year. I was among the 24,000 attendees trolling the aisles and strategically sampling (I’ve learned the hard way to be strategic) from among the estimated 180,000 products of some 2,730 exhibitors hailing from 49 countries. Below are the emerging trends that captured my attention, and also my top 10 favorite tastes from the show.
Trend: Beer as a flavor and/or ingredient. As in, for example, Jelly Belly draft beer-flavor jelly beans and Bronx Brewery Pale Ale grass-fed beef jerky by Slantshack Jerky ($10-$35). My favorite beer-infused product, though, was Wozz! Kitchen Creations’ triple ale onion savory spread ($10 per jar). This lively product took home a sofi award — i.e. “specialty outstanding food innovation,” the association’s Oscars — in the condiments category.
While I’m on the subject of jelly beans, rather than beer-flavored ones, what kid wouldn’t be thrilled with Jelly Belly’s cool new “icicle mix” featuring characters from Disney’s “Frozen” on the package? The beans look like frosty, sparkling jewels in tones of pale blue, silver, and purple.
Trend: Kits for making your own gourmet foodstuffs at home. I’m always on the lookout for possible holiday gift items for the foodies in my life. Any of the above products could suffice, of course. But for do-it-yourselfers, nothing beats a kit. Roaring Brook Dairy has one for making tofu, another for butter, and yet another for chevre.
Cocktails featuring artisanal bitters are a super-hot trend right now, so why not up the ante by making your own bitters? Hella Bitter (based in hipster Brooklyn, naturally) sells an extensive line of bitters, but is also rolling out a craft-your-own-bitters kit ($50 per kit) in August (assuming its Kickstarter campaign works), just ahead of the holiday season.
Unlike bitters, kimchi — that fiery Korean pickled vegetable — has traditionally been made at home. But it takes weeks to ferment, so the folks at Mama O’s Premium Kimchi have assembled a kit ($45 per kit) that takes three to four days instead of the equivalent number of weeks, and you get to choose among three varieties: original, super spicy, and vegan.
Attesting to the timeless appeal of s’mores, no fewer than three vendors offered kits that up the gourmet factor by featuring premium ingredients like real vanilla, organic marshmallows, make-your-own Graham crackers, and artisan chocolate. The $25 kit by Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery took home a show award as Best Food Gift.
Trend: Smoke gets in your . . . everything. The Hot Cakes folks also had a product that epitomized another trend at the show: adding smoke in unexpected places. I have to say their smoked chocolate chips (cold smoked over alder wood) were among my favorite tastes of the show. But you could go directly to smoke-plus-sweet nirvana with Bourbon Barrel Food’s smoked sugar ($20 for 24-ounce bag), reaffirming the company slogan: “Eat your Bourbon.” Smoke also showed up in a jar of Rick’s Picks Smokra ($10 for 15 ounce jar). If you’re like me and over the moon for okra, you’ll love this pickled version (company slogan: “Pickle people unite!”). Or perhaps more to your liking is millionaire shortbread with smoked hickory sea salt from Sticky Toffee Pudding Co.
Trend: Pile on the trendy ingredients of past and present. Those shortbread cookies with sea salt and smoke exemplify the increasingly complex combinations in, well, every category. Remember when chocolate with chili pepper was innovative? Or the first time you had ice cream, caramels, or chocolate truffles featuring sea salt? Well, Bissinger’s now has a caramel that features apple, ghost chili, and salt ($10 for 5 pieces). At least it doesn’t specify sea salt, another once-precious, now ubiquitous ingredient. To wit: East Hampton Gourmet’s lentil rice crispbread ($11 for container of 7 crisps) — sesame pink salt, which grabbed the gold in the most coveted sofi category of all, that of New Product.
Sriracha. It’s everywhere, so get used to it. These are just the tip of the fiery iceberg: Pop! Gourmet Popcorn’s sriracha popcorn, Terrapin Ridge Farms Sriracha Horseradish Sauce (get your double dose of sinus clearers here — $8!), the Spice Lab’s Sriracha Sea Salt (two trends in one!), Amella Caramel’s sriracha caramels (these do not seem to be available yet), and Sugar Plum Chocolate’s sriracha 72 percent dark chocolate bar ($3.84), which is one of nine sriracha-flavored treats in their line.
Vinegar like you’ve never experienced it. By which I mean drinking it. To be honest, there was only one at the show, Pok Pok Som’s Thai basil drinking vinegar, from the folks behind the award-winning Portland, Oregon, restaurant, Pok Pok ($15 for a 16-ounce bottle). But I include it because drinking diluted vinegar is a health kick dating back at least to America’s Colonial days, and because I think you will be seeing a lot more of it. Why? Over the almost three years that I’ve had my website, one of the most perennially popular posts is about switchel, a drink made with water, vinegar, and molasses. (Readers of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” series know it as haymaker’s punch.) Other innovative vinegars, which I imagine are drinkable if you water them down enough, include Wozz! Kitchen’s spiced beet “finishing” vinegar and Chaparral Gardens key lime.
Soda and drinks in new flavors. Like beet. I found two new sodas particularly refreshing: Joia all-natural orange, jasmine, and nutmeg, and Silk Road cucumber mint. (Unfortunately that latter is available only in California.) For the more health conscious there’s Brooklyn beet elixir by TumericALIVE, and Jin+Ja has added a dragon fruit flavor drink to its widely available ginger one. Victoria’s Kitchen combines two liquid trends with its almond water with coconut flavor.
Trend: Gluten-free everything. But you knew that, right?
Those are the prevailing trends as I see them. Independent of those, here are my top 10 tastes from the 2014 show:
Mediterra Nutrition’s all-natural nutrition bars in savory flavors like tomato-basil-caper and olive-walnut-chive ($23.95 per 12-bar box). I’m not big on energy bars or granola bars or the like, but these all-natural, non-GMO, gluten-free bars stand apart. (By the way: no relation to the Princeton’s Mediterra restaurant.)
Bellewether Farms whole milk Jersey cow ricotta in a 12-ounce basket ($8). Talk about dairy fresh! No wonder it was a sofi winner.
Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co. gluten-free lobster mac & cheese ($45.95 for two 9 ounce casseroles), which swept the diet & lifestyle award category. I don’t give a flying fig that it’s gluten free; it’s just downright tasty.
Boat Street pickled raisins ($12 for 9 ounce jar). They’re big, plump golden raisins in sweet-tangy syrup. They would be great with pork dishes and sausage.
Dang Foods (company slogan: “Dang that’s good!”) toasted coconut chips ($10 for a 3.2-ounce bag). This was a real surprise because I’m not crazy about snack chips of any kind. But these small bits aren’t sweet; they’re just an explosion of fresh, dried coconut.
Quinn Popcorn’s “farm to bag” kale and sea salt popcorn ($7.99 for two bags). Yep, it’s green, it bursts with kale flavor, and it’s delicious. Quinn has other great flavors, too, like cheddar and chipotle.
Jose Andres Foods’ Spanish provisions. This DC-based celebrity chef can do no wrong in my book — and his line of olive oils, jarred vegetables, and tinned seafood from Spain’s best small producers is magnifico — and pricey but worth it. (Note: much of the line is carried by Despana at 235 Nassau Street.)
La Nicchia Crunchy Capers (“capperi croccanti”) from wholesaler Manicaretti ($15 per ounce). Premium capers from the island of Pantelleria are cured and dried to perfection.
Moonstruck’s chocolates made from an heirloom Peruvian cocoa bean, pure Nacional that until a few years ago was thought to be extinct ($8 for 2 ounce bar). If chocolate can smack you in the head, this one does.
Italian Products USA’s jars of whole yellow Datterino tomatoes ($6.99 for a 12-ounce jar). Their fresh-tasting tanginess is reminiscent of fresh-picked Jersey tomatoes. Really.
One final note: Many of the products cited above are available through the company website or via Amazon, Williams Sonoma, or other food-carrying websites, and sometimes at local specialty markets, including Whole Foods and Wegmans.
Pat Tanner blogs at www.dinewithpat.com.