“Eat more vegetables” and “snack less” don’t have to be dueling goals. Of course, one could always turn to carrot sticks or cucumber slices for noshing between meals, but a new crop of crispy, salt-and-spice dusted products is making the case that potatoes shouldn’t be the ruling king of chips.
You might have tried kale chips — or Terra chips, an old standby in the category — but now there are a produce aisle’s worth of new options. Root Foods, a Los Angeles-based company founded by chefs, offered a tomato version that was a bit of a mind-bend: They have all the sweet-tart flavor of summer’s favorite fruit (yes, they’re technically not vegetables) with an unfamiliar but appealing crunch. The company also makes chips from bell peppers, zucchini, onions and a garden’s bed of green varieties including okra and asparagus. Root, like several other makers of vegetable snacks, employs a process that involves frying at a low temperature in a vacuum, which, as co-founder Joshua Chen explained to me, enables the vegetables to remain intact.
Popadelics is a mushroom-focused brand that adds intense flavors to the equation, including a smoky-hot Thai chili and a truffle-parmesan that brought to mind elegant risotto. Both the Popadelics and MushGarden’s shiitake “chips” are a bit of a misnomer: They’re small (Read: adorable!), whole mushrooms. The company was also offering a tomato variety, but instead of slices like Root’s, they were grape-size whole tomatoes that looked like a more wholesome version of the typical neon cheese puff, as well as whole garlic cloves, which were not as pungent as you’d think.
Rhythm, one of the more established purveyors, had a lineup of crunchy offerings that included cauliflower, broccoli and carrots, with an array of seasonings including everything bagel and buffalo-ranch-spiced. Other seasoned options included chili-lime avocado chips from BranchOut.
And while they weren’t crunchy like the others, pickle company Rick’s Picks was debuting new snack-size pouches, a lunch-box-friendly format for its puckery, crisp pickled vegetables, including “zesty carrot sticks” and “savory cauliflower florets. ”
Judging from the show’s isolates, plant-based everything is still… well, everything. But a couple of purveyors stood out in the vegan sea. Seafood made from plant proteins has lagged behind beef and chicken, but it’s an interesting frontier.
Good Catch offers an extensive variety of breaded products — and as with vegan chicken nuggets, the presence of a golden, crunchy exterior makes the faux version more suggestive of the real thing. There were vegan fish sticks and fillets, fried shrimp, crab cakes and salmon cakes. I tried the sticks prepared in a fish taco, and between the lime aioli, slaw, tortilla — and the distraction of the bustling crowds — I probably wouldn’t have pegged it as fish-free if I didn’t know better. It also offers several flavors of tuna salad (minus the titular ingredient, of course).
Current Foods was attempting something even more challenging — the company claims its pea-based products are “sushi grade” dupes for tuna and salmon. The company was serving cubes of the “tuna” with a sesame sauce, and while the funky condiment might have masked the taste, there was no hiding the texture, which was reasonably fishlike.
One trend had less to do with ingredients or preparation, and more to do with attitude. After a couple of years of a global pandemic and a barrage of depressing headlines crushing us daily via our news feeds, it seems a little joy is in order.
Sure, grumps could grouse that the Happy Grub’s “squeezable instant pancake mix” is gimmicky, or a little wasteful (you add water to the dry mix in the bottle, shake to mix, and then toss the bottle after emptying it onto your griddle) . But that misses the point, which is to save parents time cleaning mixing bowls, ladles and drips (“memories instead of messes” is the company’s promise) and make novelty-shape pancakes easier. The company had employed an artist to work its booth, turning out intricate Baby Yodas and Super Marios, but even a kid could probably crank out a star- or heart-shape flapjack they’d be proud of.
Also punching some nostalgia buttons was the canned whipped cream from Whipnotic that promises an upgraded version (no gums or artificial flavorings) of the stuff you rubbed right into your mouth when your parents weren’t looking. And a new cocktail tonic from Vermont maple syrup maker Runamok is the fun guy at the party — in addition to maple and citrus, it’s shot through with an edible, pearlescent shimmer, thanks to tiny mica flecks.
Co-founder and owner Laura Sorkin said she was initially skeptical of her husband’s idea for their first sparkly product, a maple syrup, fearing it wasn’t exactly “on brand” for their company, which boasts a kind of rustic-elegant aesthetic. “But it turned out he was right,” she said. “People just needed something silly, something fun. Don’t we all deserve that these days?”
Of course, honey isn’t new — the ancient Egyptians were hip to the sweet stuff long before today’s tastemakers. But we did spot a wave of products that makes the old flavor newly buzzy.
Among the slew of artisanal makers, some are producing interesting flavors, such as creamed chocolate pomegranate honey from Honey Gramz, which won the show’s top honor in the sweetener category. Bee’s Water rolled out a lineup of lightly flavored honey waters; and a dehydrated honey powder from SoulBee can be swapped for sugar in teas and smoothies.
Every so often, there’s an “It” alternative milk. (We’re at Peak Oat Milk these days, aren’t we?) The up-and-comers might include dairy alternatives pressed from seeds. Hope and Sesame is a line of sesame milks that professes to come from a crop that’s more sustainable than some other alternative milk sources.
Sesame, a representative said, is drought resistant, needs less water than many other crops and is naturally pest resistant and pollinator friendly. The company makes an original and flavored versions (I tried the original, which did have a detectable sesame flavor) and a “barista” variety blended for optimal latte mixing.
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Sunflower seeds provide the base for the milks made by Lattini, which have the virtue of not setting off the immune triggers of people with nut allergies. Pistachio nuts are having a moment, too: makers include Edenesque, which adds a hint of cardamom and date, and Tache (which wasn’t an exhibitor, but I happened to meet a representative for the company on the show floor, and he was happy to hook me up with a sample). It was creamy and lightly sweetened, with a nutty flavor that would work well in a chai or matcha latte.
The red-petaled hibiscus flower has a subtle fruitiness and a touch of astringency, making it a flavor that adds complexity to a blend and stands on its own — and judging from the offerings at the show, it’s gone way beyond the teacup.
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It headlines drinks-with-benefits like Sunwink’s tonic that combines it with mint and ashwagandha, and a canned popping bubble tea from Inotea’s Pobble brand. Blackberry Hibiscus Bellini is the newest flavor of Mingle Mocktails, a brand of nonalcoholic beverages aimed at the happy-hour-and-brunch crowd.
And it plays a supporting role in the complex strawberry and passion fruit flavor of Wildwonder, a sparking drink that claims gut-health benefits, and the Revive flavor from Hrbvor, a line of sparking and still herbal tea, along with moringa leaves and lemongrass.