Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Food Ideas from Expo West

Two weekends ago I attended the Natural Food Products Expo in Anaheim, CA. This is always a treat because there are so many creative people who put their talents to work developing new products.

Once again, gluten-free food was a hot topic of the show and I ate non-stop for days. Gluten-Free Living will explore the new products in Vol 12, #2 and Vol 12, #3 as these products make their way to stores nationwide. One marketing director asked me not to write about a product until the fall because it doesn’t make consumers happy to learn about something if the product isn’t on store shelves…he called it “marketing to empty shelves.”

Since we are covering products in print, I thought I would tackle food ideas in the blog. The first idea was news to me in terms of distribution. A few brands were distributing through TJ Maxx. Those stores include Marshall’s, HomeGoods and TJ Maxx. I never thought to look in the food sections of those stores for gluten-free mixes or products! XO Baking is distributing that way. Right now her distribution is largely on the west coast but the products are really good and I like her use of coconut flour. Arnel’s Originals is another brand of mixes, largely on the West Coast but Arnel indicated that HomeGoods was shipping to the east coast. I said her bread would be perfect for a pastrami sandwich with spicy mustard!

Another idea that I noticed was that “gourmet” brands were taking their gourmet food knowledge and creating a gluten-free product. Russo’s New York Pizzeria launched a gluten-free pizza that brought me back to my days of living in Hoboken, NJ and eating at Benny Tudino’s or John’s in Greenwich Village. It was authentic NY pizza and really delicious.

Pappardelle’s Pasta was another gourmet pasta maker that introduced gluten-free flavor infused pasta. Garlic chive “rooster comb,” tomato basil “malfaldine” and porcini mushroom “ large trumpet” pastas are three examples of different flavors and shapes. Another really delicious pasta was RP’s Pasta, which is a fresh noodle that comes in the refrigerated section. I was just so excited to try pasta that had egg in it because I’ve been hearing about these noodles for a long time and they did not disappoint!

Breakfast-on-the-go was another idea this year. Van’s Natural Foods previewed Simply Delicious baked oatmeal bars and Amy’s Kitchen had a gluten-free Tofu Scramble Breakfast Wrap. I was very happy to dig through my bag and find the sample of Van’s Simply Delicious oatmeal bar when my plane landed at 5:30am Monday morning after a long red-eye flight back to New York.

Vegetable chips were huge! I tasted several brands of Kale chips and I liked all of them. I also tasted sweet potato chips, lentil chips and a whole variety of flavor infused tortilla chips. I think this section deserves its own write up at some point, should I feel virtuous eating Kale chips? Does it “count” as a serving of vegetables?

Meal replacement bars continue to be a big idea, but I am happy to report that fruits, nuts and gluten-free grains are becoming the main ingredients and honey or agave is taking the place of some of the sugar alcohols. My two personal favorites are the True Bar Walnut Cappuccino from Bakery on Main and the Manuka Newton by N.O.W. Bars. I had the opportunity to meet Phil Keoghan and he is certifiably a cool guy! I would happily snack on either one of those bars.

Ancient grains are an exciting idea because they add an important element of nutrition to a gluten-free product. They also add a texture, a chewiness and an earthy flavor to baked goods and pastas. I like the continued growth of multigrain brands such as Canyon Bakehouse and TruRoots Pasta. I heard about alternative flours at Bob’s Red Mill, such as hazelnut and teff flour.

Tea is always big at Expo West and I take many tea breaks to cleanse my palate as I snack my way through the convention center. Tea is pretty much always gluten-free so not really worth a commentary, but Honest Tea had a flavor of iced tea that was really refreshing. I tasted Honest Tea Heavenly Lemon Tulsi and was told that tulsi was an herb like basil. I braced myself for “yuck,” I was totally thinking “pesto flavor,” and then responded with “YUM.” I cannot wait to pick that up with lunch at my local Whole Foods!

It’s a great time to be on a gluten-free diet because the food gets better every year! Plus, Expo West is a fun event. Drew Brees was there, Ziggy Marley, Fabio and then there were other celebrities walking the show to find a product to endorse...it took me a few days to recover from all that walking and eating!

Kendall Egan

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