The competition, the drama, the sheer number of contenders! Outstanding talent, disappointments, jubilation!
No, no, I'm not talking about the Summer Olympics in London. I've recently returned from the Summer Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C.
In its 58th year, it is the largest marketplace in North America devoted exclusively to specialty foods and beverages. Exhibit halls were filled with the latest in chocolate, cheese, olive oil, snack mixes, and natural and organic products from food artisans, importers and entrepreneurs looking to connect with buyers from the top names in retailing and restaurants. There were 2,250 exhibitors and competitors June 17 to 19.
The Gold Award sofi winners were announced at a red carpet (what else?) ceremony. Sofi stands for specialty outstanding food innovation. Of the 35 category winners, these are the ones I'm keeping an eye out for.
• Fevertree Mediterranean Tonic: Makes gin or vodka and tonic a party in a tumbler. $5.99/200-milliter four pack.
• KIMKIM Korean Hot Sauce: Makes Frank's RedHot taste like ketchup. $6.99/16 ounces.
• Scourtins: Crisp, salty sweet olive biscuits from Provence, so good with cheese. $5.95/6 ounces.
• Pistachio Cream: Dip into the jar, spread on a croissant -- or wait: Why not spread a layer in the bottom of a fresh blueberry tart? $16/7.4 ounces.
• Vermont Butter and Cheese: Buy anything they make. Anything. Prices vary.
• Cook Simple Tamale Pie: OK, it's a mix. But an excellent, "clean" answer to the question, "What's for dinner?" $4.99/12.3 ounces.
• Fermin Iberico Panceta slices: The cured and smoked pork belly of black-footed pigs, pata negra, has an earthy sweetness that comes from the breed's natural diet of acorns from Spain's Mediterranean forests. If you see any product with the Fermin Iberico label, buy it, no questions asked. All are sublime. $12.99/8 ounces.
But what do the judges know, anyhow? After walking miles of aisles, I spotted my own stand-outs in new trends and products. This (and next) year's magic words are nori, goji berries, maca, acai, chia and agave, all suitable for crosswords fans.
• Agave syrup: It's everywhere, taking the place of HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup). Today's smart-money sweetener is the syrup made from agave, the plant so much appreciated by tequila aficionados.
• Veggie Ice-Pops: The founder of the veggi-cicles is a mom who was determined to find alternative (read: good and good-for-you) food for her meat-and-potatoes loving husband and kids. She knew if she offered something healthful, it had better be convenient, delicious and fun. She made purees with whole veggies and fruits, sweetened the mix with agave syrup, filled plastic tubes and froze them. Quick, cold and yummy. Flavors are Carrot Berry, Citrus Cucumber and Sweet Potato Pie. But to be on the safe side, I'd just ask the kids if they want yellow, green or red.
• Seaweed snacks: Crunchy seaweed snacks from various manufacturers will be a huge product trend. Nori seaweed (you know it as a dark green sushi wrapper) sheets have zero bad stuff. Crispy, salty, sweet, you pop it like chips. Or snip over soup, rice or salad. There are wasabi, sesame and olive flavors. Stash individual packs in a purse, desk drawer or glove box for a quick snack. I'm addicted already.
• Holy Crap: That's not an expletive. It's the actual trademarked name of a new cereal. The inventors, a retired Canadian couple, began bagging a cereal blend of black chia seed, buckwheat hemp hearts, cranberries, raisins, apple and cinnamon, and selling and sampling at farmers markets. The stuff was first named Hapi Food. Yawn. After about the 10th bag was sold, they heard samplers literally exclaiming, "Holy crap! This is good stuff." They re-named the product, triggering a tenfold percent rise in sales.
Readers of the book "Born to Run" know that the Mexican super athletes of the Tarahumara Indian tribe thrive on a diet of pinole, chia seeds and grain alcohol. Chia has a unique and powerful makeup of protein, oil, antioxidants and fiber, providing long-lasting energy, reducing cravings and aiding digestion.
There are more omega-3s and 6s in one serving (2 tablespoons) of Holy Crap cereal than in a serving of wild Atlantic salmon. One serving has more fiber than a bran muffin. For now, order online: http://holycrap.ca.
Marlene Parrish may be reached at email@example.com or 412-481-1620.