Tastings from Natural Food Products Expo West, 2011

The Anaheim Convention Center was home to thousands of natural food products March 11-13, 2011. No matter how tired my feet were at the end of two days racing around to different booths, I left with a renewed sense of optimism on the direction of the food industry and a real sense of commitment to make smart food choices for me and my family.

One overall movement at this year’s show was the awareness and growth of non-GMO foods. “GMO’s (or genetically modified organisms) are organisms that have been created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE).” New species, that do not naturally occur, are created by science using merged DNA. They are bred to withstand disease or herbicide application but there is a growing concern that GMO’s are linked to health problems and environmental damage. Please visit the Non GMO Project for more information. I summed up their brochure very quickly here!

The other major food theme, which is no surprise at a natural product expo, is organic foods. There is so much emphasis on “clean food” and food that isn’t over processed. I find the innovation and the tastes to be really something special.

Of course, gluten-free food was one of the hottest buzz words on the floor. Two years ago, gluten free was called “trend.” Now, every break out session I attended said that gluten free was here to stay and growing. Panelists did not think gluten free would ever be as large a category as organic, but there is major growth supported by an ever growing number of consumers.

What I noticed about the new gluten-free products introduced at expo were the rich variety of gluten-free flours and the presence of whole grains! More producers were choosing millet, amaranth and quinoa flours than ever before. Mixes had coconut and almond flours and there were products that had the whole grain seal on them! This is a big change from the tapioca and potato starches and rice flour blends from the past. New mixes and products have really upped the nutrition.

So what did I enjoy tasting? Some of these products were new to me, but might not be new on store shelves.

In no particular order, here goes—
Feel Good Foods offered tastings of their GF Handmade Asian Style Dumplings with GF dipping sauce. OMG, they were just like the dumplings that I have missed so much. There are chicken, pork, vegetable and shrimp dumplings.

Starfish introduced frozen, oven ready GF Italian breaded sole and GF crispy battered cod, haddock and halibut. I have wanted this for a very long time, a quick frozen fish dish that works so well on an evening fill with baseball and lacrosse practices!

Kim & Scott’s Gourmet GF Pretzel bakes up hot and chewy with a salt packet on the side for garnishing to taste. They actually have 5g of whole grains per pretzel.

Riega Foods introduced a whole line of cheese sauces, white cheddar, yellow cheddar cheese, pepper jack and alfredo cheese sauces. These are going to be a busy mom lifesaver.

Solterra Foods has a huge gluten free line that includes gnocchi, pasta and baking mixes but their pizza with “bake in bag” technology is pretty exciting. The bag helps avoid cross contamination in ovens and margharita pizza was delish!

Usually, I am not a big fan of vegetarian burgers but I tasted Sol Cuisine Spicy Black Bean Burger and Original Burger and I liked both very much. I am definitely going to keep these in my freezer.

Barney Butter is my new sandwich spread! Their creamy almond butter was smooth and rich in nutty flavor and they are introducing a packet size, 90 calorie, portion that is supremely portable!

A GF fig newton? I tasted it and I loved it! Jovial Foods has a fig cookie that had me returning for a third and fourth cookie. They are imported from Italy and WOW!

There was a lot going on in the GF Bread category. First and foremost, Udi’s and Rudi’s have created hot dog and hamburger buns…amen! Glutino introduced Genius Gluten Free Bread which I predict will be a big success for them because the texture and flavor is very good.

Canyon Bakehouse is the one to watch. They have a large product line that includes hamburger buns, white bread, 7-grain bread, cinnamon raisin and rosemary-thyme foccaccia. They have included some interesting GF grains in their blend-millet, amaranth and sorghum to name a few. I am really excited about the taste and the whole grain seal!

Two mix companies caught my eye, The Pure Pantry’s dark chocolate cake mix was so good and the flour blend included quinoa flour! It was very rich and moist. Her entire product line was organic and three of her mixes were wholegrain (chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal spice cookie and the dark chocolate cake).

The XO Baking Co. launched a huge selection of GF baking mixes using coconut flour in her blend! Her sell sheet said that coconut flour is full of dietary fiber and is known to improve digestion and support thyroid function. I tried the banana bread mix and it was full of great banana flavor with a moist texture to the bread.

I tasted some great new biscotti from Ener-G and from Coffaro’s Baking Co!

It gave me great pleasure to see two cookie vendors that I have known since their start up days showing their goodies for the first time at Expo West, Caveman Cookies and Glow Gluten Free. I hope they both had a great show!

Lastly, some of the well known GF brands were showing off their new packaging. Chebe Foods and Nature’s Path Organic Foods both look sharp in their new boxes!

This is really only the tip of the iceberg…the take away message for me is that gluten-free food is more delicious than ever and that just about any type of food can be made gluten free.