Are you ready for it? If you haven’t already been drooling over everyone’s photos from Natural Products Expo West, then I’m here to give you a little sampler of all that you have to look forward to in stores!
I was floored by the scope of products and possibilities that greeted me at Expo West last weekend.
When I first became vegetarian in 1996, there were two options for imitation meat products – Boca Burger or Morningstar. Since I came from one of those meat and potato (and a side of vegetable) families, I saw food in the sense of meat replacement, so I swapped out a veggie burger for a regular burger and ate the same sides as the rest of my family. I can’t say that I honestly ever even really liked those burgers, it was just the only way I knew how to get my protein at the time.
The reason I mention all this is because Expo West was filled with companies showing off their latest and greatest products. There was an abundance of sampling vegan versions of standard American products. Everything from mayonnaise and fish sticks, to “Doritos” and breakfast sausage was represented with an animal-product-free counter part.
And quite frankly, most of it was quite good!
Being vegan is so much easier than it’s ever been before. While I personally don’t eat a lot of pre-packaged foods, I do feel there is a place for them, especially for a transitioning vegan, who may feel a little timid by the idea of only subsisting on vegetables if they are used to a meat-centered diet. The prevailing fear of embracing veganism stems from the idea that it’s all black-and-white–that it’s all 100% pure or nothing at all. By showing that there is a variety in a vegan diet–that it’s not always just sprouts, kale, and hummus–we have a better chance of convincing the non-vegan population that it’s worth giving a shot.
The quality and variety of taste, texture and flavor represented at Expo West was impressive. Plus, many companies are using even cleaner ingredients to make processed foods that it isn’t as scary to read ingredient labels as it has been in the past. (Think organic bean flour and sunflower seed oil for chips, rather than GMO corn, artificial food coloring, preservatives, etc).
Here are just a few of the most popular main stream products that were seen on the expo floor; and some of my personal favorites, as well!
Field Roast Breakfast Sausage: Field Roast, one of the leading brands of vegan grain meat products, previewed a new vegan breakfast sausage, and a new veggie burger. Both were delicious, moist and flavorful. If you’re into the wheat (vital wheat gluten) based meat replacements, get excited about these new releases. The sausages, miniature in size compared to their standard sausages, will be a great addition to your weekend brunch, and, if you’re so inclined, would be fabulous wrapped in dough to make vegan “pigs in blanket”.
Gardein Fishless Filet: At this point, I think just about every vegan in America (and Canada where the company originated) has tried or at least heard of Gardein. The meat free chick’n and beef alternatives were probably made most famous by Tal Ronnen in his cookbook, The Conscious Cook, which made gourmet vegan recipes easy and available to the general population (Chick’n Scallopini anyone?). At Expo, Gardein kicked it up a notch and sampled out their new fishless filet and they become one of the most talked about items! I decided to soy myself and try a little bite just to see what all the fuss was about. These are the missing link for all pre-vegan childhood memories. I mean, come on, raise your hand if you ate fish sticks as kid!
Follow Your Heart: Upon stopping at the Follow Your Heart booth, I discovered that I’ve been living under a rock for the last year. Apparently about a year ago, FYH ditched the soy for the Vegan Gourmet Shreds, and they make a mean grilled cheese and quesadilla! Seriously, if Expo West held a vegan grilled competition, FYH would get my vote, twice! And I say this as someone who generally stays away from imitation cheese products. They also are releasing their popular Vegenaise mayo substitute in a squeeze bottle so dressing your Fishless Filet and Field Roast Sausages just got a whole lot easier.
My favorite thing about Follow Your Heart – They are a very community-oriented company; everything is made locally in Southern California, thoughtfully crafted and they put a lot of passion into the quality of their product. Eco bonus – FYH puts great pride in their manufacturing facility being solar powered, and assures that the palm fruit oil they use is organic and sustainably grown and harvested.
Bee Free Honee: Yup, you read that correctly. Created by the very passionate and caring Katie Sanchez, Bee Free Honee is one small step towards saving the endangered honey bees. Bee Free Honee is made with USDA certified organic apples and just a touch of cane sugar to create a stickiness that is nearly indistiguishable from actual honey. It comes in five fabulous favors, Slippery Elm and Ancho Chile being my favorites. Katie also happens to be one of the nicest people I met all Expo weekend.
Piping Gourmets Gluten Free Whoopie Pies: As soon as I entered Expo on Friday, I was on a mission to find these much anticipated Whoopie Pies that I had read were up for the honor of best in show. Fortunately, they were in the first expo hall I explored and it didn’t take too long to find, and therefore the booth was easy to return at the end of the weekend. Yes, I went back for a second taste! OMG were these good. I appreciate that they are made with all natural ingredients, no artificial coloring or preservatives and are gluten free without sacrifice for taste or texture. Big props to Piping Gourmets for offering, in my opinion, the perfect combination of chocolate and mint. The two fabulous female entrepreneurs who created these delectable desserts are the proud recipients of the Whole Foods Market Local Producer Loan Program, so I can only imagine they have more big things coming up in their future.
Phoney Baloney’s Coconut Bacon: Lastly, my personal favorite Best in Show are the new flavors of Phoney Baloney’s coconut bacon. The original coconut bacon has been topping my avocado toast for awhile now and I was thrilled to see they’re releasing new flavors, including chipotle barbecue, apple fennel, candied maple bacon, and reduced sodium, soy free bacon. If you’ve never tried PB’s coconut bacon (what are you waiting for?!) they are little flakes of crispy, smokey, salty coconut flake goodness. Made with minimal, oh so simple ingredients, coconut bacon is perfect for everything from salad and soup toppings or Hawaiian style pizza to just eating as a snack straight out of the bag. But be warned, they are seriously addicting! While I could easily make coconut bacon at home, it’s just so much more convenient to buy it in the bag, and I’m all about supporting small business.
Of course I had to have my picture taken with what has been dubbed the coconut bacon baby!
Related: NYC Veggie Food Fest Round Up
Also by Christine: Soy-Free Tofu? Yes, It Exists
Photo: Christine Oppenheim