The annual Winter Fancy Food Show, which descends on San Francisco every January, is the largest marketplace devoted to specialty foods and beverages in North America, with more than 80,000 items, including thousands of new products.
These purveyors come from around the world in the hopes of catching the eye of registered attendees like Whole Foods or Dean & DeLuca, and landing their products in a grocery store or restaurant near you.
We nibbled, sipped, savored and sometimes spit our way through the towering exhibition to find out what’s hot and trending. Here’s what we found.
Cauliflower 3.0: First, we steamed it. Then, we riced it. Now, cauliflower is finding its way into crunchy, plant-based snacks. The best one we tasted — the one we hoarded three sample bags of — was From the Ground Up’s Cauliflower Crackers. The New Jersey-based maker of non-GMO foods uses cauliflower flour, whole-grain rice flour, cassava flour and cheddar flavor, and the results taste like a more delicate, good-for-you Cheez-It. They make pretzels, too. Look for them at Whole Foods; www.fromthegroundupsnacks.com.
On-the-go crunch: Every other vendor at this year’s show was touting their on-the-go snack as the tastiest, healthiest, crunchiest and most addictive. But the obvious standout was State Bird Crunch, created in partnership with Michelin-starred chefs Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski of San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions. The savory mix of puffed quinoa, spices and seeds is an ideal salad or soup topper — or yes, tossed straight into your mouth in the car or between meetings. Flavors: Sea Salt, Almond Rosemary and Furikake. Find it at Amazon and https://renderfood.com.
African flavors: North Africa’s ras el hanout exploded onto the spice scene last year, paving the way for other culinary corners of this diverse continent to shine. We saw fonio, the West African grain from Senegal, and niter kibbeh, an Ethiopian-spiced ghee. But the specialty food that caught our palate’s attention, and gave us the protein to trek the 220,000 square feet of Moscone Center, was Made By True’s biltong, a seasoned and air-dried beef jerky inspired by the time-honored snack of South Africa. Floss included in every bag. Check out the new shop — and maybe even a biltong and beer pairing — at 2266A Union St. in San Francisco; www.madebytrue.com. Also available at West Berkeley Bowl, Safeway and other markets.
Collagen-infused foods: What started last year with collagen supplements and infused waters has expanded to include all manner of edibles. So if you’re not sucking on bone marrow and chicken bones like our grandmothers did, you might want to try keeping your skin and nails strong with our top choice: Los Angeles’ Kween Granola Butter with Collagen. Yup, just gluten-free oats, flax, olive oil, coconut oil, maple syrup, salt and spices. The collagen comes from 100 percent grass-fed bovine from the Midwest. No refined sugars, no allergens — plus seven grams of protein per serving. Look for it at Lunardi’s, Whole Foods and Draeger’s markets; https://kween.co.
Ghee gone wild: Alternative oils and fat sources were all the rage, from jarred duck fat to argan oil-infused nut butters. But flavored ghee, or clarified butter, reigned supreme, with everything from lavender ghee to garlic-infused ghee. Our absolute favorite: Glory Bee’s Brown Butter Honey Gee. The Eugene, Oregon-based company blends 60 percent grass-fed brown butter ghee with 40 percent Pacific Northwest honey for a luscious, creamy, impossibly delicious topper for everything from roasted vegetables to bagels. Look for it at Lunardi’s and Draeger’s; https://glorybee.com
Cocktail bitters: Hoo boy. We saw almost as many cocktail bitters as we saw drinking vinegars. But Raft Cardamom Bitters from Portland was the show’s runaway cocktail product for its versatility: Equally tasty in a rum punch or whiskey-based drink with an exotic, warming intensity. It was voted the 2018 Product of the Year by the Specialty Food Association’s sofi Awards panel, which includes food writer Charles Passy of the Wall Street Journal.
Upcycled products: Chips made from vegetable pulp, leftover from juicing. Energy snacks made from imperfect bananas. And now, Bryner, a savory vegetable drink made from re-purposed pickle brine from a Sonoma pickle brinery. Developed with James Beard award-winning chef Nicolaus Balla of San Francisco’s Duna, Bryner is blended with savory vegetables, vegan Worcestershire and spices, and comes in three flavors. Our favorite: Beet Horseradish, but you might add vodka to the Smoky Tomato Chipotle and call it the best Bloody Mary. Find it on Amazon and at https://renderfood.com.
Cannabis-infused everything: Move over, gummies. Hemp-derived products are slowly making their way into the food mainstream, and the food show was abuzz with the concept. We tasted CBD-infused chocolate coins and met a retailer who has a cannabis-infused olive oil in development. For now, if you want your CBD in sweet form, try Sherman Oaks-based Agate Smart Honey’s CBD Honey, a raw wildflower honey infused with 100 milligrams of CBD per serving; https://agatesmarthoney.com