At a travel writer, I eat out. A lot. Over the years, I've noticed trends on menus that are baffling (pork-belly, fried chicken, salty sweets), great if done right (Brussels Sprouts, kale) and niche (vegan). This year, I was invited to the International Restaurant and Food Show in New York City, and I happily accepted -- curious about the new kale, sprouts or sea-salt caramel coming down the pike.
There were over 500 exhibitors in the cavernous Javits Center representing eager food purveyors, culinary renegades, doggy bag crafters, vineyards, farms, all-natural soda bottlers, and kitchen equipment and furniture suppliers. Most offered samples. It was a very caloric day, but hey, all in the spirit of research. Product developers, mom and pop cooks, and professional chefs all offered their most promising sweets and savories.
What food trends are foodies embracing now? Which products caught my eye and taste-buds? Though hardly exhaustive, these fads and foodstuffs stood out:
1. One of the biggest trends is a proliferation in naturally flavored, low calorie, artisanal carbonated beverages, raw juices, and filtered sparkling water.
Bruce Cost Ginger Ale is made with 100 percent fresh ginger -- only 66 calories per bottle and sweetened with monk fruit.
Ripe Bar Juice, out of New Haven, CT eschews processed chemicals, using only organic, raw ingredients in their Bloody Mary and Margarita mixes. This company also bottles "Project Fresh" -- a variety of organic cold pressed craft juice perfect for cleanses.
NY City-based Found Beverage Company features some of the best "infused sparking waters" on earth. My favorite is the pallet-cleansing Cucumber Mint.
Spindrift, from Boston, MA, offers "Fresh Squeezed Sodas," in flavors like blackberry, grapefruit, orange mango and half and half (tea and lemonade), sweetened with just a touch of cane sugar.
I can attest to the effectiveness of Agua Enerviva flavored waters. An alternative to lab-made energy and sports drinks, this mostly natural (it's sweetened with Splenda) flavored water combines electrolytes and caffeine to keep you hydrated and alert.
Let's not forget tried and true spring-fed bottled water. Saratoga leads the pack in its eye-catching bottle color and design.
2. Exotic and Natural Ice Creams:
Chloe's Soft Serve and pops are made with three ingredients: fruit, water and "a tough of cane sugar." The soft serve is amazingly creamy for a pure fruit ice cream.
Mikawaya Mochi: green tea and other flavored of ice-cream encased in chewy rice dough, Mochi is as sweeping a sensation as Bubble Tea was a few years ago.
3. Gluten free baked goods have evolved from those first-generation hockey pucks into something resembling real artisanal loaves.
Brooklyn-based Everybody Eats bakes light and airy bread that is both gluten and dairy-free.
No Way! It's Gluten-Free out of Jamaica, N.Y. bakes up moist and deceivingly non-gluten-y Veggie Muffins, dinner rolls and other sweet items.
4. Plant-based egg substitute. A revolutionary product, the brains at Hampton Creek Foods have engineered cholesterol-free fluffy-enough-for-omelet eggs out of a certain variety of the Canadian Yellow Pea plant. Currently, you can purchase Hampton Creek's non-dairy, non-soy, non-GMO creamy Just Mayonnaise at Whole Foods and Costco.
5. Honest to goodness sauces and jams from the earth, canned by folks far from Brooklyn.
Jersey Italian Gravy out of Ridgewood, NJ has only five, count 'em, five ingredients: vine-ripened tomatoes, onions, olive oil, salt and cane sugar. Just like Grandma's, if Grandma came from Jersey.
Beth's Farm Kitchen jams and chutneys are all cooked up in Beth's Columbia County NY kitchen. Hence the name. She uses over 39,000 lbs of fruit a year to create these wonderfully tasty condiments.
My favorite homespun drink: from Finger Lakes region of NY, Cliffton Dry wine-style sparking cider. With no added sugar, this slightly alcoholic beverage (5.5 percent) is just 95-110 calories per 12 oz bottle. Made from premium New York State apples, it drinks like a chardonnay rather than hard cider, and will be the perfect snappy accompaniment to kale salad on a hot summer's day.
My favorite food of the day: Honey Smoked Fish Co. The guys behind Honey Smoked Salmon have a right to be a bit bombastic. "This is the only superfood that's ready to eat," say co-owners Kevin Mason and Keith Jones. With the faintest touch of honey, this fish is moist, buttery and delicately smoked. Perfection. Good thing you can purchase a pound at Costco for just $13.99.
You'll find many restaurants using these ingredients and foodstuffs and lots of offbeat Northeast U.S. travel ideas on GetawayMavens.com.