New Favorites from the Fancy Food Show

It’s been a while, but here’s another list of my favorite finds from the Fancy Food Show. Look for these up-and-comers at a store near you.

Askinosie chocolate-hazelnut spread

Askinosie’s Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread

No matter how hard I try, I could never produce this spread at home (even though I have an excellent recipe for a Nutella knockoff). The hazelnuts are a rare variety from Washington, known as DuChillys (pictured). Because of their oblong shape, you might mistake them for almonds. But once you taste their sweet flesh, you won’t forget them. The hazelnut butter, cocoa powder and nibs (from the Philippines), and organic sugar are mixed in a melanger for nine days. It tastes fruity (like raspberry) and is worth every penny. $13 for 6.5 oz, available at

Comptoir du Cacaco little crusties

Comptoir du Cacaco flaky pralines

Comptoir du Cacaco

Comptoir du Cacao, a family-run chocolate factory in France, is finally coming to the states. I first tried their products in 2007, during an otherwise bum year at the Chocolate Show. I’ve been dreaming about them ever since (they weren’t available via mail order). Their signature “flaky pralines” contain nuts and/or caramel that are finely ground with single-origin chocolate. The texture’s like a Kit Kat to the nth degree. I also love the “little crusties,” which come in dark chocolate with candied oranges, chocolate-hazelnut with salted butter caramel, and white chocolate with coconut. Visit for more info.

Zingerman's Zzang Original candy bar

Zingerman’s Candy Bars

Zingerman’s, the famed specialty-foods store in Ann Arbor, Mich., has made candy bars for several years, but they started their dedicated candy business a year ago (which means wider distribution). Each bar is made when it’s ordered, and stores can only display them for 60 days. The freshness, as well as the high quality ingredients (Valrhona chocolate, for instance), is evident when you taste the bars. The Zzang Original is what a Snickers was meant to be: crunchy nuts, soft nougat, and not too sweet. About $7 each, available at specialty stores and

La Tourangelle oil

La Tourangelle Oil

This California-based company makes some of the most intensely flavored oils I’ve tried. I wouldn’t recommend baking with them (the heat will destroy the delicate flavor), but try using it in homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread, or drizzling it on vanilla ice cream. My favorites are the pecan and sesame oils (custom made from Japan, and the seeds are roasted at a low temp so they don’t burn). From $8.99 for 8.5 oz, available at specialty stores;

Raw IceCream

Talk about a conversation killer. Just say the words “raw” and “vegan,” and people will run away from you. But wait, I promise this tastes just as good as traditional ice cream. I asked them how in the world they get it smooth instead of grainy, and they aren’t talking. All I know is that they use cashews, coconut, agave nectar, cocoa butter, vanilla beans, salt, and other ingredients based on the flavor. The company is truly eco conscious, making carbon neutral and compostable packaging. Available at specialty stores in New York;

Comments (1)      Email Email      Print Print

The 2009 Fancy Food Show, Part 2

One month ago, I promised to share more of my favorites from the Fancy Food Show. I don’t have an excuse for the delay, unless you count the many distractions I’ve had: a box of Parisian chocolate and three Amano bars (more on that later). Here are the last items that caught my eye.

Best Brownies

peanut butter brownies

New York City’s Peanut Butter and Co. is best known for its natural peanut butters. Here they branch out with a boxed mix. I normally bake from scratch, but these are just as good, and you can’t beat the rich peanut butter taste. Recommended for all baking phobes.

Best Confections

Amella caramelsPhoto: Amella

Amella cocoa butter caramels have unique flavors (carrot cake, black forest and passion fruit), and the packaging is beautiful. The true test, though, is the flavor: the black forest tastes like fresh cherries, and the texture is smooth and lingering.

Best Energy Bars

Element Bars - energy bars

Element Bars lets you customize your energy bars with a variety of fruits, nuts and grains, and it doesn’t taste like medicine. I suspect it’s because the default mix contains whole soybeans rather than soy protein isolate. Nutritionally, it’s like comparing white sugar to a piece of fruit. Soy protein isolate is processed at high temperatures (which renders most of the protein ineffective) in an alkaline solution, then an acid wash, and lastly neutralized in an alkaline solution. Appetizing, huh?

Best Coffee Cake

Jennifer’s Kitchen, a startup from Indiana, makes super moist coffee cakes, but the best part is all the crunchy streusel. 10% of each purchase goes toward a non-profit organization. Sorry, no pictures, although their site has lovely ones.

Related links:
Dispatches from the previous years’ Fancy Food Shows
Make your own energy bars: Chocolate-date “Larabars”

Comments off      Email Email      Print Print

Fancy That, It’s the 2009 Fancy Food Show

At the Fancy Food Show, virtually everything you’ve ever seen on the grocery store shelf is yours for the taking, plus unreleased products and the rarest foods: jamón Ibérico (the porcine equivalent of Kobe beef), fresh mangosteens, black garlic (I don’t know what the big deal is: it tastes like salted prunes) and crudo from David Burke Townhouse.

When I was young (relatively speaking; I’m 27), I tried hundreds of samples and had the clarity of mind to describe almost everything I ate. Clearly I’ve abused my tastebuds; this year, I got palate fatigue at sample #2. But this is what I do to in the name of research.

The Chocolate (this is what we’re here for, after all)

Amano, Domori, Valrhona and Pralus were at the top of my list in years past, and I don’t see anyone replacing them any time soon. But here’s some more standouts.

Better Than Nutella

Pralus chocolate-hazelnut spread

Chocolate-hazelnut spread is my favorite condiment, and I sought out ones that were better than Nutella and my homemade version. A half dozen of them were too sweet, resembled a ball of shortening or were just underwhelming.

The winner by far was Pralus. The deep, toasted hazelnut flavor could only be matched by their exquisite chocolate. They also debuted two single-estate Venezuelan chocolates (Sorry I can’t remember the names. Blame it on the fatigue.). One tasted like raisins, and the other had soil notes that morphed into coffee. Amazing what a couple degrees in latitude can do to chocolate. The chocolate-hazelnut spread is available at Zingerman’s and Murray’s Cheese (Greenwich Village only). They run out quickly, but I think it’s worth checking back everyday. While you’re there, also pick up the Infernal Bar, a brick of chocolate-covered chocolate-hazelnut spread.

Sunland organic chocolate peanut butter

Coming in a close second is Marco Vacchieri from Italy. The poor man’s version is Sunland’s chocolate peanut butter (a paltry $5 for top quality stuff). Because it’s made with Valencia peanuts, which are naturally sweet, there’s very little added sugar.

Top Chocolate Bars

Pacari chocolate

I actually tried Pacari last year but didn’t include them in my roundup. I’m usually not fond of Ecuadorian chocolate because it tends to be neutral. Pacari, however, is strong and fruity. They also don’t use vanilla (only the bravest chocolate makers attempt this).

Claudio Corallo chocolate

It’s one thing for a chocolate maker to personally source his beans, but Claudio Corallo is the only one I know who actually grows them. When they’re harvested, they’re fermented for nine to 17 days (instead of the usual two to seven) and not conched. Conching makes chocolate smooth, but Corallo insists that it sacrifices flavor. As a result, his chocolate is among the most complex I’ve had.

chocolate ice cream

I’m going to break the rules and promote something that’s inaccessible to 99% of the population. For the best ice cream OF YOUR LIFE, you need to get a $4,000 Pacojet, 80% Claudio Corallo chocolate and a killer recipe or pastry chef. The Pacojet makes ice cream in reverse: instead of churning a liquid base, you start with a rock-hard frozen mass, and the blades shave it till it’s literally smoother than silk. It’s eons ahead of gelato and frozen custard. The machine’s been around for 20 years. Where have I been all this time?

Some practical applications: if you know of a restaurant with a Pacojet, run there as fast as you can. And only use the best ingredients in your ice cream recipes.

Askinosie white chocolate

White chocolate doesn’t hold the same value as the dark stuff (it’s not legally chocolate anyway), but I think it’s because most people haven’t tasted good white chocolate.

Most white chocolate is made from deodorized cocoa butter, which gives the bar its characteristic paleness. Deodorizing masks inferior cacao, but you also lose subtle flavors. Even if you find white chocolate without any vegetable fat (avoid “white coating” and palm kernel oil), most likely you’re only tasting the milk and vanilla.

El Rey Icoa is made from non-deodorized cocoa butter, and it shows in the flavor. Coming in second place is Askinosie (read my review of their 70% chocolate). It’s the least sweet white chocolate I’ve had, and the goat’s milk adds a mellow note. The San Jose del Tambo with cocoa nibs is a winning combination: sweet and bitter.

Honorable Mentions

Madecasse Malagasy chocolate

Madécasse’s (aka Malagasy) entire chocolate-making process, from growing to packaging, is done in Madagascar to benefit the locals. The chocolate has a long finish and is favored by pastry chef Pichet Ong.

Ezcazu chocolate

Escazú, of Raleigh, N.C., debuted two years ago and shows promise as another small-batch chocolate maker. I’m fond of the 60% dark chocolate with goat’s milk. It has a sharp flavor, and the goat’s milk doesn’t taste like hay (in lesser brands it does, though).

Coming up in part two: everything else.

Related links:
Dispatches from the previous years’ Fancy Food Shows
How to judge cacao by its origin, and why it matters
Chocolate Show coverage

Comments (9)      Email Email      Print Print

Fun and Fancy Free

Although there’s thousands of free samples for the taking, it’s tough covering the New York Fancy Food Show each year. The corporate giants are always there, and finding a new product with an interesting story and a distinctive taste is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Plus, I’m saving the really good products for work, so I can’t share everything here. But I bet Gourmet‘s not interested in these foods. (No offense to these guys, but they just have a niche audience.)

I Swear it Tastes Better Than it Sounds

raw food bar

Raw Revolution is similar to Larabar, except with more interesting flavors and textures. Both brands pack their energy bars with ground nuts and puréed dates, but Raw Revolution leaves some nuts whole, so you’re not left with uniform, nubby bits. Raw Revolution also has a spirulina flavor, but I swear it doesn’t taste “green.” As a bonus, there’s flax seeds, which are high in omega-3s.

It’s a shame that Raw Revolution hasn’t caught on like Larabar. I suspect it’s the packaging, which has an anarchist-type feel. If you’ve ever opened a Nutrigrain bar and felt cheated by the tiny bar inside the big wrapper, you’re in for the same effect here. As an organic company, you’d think they’d cut down on wasteful packaging.

Another warning: That bar has as many calories as a small meal, but it’s nutrient-dense too. ($1.99 for a 2.2-oz bar)

raw food bar

BranTreats and Flaxmax sound more like bird food than desserts, but these are delicious. A hybrid between biscotti and crackers, these cookies’ only source of fat is the almonds. Delicate and crisp, you don’t need to soften them in a cup of coffee, although they certainly go together. If you still don’t believe me, Almondina, the parent brand, swept four awards at past Fancy Food Shows. ($4.49 for a 4-oz bag)

But it’s Just…

Photo: Fox & Obel

Granola-Kingslake & Crane has chunky clusters with an astoundingly light texture. Normally, nuts are an afterthought in granola, but these ones are perfectly toasted and fresh-tasting. There’s also tart cherries to complement the brown sugar-covered oats. This was so tasty that I assumed it was soaked in oil. Surprise, it was dry toasted. Although oats are dirt cheap, I don’t think you can replicate this recipe at home.

I make my own granola, and I’ve never been able to get those coveted clusters, toasted flavor, and light texture without adding oil. The best taste comes from Alton Brown’s recipe, but it has 1/4 cup oil. Deborah Madison‘s no-fat-added, apple juice granola is tough and bland, and The Traveler’s Lunchbox’s granola is light, but I’m not fond of the flavor. Maybe if I combine all three recipes, I’ll come close to Kingslake & Crane. ($9.95 for a 1-lb bag)

peanut butter

Peanut butter-Sunland/Peanut Better makes all their peanut butters from Valencias, which are naturally sweet. The sweetness is disconcerting for the plain butters, but they’re perfect for their chocolate and praline butters. Too bad they don’t make hazelnut butter, because they could outdo Nutella. ($5 for 10 oz)

Where Have You Been All my Life?

Bonnat Chocolate

Bonnat is not new, nor does it have a flashy backstory, but their Chuao bar is amazing. Normally, Venezuelan chocolate has notes of soil and raisin, but this chocolate is different. Sadly, I don’t remember what it actually tastes like, because it was one of the last things I ate at the show, and my taste buds were spent. ($8.25 for a 3.5 oz bar)

Comments (6)      Email Email      Print Print

Favorite Fancy Foods: Everything Else

As promised, here’s the remainder of my favorite items from this year’s Fancy Food Show. Sorry for the delay. I’ll be on vacation for the next 10 days, but in the mean time, why don’t you make an ice cream float with cold-brew iced coffee?

Best novelty oil

There was tea oil (how do they get the oil out of those leaves?) and stoplight-green avocado oil, but at the end of the day, those novelty oils tasted as plain as canola. Not Miguel & Valentino’s smoked olive oil. It had the heady aroma of pine cones and borderline bitterness to go along with it.

Best novelty oil runner-up

hazelnut oil

J. Leblanc roasted hazelnut oil– Used at the French Laundry and other fine restaurants, this oil is best for “finishing” a dish, since heat destroys its flavor. Try it in salad dressings, or let it soak into crusty bread.

Best cocktail nuts

macadamia nuts

Brookfarm macadamias with bush pepper spice have bush tomatoes, Tasmanian mountain peppers, Dorrigo pepper, Byron Hinterland Lemon Myrtle and Australian sea salt. I don’t know what half of those things are, but they had the perfect balance of sage-like herbs and salt.

Best cocktail peanuts

salt blistered peanuts

Technically, peanuts aren’t nuts, so I had to give out an separate award to Earth Family’s salt-blistered peanuts. The ridges give the peanuts extra crunch. In an age where green packaging is largely marketing, the words “organic” and “sea salt” really do mean something here. These are worlds beyond Planter’s.

Best savory sweet

Bay seasoning peanut brittle

Salt in caramel and chocolate is becoming common nowadays, so I thought the most creative salty sweet was Blue Bay Crab Co.’s peanut brittle with bay seasoning. Salty toffee peanuts are as old as Crackerjack, but sweet nuts with paprika, mustard and herbs is a new taste sensation.

Best gourmet chips

Tyrells parsnip chips

Tyrells from the UK makes parsnip, beetroot and carrot chips. If you like Terra chips, you’ll love these. They are hearty, so they won’t get crushed under the pressure of your fingers. They also have five varieties of potato chips, including jalapeno and sausage.

Best fruit-sweetened soda

Wild Fruitz's soda

In the realm of designer drinks, there was mint-flavored water, calorie-free drinks and fruit-sweetened sodas. Wild Fruitz’s sodas stood out because they taste just like the fruit itself.

Best gluten-free product

Michael's gluten-free chocolate chip cookies

Michael’s gluten-free chocolate chip cookies are some of the best cookies I’ve ever had, and they don’t even have wheat flour! I’m even biting my tongue because I’ve previously said that all-butter cookies are the only way to go. These gluten-free cookies have palm oil margarine (gasp!), but at least they’re free of trans fat.

Best ice cream flavors

Max & Mina's ice cream

Max & Mina’s in Queens has kitschy flavors: rugelach, halavah (sesame candy) birthday cake and if you can stomach it — garlic and lox. Their flavors are creative enough to satisfy adult palates, but they also bring you back to your childhood. Sometimes I just want fun ice cream without all the shiso-Meyer lemon bla bla bla madness.

Best packaged cookie line

Immaculate Baking Co. cookies

I just about gave up on Chips Ahoy and the like because I can taste the chemicals. If I wanted a cookie, I’d usually bake it, until now. Immaculate Baking Co.’s all-natural chocolate chunk, key lime and pumpkin ginger cookies are great for snacking. May they replace all your Famous Amoses. They also have organic bake-at-home cookie dough. The only drawback is that their bagged cookies are all crispy; I don’t think it’s possible to make soft packaged cookies without preservatives.

Best sandwich cookies

Late July organic sandwich cookies

Late July Organic Snacks make great Oreo knock-offs. I couldn’t make something better if I tried. Too bad they don’t have as many flavors as Immaculate Baking Co.

Complete Fancy Food Show 2007 Gallery

Related posts:

Fancy Food Show 2007 Favorites, the Chocolate
Fancy Food Show 2006 Favorites, part 1
Fancy Food Show 2006 Favorites, part 2

Comments off      Email Email      Print Print

Favorite Fancy Foods: The Chocolate

Fancy Food Show favorites

It’s that time of year again: the Fancy Food Show! From July 8-10, more than 5,700 booths from 73 countries and regions populated New York. Established and fledgling companies hobnobbed with food service professionals and the media, hoping that their product would be distributed to the masses. It’s a preview of what’s to come to the supermarket shelves.

The natural food products were greatly improved. Last year, there were pseudo whole-grain products and stuff that tasted like medicine. This time around, there was lots of flax, peanuts in all forms (salt-blistered cocktail nuts and natural peanut butters), whole-grain crisps, creative oils, fruit-sweetened sodas and even gluten-free experimentation.

As for non-healthy foods, there were gourmet potato chips and sweet/salty/savory confections. I had some good peanut brittle with seafood seasoning. Long a practice in France, there were also several salted caramels. I think U.S. candy is actually pretty salty to hide the flaws. These candies, however, used salt deliberately and carefully.

On the chocolate front, there was a continuation of single-origin chocolates and cacao nibs. Nothing ground breaking, but there was fine tuning. I felt bad for chocolate giant Ghirardelli, who was proudly handing out 73% chocolate. Cacao percentage is so 2005; artisan makers are focusing on cacao quality rather than quantity.

I enjoyed going a second year in a row, because I developed a better strategy: eat a light meal beforehand (there’s enough food in the Javits Center to feed a village, but all that random stuff churning around in your stomach doesn’t feel good) and go to the Focused Exhibits first. Otherwise, you’ll get lost in the random food booths. Also, it was nice seeing the fruits of last year’s show. Whole Foods now carries Skotidakis Greek yogurt and 34 Degrees fruit pastes, two of my favorites from last year.

Let’s get on to my personal Best in Show, shall we? I had a hard time paring down my favorites, hence the super-specific categories. First, the chocolate.

Best Chocolate Bar – two-way tie

Amano chocolate

Amano – At 4,441 feet above sea level in Orem, Utah, Art Pollard is one of the few remaining independent American chocolate makers (Hershey’s bought out Scharffen Berger and Dagoba a couple years ago). He doesn’t use emulsifiers like soy lecithin, which create smoothness but can interfere with flavor. He also swears by the mountaintop setting, saying it allows him to process the chocolate at a lower temperature and preserve more flavors. He only makes 70% chocolate, but they taste radically different because of the origin. The Ocumare from Venezuela tastes like berries, apricots and plums, while the Madagascar tastes like oranges. He also has a limited edition Cuyagua.

Domori chocolateDomori from Italy also doesn’t use emulsifiers, and it’s a wonder how they get their chocolate so smooth and thick. Two of their 70% Venezuelan chocolates are also very different. (Which is why the percentage gives you limited information. Purists swear by the country of origin, and super-purists insist of single plantations.) The Rio Caribe Superior has notes of plum, apricot, peppercorns, coffee, milk, and sugar. If you think that’s a mouthful to say, wait till you taste it! The Caranero Superior, also from Venezuela, tastes like mocha, nut, raisins and dirt.

Best Fair Trade and Organic Chocolate

Theo chocolate

Theo – Okay, so they don’t have competition because they’re the first roaster of Fair Trade Certifiedâ„¢ cocoa beans and the only roaster of organic cocoa beans in the U.S., but they’re darn good. My favorite is the nib brittle, which has nuanced chocolate bits encased in hard candy. Going along the salty-sweet trend, their Bread & Chocolate bar has toasted bread crumbs (it’s not so weird; they’re crunchy like nuts) and salt. I wanted to like this bar, but I found it too salty. They also have several single-origin chocolate bars and tasty truffles. The bars are a bit hard though.

Best Truffles

Garrison chocolate truffles

Garrison Confections – Chocolatier Andrew Shotts was the executive pastry chef at the Russian Tea Room and helped formulated Guittard’s high-end couverture, E. Guittard. In 2001, he started his own chocolate company with seasonal truffles. His coffee truffle sang in my mouth.

Best Healthy Chocolate

Vere chocolate

Vere – This New York company only uses Ecuadorian cacao, which is naturally sweet. As such, Vere adds just a little sugar and some fiber to their chocolate. My favorite is the chocolate coconut cluster, and I don’t even like coconut that much. It’s wonderfully crunchy and paper thin. Although their chocolate is delicious, I wouldn’t shell out $2.50 for a truffle. No worries though, you can get generous free samples every Friday from 12:00-6:00 at their factory (12 W 27 St. between 6 Ave. and Broadway).

Most Creative Use of Chocolate

chocolate figs

Rabitos Fig Bon Bon – Imagine a truffle encased in a bulging dried fig and then covered in chocolate. Genius! These figs are Pajaritos, which only grow in the southern Spanish region of Extremadura.

Best Cult Chocolate
Pralus chocolate-covered cocoa beans

Pralus claims to be one of only three chocolate makers in France. I’m not sure what criteria he’s using, since Valrhona, Bernachon, Weiss and Michel Cluizel also make chocolate. No matter, each of his single-origin chocolates taste like a different color of the rainbow. They take a little getting used to, since they have sharp white cheddar and mushroom notes. The Madagascar chocolate-covered cocoa beans have that signature Pralus taste. His chocolate is hard to get in the U.S., so treat yourself if you can find it.

Best Snacking Chocolate

Charles Chocolate

Charles Chocolates from San Francisco makes fun things, like triple-coated chocolate nuts, tea truffles and peanut butter butterflies. They use a combination of Guittard and Cacao Barry chocolate, which are pretty neutral (no high notes of fruit or soil). I like my chocolate stronger, but this chocolate is nice if you don’t want to think too hard.

Coming up in part two: everything else.

Related posts:
Fancy Food Show 2006 Favorites, part 1
Fancy Food Show 2006 Favorites, part 2

Comments (4)      Email Email      Print Print

Fancy Food Show 2006: Best in Show, Continued

Since the Fancy Food Show was a treasure trove of good products, here is the remaining Best in Show.


Molino Real Chocolate CreamMolino Real
Best healthy Nutella: Chocolate Cream

This chocolate spread tastes so good it must be bad, but it’s just cocoa powder, milk, cinnamon and agave nectar. The sweetener is a natural derivation from the blue agave plant, the same plant that gives us tequila. It’s great for diabetics, vegans or people who want to venture beyond white sugar. Agave is similar to honey, except it is runnier and has a more neutral taste.
Photo: Molino Real

Barefoot Contessa lemon curd

Barefoot Contessa
Best lemon curd

I usually do not buy dessert sauces because they are so easy and cheap to make (if you can dissolve sugar in hot liquid, you can make a sweet sauce), but the lemon curd from celebrity chef Ina Garten tastes like the real deal. It contains just sugar, eggs, butter, lemon juice, lemon peel, and salt. Other brands were slimy (due to artificial gelling agents) or bitter (due to too much rind).
Photo: Straub’s Fine Grocers

Dalmatia fig spread

Best fig spread

If you could bottle up the freshest figs, this would be it. The Adriatic figs are hand picked on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia and then sun dried. The spread is not too sweet, not too sticky and not too fermented. The orange version took first place at the Fancy Food Show in 2004, but I like the plain one best.
Photo: FoodMatch Inc.

Elsa's Story Mandarin & Orange Preserved

Elsa’s Story
Best orange preserves

Orange marmalade is often plagued with sour and bitter notes, but Elsa’s Story is delicious. Good preserves like this one taste like fruit, not corn syrup. Elsa’s Story also makes fine cookies.
Photo: Elsa’s Story

School House Kitchen mustard

School House Kitchen
Best mustard

This mustard has remarkable smoothness and body, unlike French’s neon yellow variety. If you like the sweetness of honey mustard and the richness of Grey Poupon, School House Kitchen manages to put them together. They also donate 100% of their profits towards education.
Photo: School House Kitchen

Tasmanian spiced cherries

34 Degrees
Best preserved fruit products

This Australian company has unusual, great tasting fruits. The dried muscats (floral flavored grapes) come still attached to their branches. They also have a selection of fruit pastes to spread on cheese, toast or ice cream. The most unique items are the Tasmanian spiced cherries. They are sweet, slightly acidic from the vinegar marinade, and peppery. Think of them as sweet versions of cured olives.
Photo: 34 Degrees


Luxe green tea

Best tea: Traditional Japanese genmaicha

Green tea leaves are combined with toasted brown rice in this strong yet refreshing tea. It was so bold and rounded that I could not believe it came from a bag. The silken bags are completely biodegradable: no glue, no staples.
Photo: Luxe

Skotidakis Greek yogurt

Skotidakis Goat Farm
Best yogurt

Their Greek yogurt tastes just like sour cream, but it is healthier because it is only made from milk. Once you try the plain yogurt with a dollop of honey, you may never go back to the watery, grainy commercial brands. They may have distribution problems because they are a small farm from Canada, but do beg your supermarket to carry them.
Photo: Skotidakis Goat Farm

Kind Fruit + Nut bar

KIND Fruit + Nut
Best energy bar that tastes like candy: Sesame & peanuts with chocolate

KIND Fruit + Nut bars satisfy my sweet tooth, but they are healthier and more natural than most other energy bars. Other bars are laboratory engineered (mmm, textured vegetable protein and partially hydrogenated fat!) and taste like it. KIND is a mixture of toasted nuts, fruit and honey. My favorite is the sesame-chocolate bar, which tastes like halvah, but the macadamia-apricot is very good too. KIND lives up to its name, donating 5% of its proceeds to charity.

Keep in mind that these bars are nutrient and calorie dense. Sure there’s plenty of wholesome ingredients, but nuts are high in fat. Still, if you’re going to splurge, it’s much healthier and tastier (in my opinion) than a candy bar. Also, these bars are not meant to be meal replacements; they are low in complex carbohydrates.
Photo: KIND

chocolate Maya bar

Best chocolate energy bar: Mayabar

These gooey chocolatey bars are even less processed than the KIND bars. They consist of dates, cocoa powder and chunks of nuts. There is no added sugar! Like the KIND bars, these are high in “good” calories. They are satisfying but will not keep you full for long: they have no grains (complex carbs).
Photo: Larabar

Bubbie's mochi ice cream

Best ice cream novelty: Mochi ice cream

Asians are the pioneers of chewy desserts. The Taiwanese brought bubble tea, a sweet drink accompanied by extra-large tapioca pearls. The Japanese and Chinese brought mochi, a sticky rice cake filled with sweetened beans, peanuts or sesame. In 2001, a genius in California replaced the traditional fillings with ice cream. My goodness! A drink that you eat? An ice cream that you chew? What is the world coming to?

Bubbies is an upscale (read: pricier) competitor to Mikawaya, the company that created this frozen treat. Although Mikawaya is ubiquitous in Chinatown and American supermarkets, Bubbies tastes more natural. You can’t beat their selection of unusual flavors: strawberry chocolate chip, lychee, passion fruit, guava and peanut butter.
Photo: Bubbies

Comments (7)      Email Email      Print Print

Fancy Food Show 2006

Fancy Food Show logo

Before food makes it to the supermarket, it’s displayed at the Fancy Food Show, an annual convention with endless tables of specialty foods. From July 9-11, the Jacob Javits Center in New York showcased 160,000 products from 2,200 exhibitors. An estimated 24,000 attendees, including retail store decision makers, distributors, caterers, chefs and media (yours truly) sought out the best gourmet products.

From the moment I saw the floorplan, I knew that this foodie’s paradise and dieter’s nightmare would be overwhelming. Booths are not grouped by category, so you can eat a chocolate truffle before you get a bowl of pasta and bump into a mascot handing out hot sauce. (For all of you who make meals out of Costco samples, you can can do the same here, but you’ll hear from your stomach later.) If you’re lucky, booths were organized by country and state, but most were randomly strewn throughout 300,000 square feet.

I don’t mean to stereotype, but Italy focused on olive oil, cured meat and cheese; Germany had sausage and bulky grain products; England had shortbread and greasy food; Texas had lots of beef and spices; China had dehydrated vegetables to make your own cup-o-Noodles; and middle Eastern countries had dates.

As for general food trends, there were lots of fruit pastes (like sliceable jam) with nuts, gourmet bake-at-home mixes for molten chocolate cake and creme brulee (It’s ironic that anyone who makes creme brulee needs a blow torch or a broiler. Anyone that serious about food probably wouldn’t bake with mixes.), alternative natural sweeteners (Mostly in the form of agave nectar and honey. I was disappointed that molasses, date sugar, evaporated cane juice, stevia, and fruit juice concentrate, etc. didn’t make a mark.)

In chocolate trends, cacao nibs were popular. Nibs are plain cacao beans; once sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla and lecithin are blended in, it becomes chocolate. In the words of chocolate expert David Lebovitz, “The term ‘cacao’ refers to the beans used to make chocolate, and ‘cocoa’ usually refers to the powder made from the beans after they’re roasted and pulverized.” Also, prominently labeled single-origin chocolate was abundant. It’s not enough to know about cocoa percentage anymore; the country of the beans can indicate their taste. To see how Venezuelan v. Santo Domingo beans taste different, check out my Michel Cluizel chocolate review.

There was a dismal attempt at whole-grain products. Most were rock hard and tasted like medicine that your doctor would prescribe. Others, like Milton’s multi-grain cracker squares, were tasty but relied on enriched wheat flour (a euphemism for bleached white flour—you don’t need to enrich something if its nutrients are intact) and had the same nutrition as Cheez-its. As a whole, the grains didn’t fall far from the tree. Familiar grains like whole-wheat flour, oats, corn, rice, sesame and flax were staples, but kamut, spelt, millet and quinoa were virtually non-existent from the show.


After sampling hundreds of products to the point where everything tasted the same and I could no longer talk in straight sentences, the best products became apparent. If you ever go, pace yourself and be selective before tasting the overabundant olive oils, olives, sauces, cheese, and preserves. It helps if you bring a friend or randomly bump into one, such as Gerald from Foodite.

Following 101 Cookbooks’ lead, here’s my personal Best in Show. Look for these products in specialty food stores like Whole Foods, Dean & Deluca, Zabar’s and Fairway.


I’m breaking products down by category, so why not start with my favorite food?

valrhona chocolate
Photo: Foodite

Best chocolate

Every time I try a different brand of chocolate, I always come back to Valrhona. The flavor is unparalleled: complex, rich but never bitter. Out of all the flavors at the show, I liked the Manjari the best, which Valrhona describes as “A highly aromatic bouquet, 64% cocoa. Made from Criollos and Trinitarios beans from Madagascar. A distinctive chocolate flavour with an intense bouquet of red berries.” The 72% Araguani and 85% Abinao were perfectly palatable, but I prefer a little more sugar in my chocolate.

Dolfin chocolate

Best chocolate runner-up

Dolfin comes at a close second behind Valrhona. I usually associate Belgian chocolate with mildness. Pure Belgian chocolate, like Callebaut, has a weak aroma and bland taste. Begian-style truffles from Neuhaus and Leonida’s are heavy on the dairy. Dolfin, however, is wonderfully nuanced. I love their dark chocolate bars with crunchy cacao nibs.

Margaux chocolate twigs
Photo: Mademoiselle de Margaux

Mademoiselle de Margaux
Best shaped chocolate: Sarments du medoc

Elegant packaging and presentation aside, Mademoiselle de Margaux makes tasty chocolate twigs that are perfect for nibbling. They come in natural tasting dark chocolate, orange, lemon, mint, raspberry, coffee, toffee and hazelnut flavors.

Monbana cocoa

Best cocoa

When I visited France two years ago, I smuggled their hot cocoa mix so I could savor it back home. From the looks of it, the Chocolate Powder mix contains natural cocoa and raw sugar. Even if mixed with water instead of milk, it tastes as rich as hot chocolate. They had distribution problems in the U.S. before, but they plan to get off the ground soon.

Photo: Monbana

Chocolats Olivier
Most potential

The oldest chocolatier in France (open since in 1780 during King Louis XVI’s rein), Chocolats Olivier recently acquired new ownership. They feature single-origin chocolate and truffles. The chocolate in their chocolate-covered raspberry jelly was forgettable, but the jelly tasted fresh and was full of seeds. When they sort things out, I think they’ll be really promising.

Chocolat modern

Chocolat Moderne
Best truffles

Chocolat Moderne is a nouveau chocolatier that gets its flavors right. Even under the melting heat of the display, the chocolate-covered grapefruit caramels and lychee truffle with crunchy pralines tasted bright. These chocolates were just as delicious as they looked. They were much better than their more famous competitor, Vosges Haut Chocolate, whose chocolate didn’t taste anything like its advertised flavors of curry or pandan. However, it is with great reservation that I recommend Chocolat Moderne, since the gentleman at the booth snubbed me. He tried to convince me that he had no samples available, although I saw the people before and after me grab from the prominent tray of truffles. Later on, I discovered samples at the Focused Tasting area.

Photo: Chocolat Moderne

Dagoba nibsDagoba
Outstanding organic chocolate

If you’re into conscientious eating, check out Dagoba’s certified organic chocolate. Other organic brands, like Divine Chocolate, are crumbly, and Endangered Species has a lingering malty sweetness. Dagoba chocolate doesn’t suffer from these pitfalls, and it comes in unique flavors such as xocolatl (with chilies, spices and cacao nibs). Having things labeled organic and fair trade is a plus, but I think they can be redundant if you already seek out artisan chocolate. Good cacao beans come from small farmers who care about the crop and already take care of their land. Some chocolate makers, such as El Rey and Jacques Torres, deliberately avoid becoming certified because they think the system is flawed. Big corporations can afford certification, which defeats the purpose of supporting the small artisans.

Dagoba also makes one of my favorite chocolate-covered cacao nibs. They resemble rice krispies in size and texture, and each one tastes slightly different, keeping your tastebuds guessing. There is actually one brand that makes better nibs, but I had such a bad personal experience with the owner that I want to boycott their products.

Photo: Dagoba

Blanxart chocolate

Best rustic chocolate

This Barcelona chocolatier leaves the cacao beans chunky and uses coarse sugar. The chocolate-covered hazelnut nougat is also very good.

Photo: Blanxart

Coming up in parts two and three: the remaining Best in Show and behind the scenes at the Fancy Food Show.

Comments (3)      Email Email      Print Print