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Finding sips, tastes and trends for 2014 at the Fancy Food Show

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UPSTAIRS/DOWNSTAIRS In addition to jewelry at Macy's, Downton Abbey now has its own tea, by Novato's Republic of Tea.
  • UPSTAIRS/DOWNSTAIRS In addition to jewelry at Macy's, Downton Abbey now has its own tea, by Novato's Republic of Tea.

The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) Fancy Food Show, presented Jan. 19–21 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, is considered the annual harbinger of things to come: prominent flavors, trends in lifestyle and nutritional choices as well as new products and innovations. This year, 1,350 exhibitors from 35 countries and regions were sprawled across the massive convention center, and the aisles teemed with attendees looking for the next great thing.

Vying for the position were approximately 80,000 different products, including a plethora of cheeses, candies, coffees, teas, cured meats and condiments of every stripe. Naturally, the North Bay was well represented with all types of original food and drink products.

Healthful snack foods encompassed a large category at this year's show. Wild California, from Petaluma, introduced its crisps, a cross between a cracker and a chip; made with dried fruit, toasted seeds and spices, they're low in fat and full of fiber, and are made with ingredients from the Golden State. Popcorn from over 30 vendors was a huge force, and appeared in an abundance of flavors—some zany, some sweet and some downright questionable (dill pickle, sriracha, garlic and harissa, caramel macadamia, Vietnamese cinnamon, toasted sesame and seaweed.)

An unusual snack from the Good Bean in Berkeley introduced seven types of crispy, roasted chickpeas to the market. Savory flavors like sea salt and chili lime were delicious, sweet ones like chocolate not so much. Nuts were another expansive group under the snack heading. Perfectly toasted, candied, spiced or salted varieties were on display with cardamom cashews from Sante, a taste highlight.

Spices, salts, herbs and rubs made up a big part of the condiment section. Organic, fair trade and whole spices singly sourced are a continuing trend. Napa's own Whole Spice showcased its rice and grain seasoning blends with flavors like almond, cranberry and herbs, Moroccan harissa and Mexican mole. Widely regarded as a purveyor of the freshest spices in the North Bay, the company's new blends are meal inspirations in an envelope.

The Spice Lab's test tubes of colorful salts, sugars and herbs were also attractive, while the ground Madagascar vanilla powder from Lafaza offered a flavorful and alcohol-free way to use this important ingredient.

Hot drinks were a huge category at the show, with teas leading the way in fun and flavorful blends. Novato's Republic of Tea rolled out its Downton Abbey label with the Grantham Breakfast and English Rose varieties, which received lots of attention. They also featured two biodynamic teas: Darjeeling from India and chamomile from Italy. Other interesting flavors in tea were chocolate Earl Grey, salted caramel and chai with a hint of coffee, making for indulgent afternoon sipping. Coffee in all types, both hot and cold, continues to be very popular. One of the most unusual was the Caffe Borsa hand drip, which comes in an envelope similar to a tea bag. It unfolds into a mini drip bag with arms that attach to your cup. Pour boiling water through and—voilà!—a perfectly brewed cup of Joe.

Two companies from the North Bay have created flours and oils using grape skins and seeds, the waste products of the wine industry. WholeVine of Santa Rosa offered tastes of its gluten-free cookies and crackers, made with flour of dried grape skins and seeds. Salute Sante from Napa sampled its grapeseed oils and introduced two new varietals in their flours, which are ground from the seeds. These products are surprisingly nutritious, contributing a boost of flavor, fiber and antioxidants.

Novato's Navitas Naturals showcased its line of organic superfoods, including maca, goji, cacao and chia seeds for snacking and for use as ingredients in recipes guaranteed to increase health. Napacakes' Panaforte garnered raves from tasters of this satisfying treat, considered the "original power bar."

Among the thousands of products, cheese was a standout, and the North Bay sent many talented cheese makers from the flock. Point Reyes Farmstead had samples of its new Bay Blue, a tangy mouthful reminiscent of Stilton. The venerable Marin French Cheese Company showed off a few of its classic soft rind varieties to grateful samplers. These were just two of the many talented cheese makers from the tri-county North Bay at the show.

The San Francisco Fancy Food Show presents the classic and the novel in the specialty food industry, reflecting trends for the coming year.

For more info, see fancyfoodshows.com

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