Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pierogi, Champagne Ketchup and Vegan Gummies: Fancy Food Product Reviews

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 6:05 AM

  • Specialty Food Association
Last month, the winter Fancy Food Show was held in San Francisco. The event — a trade show for purveyors of specialty food items held twice a year by the Specialty Food Association — showcases some of the most unique and interesting food and beverage items imaginable, as well as new foods trying to gain a foothold in the retail marketplace.

In advance of the show, the emails came in from exhibitors lobbying for a visit to their booths. I wasn’t able to attend, but that certainly didn’t mean I didn’t want to try some fancy foods! And reading updates on Twitter throughout the show was a bit like staying home with the flu while your friends are all at a party Instagram-ing all the shenanigans. A few of the companies were kind enough to send some free samples my way, since I was stuck here in the snowdome. Here’s the scoop.

Polska Foods Pierogi. Tennessee is not known for being a major consumer of pierogi, but co-owner Bridget Piszczek noted that interest has been moving south from a Midwestern base for some time. Pierogi lovers in the south are generally given only the option of Mrs. T.’s, and while good (and quite extensive in flavor options), they’re not as good as homemade (or, rather, restaurant-made). Polska’s pierogi are organic, all-natural, preservative-free, and made from Piszczek family recipes, using only high-quality ingredients (like you’d use at home). All that adds up to a big flavor difference. Despite being from the freezer, they tasted as good as the fresh pierogi I’ve had. Even better, they offer a variety of flavors, including vegan pierogi. The vegan flavor (mushroom and cabbage with caramelized onions) was actually my favorite. I plan to request that the local Whole Foods Markets begin carrying them so I can have them again soon. If you're interested, they're currently hosting a contest for a case of free pierogi.

Victoria Amory Condiments. Victoria Amory is a cook and author with a line of foods extending from her recipes, which are heavily influenced by her European upbringing. I was intrigued by the piri piri, a chili sauce of African and Portuguese origins, but I received a sample of champagne ketchup and classic lemon mayonnaise. I wasn’t overly excited about the ketchup, but soon after opening, it was nearly gone. It is really bright and sweet, but because the sweetness comes from brown sugar (instead of high fructose corn syrup) and is balanced by champagne vinegar, it’s not too sweet. We ate it on the Masala Veggie Burgers from Trader Joe’s, on sweet potato fries, and by the spoonful. It’s really tasty. The mayonnaise, however, remains unopened. The list of ingredients does not include sugar, so it’s likely to taste like homemade or Duke’s. You may remember how I feel about Duke’s. Regardless, Victoria Amory condiments aren’t currently available locally (as far as I’m aware), but you can purchase them online via the Victoria Amory website. I'm eyeing the Piri Piri Collection myself.

Vegan candy from Surf Sweets and TruJoy Sweets. I also received a couple of packages of vegan candies to try out. The first, Surf Sweets Organic Fruity Hearts was a healthier alternative to gummy candy. A lot of gummy candies contain a list of unsavory ingredients, such as gelatin (do I need to tell you what gelatin is?), beeswax, and artificial flavors and dyes. And the sugar-free gummy bears are even less appetizing (unless you need to lose a few pounds). The Surf Sweets gummy candies are all-natural and mostly certified organic, however. Nothing dodgy in there at all. And they taste fantastic. Even better, they’re already available locally at The Turnip Truck, Whole Foods Markets and most Publix stores.

The other vegan candy I received was a package of TruJoy Sweets organic fruit chews. That’s code for “vegan Starbursts,” which, of course, they are not able to advertise. Starbursts are probably the gelatin-filled candy I miss most since becoming a vegetarian, so I was excited to try these. Unfortunately, they were not really a substitute for my beloved Starbursts at all. The flavors were closer to Tootsie Fruit Rolls (which I actually like quite a lot), but the candy was a little too hard. More like a Now & Later fruit chew. As in, you really shouldn’t chew it or you risk breaking a tooth. On the upside, I wouldn’t be able to binge on the TruJoy Sweets fruit chews like I used to with a package of Starbursts. And again, the ingredients list doesn’t contain any tongue-twisting, possibly-life-threatening chemicals or boiled-down critter bits.

All in all, my tastes of the Fancy Food Show made me want to visit the show even more (or, perhaps, open up my own Fancy Food Store). The next show is the summer event in New York at the end of June, and I'm seriously interested. I'm all about some fancy foods. In the meantime, I'll have to settle for wrap-ups from the show, including this list of the top five food trends observed at the winter show as well as the show favorites of Jolene Thym from the San Jose Mercury News.

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