By Caren Baginski
New and old vegan foods shared the show floor last week at Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore, proving that the vegan market is still a hot, and growing, category. Companies are becoming savvier by catering to vegan appetites with healthy and first-of-their-kind indulgences, whether someone is a vegan for ethical or health reasons. As a vegan, myself, here are my top picks from the show in random order.
Vegan Superfood Blends
Ireland-based Linwoods is bringing its whole food, superfood blends to the United States this year, starting in California Whole Foods Markets. The coQ10 blend caught my eye, as the heart-health ingredient has been recently lauded as lowering cholesterol by 12.7 percent. Vegans looking to boost smoothie, oatmeal or salad nutrition will appreciate these omega-3-rich blends.
In the Kosher tradition, pareve foods contain neither meat nor dairy, making the certified pareve label helpful for attracting vegan shoppers. NuGo Nutrition bars are certified pareve and also enrobed with real dark chocolate, not some palm oil or vegetable oil chocolate substitute. Tasty flavors at the show included Peanut Butter Cup and Chocolate Pretzel. At 10g protein and an under $2 price point, these bars are quickly becoming my healthy vegan indulgence.
Mama Jess is at it again, this time with a very tasty enchilada sauce that doubles as a pasta sauce. Health-conscious vegans rely on legumes to ensure protein and fiber needs and Mama Jess has packed her Bien Good sauce with them, sweet potatoes and spices. No added sugar, just the good stuff. And did I mention the taste? Soon to be available in Midwest Whole Foods on Nov. 1 for $6.99.
Step aside, soy, almond and coconut milks. Sol, a beverage made from sunflower kernels, is a totally new take on the dairy-free milk category. But does it taste good?
Yes! Smooth, without an after bite to the unsweetened version, Sol easily boxes out some of the more acrid tasting, unsweetened non-dairy milks. Plus, an 8oz serving provides 50 percent of the recommended daily allowance for vitamin E, 30 percent for calcium and 25 percent for vitamin D. I'll drink to that.
FlaxUSA's non-GMO Flaxmilk went national this past April in Walmart and was another vegan standout at the show in the non-dairy milk category. It's packed with 1100mg omega-3s and with as much calcium as dairy milk but without the saturated fat and cholesterol. The unsweetened version tastes so smooth you won't realize it's unsweetened.
Vega launched the first complete, all-natural and plant-based sport performance system for athletes at Expo East. But you don't have to be a triathlete (like Vega formulator Brendan Brazier) to enjoy these products.
The color-coded system includes everything from pre-workout protein powders to endurance gel to after-workout protein bars. My favorite was a too-good-to-be-a-protein-bar, protein bar: Chocolate SaviSeed. What's unique about this bar is that it addresses mental health after strenuous physical activity with the SaviSeed, and still packs a nice carb/protein ratio.
Organic, vegan, raw and delicious is possible in a chocolate, and NibMor proved that at the show by taking home the Best of the Press 2011 award. Their newest introduction is a single-serving, 72% Organic Dark Chocolate called Daily Dose of Dark. It retails for .59, and I'm pretty sure I owe the gals some money due to how many times I stopped by their booth to sample.
Solterra, based out of Ft. Collins, Colo., got a lot of praise for its gluten-free, vegan pizza at Expo West earlier this year from VegNews magazine. President Elaine Valenza-Opdahl's latest introduction is her gluten-free, potato gnocchi in three flavors: original, roasted red pepper and spinach. Italian food is no stranger to cheese, so it's refreshing to see a pasta with a great texture and flavor that vegans and the whole family can enjoy.
Ah, tomato soup—a mainstay of American diets, yet often loaded with sodium and milk. Not so with Kettle Cuisine's tomato soup. It's packed with crisp veggies because the company freezes its soup instead of canning it, which preserves nutrients and ingredient texture. The company sells in the frozen aisle nationwide in Whole Foods, but also is involved in food service. And 14 of their 60 soups are vegan, with more requests for dairy-free, vegetarian options all the time.
Often, people choose to go vegan due to food allergies or intolerances—and then promptly begin to dread family functions where they're unable to participate in the buffet. Divvies' mission is to make delicious allergen-free food that fosters inclusive eating. This spirit is captured in their Bingo! chocolate bars that are divided into two portions: "yours" and "mine."
When I say this is the best frozen veggie burger I have ever had, I am not exaggerating. Hilary's Eat Well made a huge splash at Expo East. It turns out Founder Hilary Brown got the idea to sell her burgers after patrons of her Local Burger restaurant in Lawrence, Kan., told her they'd gladly buy them in their grocery store. And they're not stopping there—the company's looking into food service and is already carried by a local school.
While I was on my way to another booth, the fantastic folks of Angell stopped me to sample their Dark Angell bar. I'm glad they did—this Fair Trade and Organic Certified bar includes dark chocolate, a smooth cocoa center and almonds for crunch. Halloween can be a difficult time for vegans—not so with healthy, candy indulgences like Angell.
Perhaps the most decadent of all vegan treats at Expo East was Zendulgence, a freshly-launched hemp gelato company that's already got four chocolatey flavors and looking to add mocha and pistachio to the mix soon. Four years ago, founder and psychologist Asher Radkowsky decided to make a healthy version of an unhealthy food. Low glycemic and soy-free, I predict this gelato will be available beyond Maryland and D.C. sometime soon.