Top 5 Vegan Foods from Natural Products Expo West: 2011

Carrie LeBlanc was on the scene in Los Angeles yesterday for Vegan.com and filed this report:

Yesterday I took on the best special assignment ever: attend the 2011 Natural Products Expo West and, out of hundreds of possibilities, choose the top five new vegan products. If you aren’t familiar with the Expo, tens of thousands of people (many of them hungry vegans) descend upon Anaheim, California to consume as many food samples as possible from over 3,000 vendors. It’s tasty chaos! Armed with my camera I took one for the team, braved the crowds, gained 3 pounds, and am now happy to report on the best of the best of the Expo, coming soon to a market near you.

5. Garden Pesto by LeGrand

Le Grand Pesto

I struggled the most with which fantastic new vegan item deserved to squeak into the number five spot. Maybe it is because this was the last thing I sampled on my food-stravaganza, but LeGrand’s Garden Pesto was such a fresh and refreshing change from the Expo’s ubiquitous greasy, heavy mock meats that it just has to claim the honor.

Raw, vegan, and gluten-free this bright green pesto cries out to be mixed into a cold pasta or rice salad on a summer’s day. The flavor is bright without being overbearing thanks to a perfectly balanced combination of basil, lemon zest, and garlic, and is tangy without going heavy-handed with the salt shaker.

If you live anywhere other than the western half of the United States, you likely already have access to this wonderful product, while those of us who aren’t so lucky anxiously await Whole Foods waking up and selling us this pesto. Other great vegan products by LeGrand include an Olive & Sun-dried Tomato Tapenade (both mild and spicy versions available) and a Lemon Confit & Pumpkin Seed Aromatic Sauce. Cut way down on your prep time and try these out!

4. Pepperjack style shreds by Daiya

Daiya

You’ve heard the rumors and they’re true: the reigning champs of the vegan cheese world are releasing a pepperjack version of their amazing, life-altering shredded cheese.

A confession: I love Daiya and have been known to purchase it in bulk just to make sure that I always have it on-hand. Yes, I did stop by the Teese booth and their brand-spanking new mozzarella sticks are awfully tasty. I will probably even buy a pack for my next Superbowl party and horde them all to myself! But when it comes to vegan cheese there is no one who does it better than Daiya, and the pepperjack version is no exception.

The extremely friendly Daiya folks were serving it quesadilla-style, and I am looking forward to many days of smothering all of my Mexican (and, probably, non-Mexican) creations in it. With just a little bit of spice and a whole lot of flavor, Daiya pepperjack will put a stretchy, gooey, cheesy kick back into your life! Expect it in stores everywhere very soon.

3. Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups by Justin’s

Justins 2

I don’t know Justin, but I love him. I knew I had a strong affection for him prior to yesterday afternoon, but then I stopped at the Justin’s Expo booth and discovered his Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups.

Seriously? Justin, have you been spying on my dreams? If you grew up eating king-sized packs of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups like I did, be prepared to start loving life again because Justin’s are a thousand times better.

Justins

Rather than being overwhelmed with miscellaneous unidentifiable ingredients, the flavors in Justin’s are for connoisseurs who actually enjoy the taste of chocolate and peanuts. These cups are not loaded down with sugar and stuff you don’t want, Justin sticks with the basics: chocolate, peanut butter, little bits of sugar and vanilla. Yum, just yum. (Justin, call me. Seriously.)

2. Everything by Hodo Soy Beanery

Hodo Soy Beanery 2

After sampling several so-so veggie burgers (the Expo was drowning in patties of every size, flavor and description), I actually did a small dance of joy in the aisle in front of the Hodo Soy Beanery booth after trying several of their offerings. It would be next to impossible to choose between all of their amazing products, with their Spicy Yuba Strips and Curry Tofu Nuggets so thoroughly blowing away any other soy-based item I’ve ever tasted that it would be impossible to draw any comparisons.

Hodo Soy Beanery

Made in Oakland, California, Hodo’s artisanal products are crafted from U.S. grown organic soybeans, and all products are gluten-free. When they say “our products are simply like no other”, they aren’t messing around; in taste, in texture, in good vibes, Hodo Soy Beanery blasts all other soy products out of the stratosphere.

If you enjoy quality things as much as I do, look no further than Hodo.

1. Vegan Queso by Food for Lovers

Vegan Queso

First of all, let me just say that you will not meet a nicer, sweeter pair of people than the awesome, adorable, and newly married Chris and Crystal Tate who have created a ridiculously yummy Vegan Queso.

This product almost defies belief: there is no fat, no cholesterol, a minimum amount of salt, and only 20 calories per serving, yet it is a taste explosion in every bite! The Tates’ special blend of nutritional yeast, green chili peppers, tomato, vinegar, and spices are the perfect anecdote to your boring tortilla chips, baked potato, Mexican dish, casseroles, or any other item which you’ve made which could use a kick in the behind!

Find Vegan Queso at your favorite online vegan grocery retailer or beg and plead with your local Whole Foods Market to carry this product like I plan to. It is only a small matter of time before everyone, vegan and non-vegan alike, is enjoying this outstanding queso in gallon-sized buckets (again, like I plan to!)

***

The Expo was so sprawling that it was just impossible to hit all of the vegan spots in my allotted time, and I missed out on a couple of my favorites like Wayfare and Follow Your Heart. But a few that I did try which deserve runners-up shout-outs include Chocolate Decadence, ecoVegan, and Sol Cuisine. Chocolate Decadence, which has partnered up with Farm Sanctuary, makes numerous heavenly vegan chocolate creations that have the stamp of approval from none other than Ellen DeGeneres herself! In the mock meat category, I really enjoyed ecoVegan’s Blissful Bits and will certainly use them in a stir fry or on skewers next time I need to blow away an omnivorous friend. Finally, in the burger category, I’m giving kudos to Sol Cuisine for their Almond Grain burger made with organic spelt and amaranth. They are absolutely perfect for a summer barbeque.

One final important vegan foodie announcement was made after the Expo at the opening party for the Los Angeles office of Compassion Over Killing. Thanks to COK’s efforts, Quorn have begun reformulating all of their products to include less egg, and are releasing a vegan burger later this year! All 200 vegans in the room sampled this new product and heartily approved.

Bon vegan appétit!

Carrie LeBlanc is the founder of Go Vegan Santa Barbara, a Compassion Over Killing volunteer, and co-founder of the Animal Rescue Fund of Santa Barbara. She resisted the temptation to include nothing except vegan cupcakes in this report.