After tasting our way, along with 70,000 other people, through aisles and aisles — more than 2,700 companies had booths — at the massive Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, we were stuffed and we were enlightened.
If you wanted the "perfect" product, you might mix turmeric, chocolate, chia and more chia and some ancient grains, add in some jerky, flavor the whole mess with Sriracha and put it in a clever to-go pouch. And don't forget to make sure it's gluten-free, Paleo-friendly and made from non-GMO ingredients that are all high in antioxidants and improve the planet — or at least save a rainforest or two.
FOR THE RECORD:
Natural Products Expo: In the March 14 Saturday section, an article about products on exhibit at the Natural Products Expo West said that ChocXO marketing manager Laina Malnight's father founded the company. ChocXO was founded by Richard Foley, whose father was a chocolate distributor. Malnight is not related.
But you might not want to call your perfect product "natural."
Kim Richman, a lawyer who spoke at a seminar during the expo, called "all natural" labels "a lightning rod" that can lead to costly and time-consuming lawsuits no matter what's in the package. That's in part because there's no federal definition for that tantalizing word "natural." (Companies could include more than a dozen other claims on their products, some of which are clearly defined, including "organic" and "good source of fiber.")
Here's a list of some of the items that caught our attention (some of which were introduced at the show but are not yet in stores):
Roasted broad beans in four flavors, including the ubiquitous Sriracha, from a company called Enlightened, were among many alternatives to conventional chips. The beans, sold in 100-calorie packs, are deliciously crunchy and contain 7 grams of protein. Biena Foods introduced a similar product, roasted chickpeas; Simply 7 had chips made from garbanzo beans, lentils and quinoa; and we could eat our way through a lot of Ziggy Marley Organics' roasted hemp seeds.
Several companies extolled the virtues of grass-fed beef. Among them was Mighty Bar, made from organic Australian grass-fed beef in two flavors (apple and bacon or cranberry and sunflower seed). The bars are a bit less difficult on the teeth than jerky and more wholesome than lots of beef sticks.
Other companies — Krave, Country Archer and Golden Island — displayed Sriracha-flavored jerkies. "Anything we bring in that is flavored with Sriracha flies off the shelf," said Rachel Shemirani, the marketing manager of Barons Market, a natural grocer with several Southern California stores.
The young people behind the San Francisco-based company Kooee, including one who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro for his honeymoon, looked at what they wanted to eat during their outdoor adventures and came up with a product that's distinguished by its packaging. In one section of the flat, two-chambered bag is jerky; in the other, trail mix. You can eat them separately or together.
Shaina Zaidi played basketball at UCLA and later abroad, and she wasn't fond of conventional electrolyte drinks. So her dad came up with an alternative. That drink, Tu Me, has become a family business. It was among many products at the show containing turmeric, an orange root also often used in curries and praised for many healthful properties. Kor Shots contain turmeric, coconut water and lemon juice in a 1.7-ounce bottle; Navitas Naturals showed almonds flavored with turmeric and tamari, and Temple Turmeric has 11 turmeric beverages.
We also spotted powdered drinks made with mushrooms, which maker Four Sigma Foods calls "the ultimate superfood," and enough coconut water to float Disneyland.
More than a third of the products at the show claimed to be gluten-free, according to organizers. Many of the new products are more healthful and taste better than those on the market just a few years ago. Among them was Premium Gold gluten-free flours and mixes, which are based on flax that is harvested from Debbie Miller's family farm in North Dakota.
"Snackification," a term that insiders use in reference to our growing habit of consuming more of our calories between meals, has led to more healthful snacks. Among the products that hope to make the "healthier indulgences" list were two of Mediterra's bars, one with black olives and walnuts and one with tomato and basil. They also contain pea protein, rice and a few other ingredients.
Protein content — in yogurts or derived from crickets or plants — was another hot topic. Beyond Meat, a plant-based "meat" line, offers delicious vegan burgers and other products. TaDah! Falafel Poppers and Nate's Mediterranean Bites riffed on the chickpea fritters. Belicious offers pouches of various vegetable purées (the balsamic beet and spinach flavor was terrific).
The new line of Paleo Passion Pops, from New York, come in eight flavors, including pineapple-ginger and orange-carrot. Each pop includes a "superfood," such as chia or kale, and there is no added sugar. Brewla frozen pops were delicious and low in calories. (We got to taste one not quite out yet; it's made with cold-brewed Intelligentsia coffee and it's addictive.)
And yes, there were some indulgences on offer, including premium ice creams and coconut chips dipped in caramel or chocolate. In fact, there was lots of chocolate, thanks to a stream of reports about its healthful properties. Natierra, a company in Van Nuys, covered both chia seeds and goji berries in chocolate for superfood snacking.
Laina Malnight's father spent his career working with chocolate as a distributor. "But he really felt a calling to the bean, to the source," she said. And finally his dream became ChocXO, an Irvine chocolate maker that makes single-origin chocolates from a variety of countries. "People are looking for something familiar but in a new way," said Malnight, who is the company's marketing manager. "Americans grew up with Hershey, and it just tastes like chocolate."
And after all that snacking, we were ready for one more new product, this one a debut from the health food store hall of famer Dr. Bronner's: toothpaste.