This is my third year covering the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival, and I’m always impressed by the devoted crowds that line up before the official opening time of 11 am each year. Interest in a vegetarian lifestyle continues to grow, and although the percentage of vegetarians in the United States is a small 5% (Gallup), the group of Americans who frequently go meat-free is 33% (Harris Interactive).
As the statistics show, people are curious about meat-free products, even if they don’t necessarily want to commit to a meat-free lifestyle. Food companies have responded to this rising demand by producing high quality and tasty products that can hold their own against the non-vegan competition. Each year the festival showcases the latest in vegan snack food innovation, and here’s a rundown of the brands that really stood out in the crowd.
Palm Frites – The name Palm Frites is a play on “pomme frites”, but these coconut fries have little in common with traditional french fries. Young Thai organic coconuts go through a dehydration process that transforms the fruit into crispy chips, no frying vat of oil required. The churro and bbq flavors were my favorites, although the flagship garlic fry was a little too intensely garlic for me. A gluten free source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats, packed with essential vitamins and minerals–what’s not to like?
Bixby & Co. – Everyone loves chocolate, and luckily dark chocolate happens to be naturally vegan. Chocolate, after all, comes from cacao beans, and it only becomes un-vegan when you add dairy milk to it. The Whippersnapper chocolate bar had great texture and the dark chocolate wasn’t bitter at all. It’s a great way to indulge, cruelty-free.
i heart keenwah – The quinoa clusters from i heart keenwah were my favorite samples at the festival. They tasted like a cross between a rice krispy treat and those asian sesame seed candies, crunchy and sweet, but with a more complex, nutty flavor. I was also a fan of the quinoa puffs, which resembled the cheez balls of my youth, only packed with protein, denser in texture, and flavored with better seasonings like sea salt truffle and aged cheddar.
Karmalize – Karmalize sells 100% organic, GMO-free nuts, quinoa, chia, coconut sugar and beans. I wasn’t able to sample any due to the nature of the product being raw ingredients rather than a finished snack product, but I was intrigued enough by the founders’ energy and commitment to socially responsible practices, that I bought a bag of the white quinoa. Another distinguishing characteristic of Karmalize products is that they are sprouted, meaning the seeds in the grain, nut or bean are germinated, which naturally increases the mineral and vitamin content in the product, and improves digestion and absorption of those nutrients.
NotMilk – NotMilk is a brand of fresh nut milk made just from water, nuts and dates, and currently these nut milks are only sold in NYC by delivery service. The company was started by two sisters who are lactose intolerant and needed an alternative to dairy milk, but weren’t satisfied with the mass-produced, chemically enhanced nut milks available in grocery stores. They decided to produce nut milk that they and others could drink in good conscience. I liked the Vanilla and Original NotMilk–they certainly beat the Whole Foods almond milk that I’ve been buying regularly.
Love Beets – There’s this funny episode of Portlandia where a marketing exec tries to make celery as sexy as kale. He should take a few cues from Love Beets, a company that sells pre-marinaded beets in fun snack packs. Let’s be honest, beets are very earthy and not the most accessible of vegetables, but these bite-size, tasty servings and the whimsical packaging should change this perception.
Hope Foods – It’s hard to find innovation in the hummus and dips space. Yes, you can add some garlic and chili to some chickpeas, but it doesn’t get much more exciting than that. Hope Foods’ hummus, on the other hand, actually bring something new to the table, infusing their spreads with ingredients like vibrant, spicy avocado and sriracha. They also have a chocolate version that surprisingly works really well with the garbanzo beans.
Cocoburg – Coconut is having a moment at the festival. Cocoburg is another vendor capitalizing on the potential of coconut, hand making raw vegan coconut jerky in small batches at its Brooklyn headquarters. The coconut jerky is intended to be a meat substitute that tastes great and doesn’t have a whole bunch of additives in it. I was convinced by the texture of the jerky samples–it did have that chewy, meaty sensation that you would get from chunky bits of beef jerky.
Fruit Bliss – Fruit Bliss sells naturally sun-sweetened, organic whole fruit snack packs that are handy when you simply don’t have time to cut and peel your own fruit (which is like everyday for me!). These fruits are great in that they still retain the plumpness and moisture of fresh fruit, but they aren’t overly sweet like the dried cranberries and apricots in your calorie dense trail mix.
Rukhi – I eat Kind bars nearly everyday for an afternoon snack, but sometimes I wish they weren’t so sweet, and I sometimes wonder why there’s soy lecithin and other unfamiliar things in there. I stumbled upon Rukhi’s gluten free and vegan fruit snacks at the festival, which featured all natural combinations of raw ingredients such as dates, figs, cranberries, apricots, almonds and walnuts. The snacks tasted wholesome, fresh and nutritious, an improvement upon the sugary, processed aftertaste in a lot of mass produced food bars. The fig varieties are especially impressive.