A few years ago, after a series of mysterious and serious illnesses, a new doctor tested me for food allergies and discovered that I have many, including but not limited to: dairy, gluten, corn and sugar. Once I had eliminated the culprits from my diet, I felt much better, but was also exhausted by all the cooking I had to for myself. I had heard the legend of the Natural Products Expo West told to me for the last few years. A multi-day convention that is the Mecca for all things natural, including home-goods, beauty products, clothing and most importantly for this little alternative eater…food! After spending two full, exhausting days tasting, sampling, and feasting and two more days recovering and day dreaming about what I had devoured, I can say the Expo lived up to the hype. This expo proved that there are thoughtful, inspired food companies out there in America (and also Canada) who are attempting to make my limited diet easier and more delicious. Before I go for a run to burn off some convention calories I will share with you, in no particular order, my favorite gluten-free/ vegan eats.
1. The Gluten Free Bar: Not just a product name that gets right to the heart of the matter, GFB is a snack bar that is all natural and low glycemic with 12 grams of protein, and it tastes great too. With a variety of flavors like Peanut Butter and Chocolate, Cranberry Toasted Almond and Oatmeal Raisin to name a few, the bars fit with your cravings and are not chalky and dry, but chewy and gooey instead. And it doesn’t hurt that the company’s founders are two very handsome gluten-free brothers. GFB also offers a money back guarantee if you don’t agree that theirs is the best gluten-free bar out there, so what do you have to lose?
2. Hodo Soy: So many vegan meat products are made of wheat leaving a gluten-free vegan with very few delicious choices. Hodo Soy has risen to the challenge and is producing some of the best soy “meats” I tasted at the expo. I especially liked their curry nuggets (although I wish my sample had been hot) but even cold, this was some tasty tofu. Hodo Soy was recently tapped to team up with Chipotle so keep an eye out for that.
3. Carla Lee’s Nut Burgers: I tried these tasty falafel like patties on my first day at the expo and dreamed about them all night. The next day, I went back for more. With a crispy outside and a soft savory inside, these burgers are 100% vegan, gluten-free and non-GMO. The company’s founder, Carla Lee is “dedicating her life to educating and feeding hungry hearts and bellies across the planet.” She’s has had successful career in other industries and claims that 100% of the proceeds feed humanity through her non-profit, OneTeam Humanity. If enjoying her delicious nutburgers will help her do that, then count me in.
4. Ashera Gourmet Vegan Burger: Sticking with the burger theme, Ashera Gourmet Vegan Burger was another delicious hit. I loved her hearty “garden style” patties in both the regular flavor and the spicy chipotle. An added bonus is that her burgers are also soy free. Grab a gluten-free bun and go to town.
5. Lucy’s: Lucy’s has been one of my favorite gluten-free, vegan sweet makers for a while. In fact there is an open (almost empty) box of their Oatmeal cookies on my kitchen counter right now. I can’t say enough nice things about their cookies and brownie bites, which are all so delicious and addictive. At the Expo this year they introduced two new flavors, Pumpkin Patch and Maple Crunch, that will be perfect with a nice cup of tea and a cold evening. Their cookies are small and crunchy with none of that gluten-free aftertaste. Dr. Lucy Gibney started making these allergy-free cookies for her grandson, and the rest of us get to reap the benefits.
6. Maggie’s Conscious Vegan Cuisine: Chef Maggie Radzwiller is a no-nonsense, eco-responsible food artist who has created a line of heat-to-eat meals that are ready after four minutes in the microwave. Full of veggies and beans and lots of spice and flavor, these jars can feed a small family quickly (did I mention they’re ready in four minutes?) or one very hungry vegan. Her curried veggies would also make a great side dish. Maggie hails from North Carolina where she creates her product line and teaches. She even promises to answer my cooking questions over email, which I am definitely going to take advantage of.
7. The Elegant Vegan: My friends and “Partners in Dine” at the Expo, The Insufferable Vegan and Andrea Wachner and I found this company at the 11th hour, and I only wish we’d found their booth earlier when I’d had more room in my stomach. Not only do they make delicious baked goods like brownies, cookies and cakes (I tried a gooey cake that they described as a cross between a cheesecake and a flan) but they also have a line of pickled veggies that were to die for. I tried two kinds of pickled beets and pickled kale that were more than a little tasty. This is a family-owned business that makes you wish that you were a part of their family.
8. Carmela’s Food Company: Speaking of family, Carmela’s is named after the founder, Daisy Romero‘s very own Nana who taught her to make delicious fresh pasta sauces. After learning that several members of her family were restricting their diets, she created a vegan, gluten-free, and sugar-free marinara sauce that tastes just as good as Nana’s. When asked why it’s called Carmela’s Food Company instead of just Sauce Company she told us she has plans to expand beyond just pasta sauce. We have more delicious treats to look forward to.
9. Daiya Foods: I claimed that my favorite Expo foods were in no particular order here, but I lied. I left the best for last. Daiya Foods has come out with some gluten-free pizzas that were so tasty I went back two days in a row. The crust is thin and crunchy (without being chewy) and the daiya cheese toppings are melty and stretchy. I loved the cheese lovers as well as the mushroom and roasted garlic. Daiya also has a line of “cream cheese” spreads that they were nice enough to serve on gluten-free bagels. So creamy and delicious in both the sweet strawberry and savory chive and onion flavors. Andrea informed me that Daiya essentially started a vegan cheese war that has prompted all the other vegan cheeses to step up their game. Well, they’ve done it again, and it will be exciting to see how their competitors retaliate.
I haven’t mentioned all of the ice cream, and soft serve I tried and enjoyed because Andrea Wachner talks all about them in her review so check it out. Now please leave me alone while I run off all of the calories I ate this weekend…or maybe I’ll just take a nap instead.