Toast is popping up all over. It's one of the hot new tastes of 2015, along with seaweed and chocolate dark enough to resemble a black hole.
All were on display at this year's Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, where more than 19,000 buyers from supermarkets, delis and specialty markets roamed the aisles looking for what's new, exciting and salable in food.
Toast was one of the most surprising flavors. Not toasted, as in toasted pumpkin oil or toasted hemp seeds, though both were there.
This was toast as in the flavor of roasted bread, dripping with melted butter and possibly with a light dusting of sugar and cinnamon.
Toast as a food is hot enough to burn the fingers right now. Small cafes and restaurants nationally are embracing it as comfort food, featuring artisan bread, small dairy butter and toppings from almond butter to salted avocado.
Now that same flavor is showing up as a taste. The Republic of Tea introduced Cinnamon Toast Tea, which has the caffeine of tea alongside the flavor and aroma of the favorite kids' breakfast treat.
And from B.T. McElrath Chocolatier in Minneapolis comes Buttered Toast chocolate bars.
"We didn't want to use a processed cereal, so we went with honest toast," says McElrath. He buys bread from a local artisan bakery, slathers it in butter from a local dairy and then wraps the crunch-salty mixture in milk chocolate.
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The 40 percent chocolate he uses works well in the deliciously salty-crunchy-sweet bar. But elsewhere, dark, darker, darkest is the trend when it comes to chocolate.
"We're really seeing our highest sales in our highest cocoa butter chocolate," said Chelsea Jess with Kakao Berlin. Though based in Port Orchard, Wash., the company has all its chocolates made in Berlin.
"The trend is definitely towards darker chocolate. People like it because its high in flavonoids, it has less sugar and it's great for the brain," she said.
Another example was Taza Chocolate's stone-ground chocolates, starting at 60 percent Dominican dark and rising to 87 percent Bolivian dark. Their unrefined chocolate lets the cacao "shout loud and proud," as the company proclaims.
From the jungle to the sea, seaweed is another flavor that's turning up in in multiple products. Ocean's Halo is selling seaweed chips in flavors such as Texas BBQ and Chili Lime.
"Seaweed is healthy and it's really, really sustainable," said co-founder Mike Shim. "It's got 130 percent of your vitamin B12 requirements and 30 percent of your vitamin A. It's a real superfood."
Seaweed also showed up in other snacks, such as almond seaweed crisps and onion seaweed crunch from Ocean Snack.
Alternative type cereals were also popular, though in forms that could—possibly—fool kids into thinking they were getting the unhealthy bowls of sugar they so crave. One was Pereg's Quinoa Pops cereals, which come in strawberry, chocolate, vanilla and plain varieties. The Andean grain pops up to taste remarkably like rice puffs.
Should that not seem healthy enough, get ready for a wave of healthy snacks that appeared at the show and and are heading for a supermarket shelf near you soon.
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Possibly the hardest sell—though surprisingly tasty—were Brussel Bytes and Snip Chips from Wonderfully Raw in Watsonville, Calif. Forget kale. Brussels sprouts and parsnips are the next big thing in healthy snacking.
The sprouts are dried and come in three flavors: chili pumpkin seed, tamarind apple and cheezy herb. Parsnips, which dry up with a faintly sweet flavor, taste very nice indeed when coated with either dill pickle, cheezy herb truffle or chipotle lime cilantro flavors.
While obscure tastes, this is by no means a niche market. The specialty foods industry's retail sales were $70 billion in 2013, according to the Specialty Food Association. What shows up at the show tends to hit local supermarkets within a year or so.