While it is no doubt a show about the business of kosher food, the fact remains that since it focuses on all things yummy, Kosherfest definitely has an element of fun and has been dubbed by some as “the biggest kiddush of the year.” Some people eat their way through, starting with the dairy and working their way to meats, I confess that I come home starving from the show every year. For me, Kosherfest is one giant treasure hunt and for the past six years I have roamed the aisles looking for items that stand out from the crowd, which means I usually don’t have time to eat more than a nibble or two.
I got to the Meadowlands Exposition Center armed with a list of intriguing products and Zamaze, a plant protein based meat substitute, was at the top of my list. Made out of shiitake mushrooms, it comes in five varieties mimicking beef, chicken, hamburgers and bacon and while it definitely tasted more like mushrooms than like anything you would have to wait six hours after eating, I thought it was fabulous.
“You get the experience of meat and not a cheap imitation,” said Meatless Nation CEO Dan Berlin. “You won’t even miss the meat and you can have a cup of coffee with it too.”
Java’s seared and sliced frozen sushi grade tuna has been available to the food service business for two years and should be in Shop Rite stores by the time you read these words. The flavor and texture were both perfect and it is a great option for a brown bag lunch or as reprieve from tuna and peanut butter when traveling to places where kosher food is scarce. Also appealing to travelers, both business and vacationer, was Elli Kriel of Elli’s Kosher Kitchen in Dubai, offering dairy and pareve food for anyone in the Persian Gulf, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – the first openly Jewish establishment in the region.
Numerous snacks for those committed to cleaner eating debuted this year. Protein laden, vegan and gluten free MetaBalls Energy Bites were developed by a mom with allergic kids and are a great choice for adults looking for a filling, low-sugar treat and for kids, allergic or not, who attend schools that only allow nut-free snacks. B’Cuz granola bites were another tasty mom-grown product, created by Channie Metchik in response to her fruitless supermarket search for tasty, wholesome and chewy granola. There were multiple healthy cookie booths, including low calorie and high fiber Weighless Cookies, a surprisingly filling and Weight Watchers approved way to just say no to the endless munchies that can totally torpedo your diet. And while Dr. Moringa’s flourless cookies aren’t actually cookies nor are they low calorie, they are packed with natural ingredients including nuts, seeds, and oats, with some flavors approved for Pesach.
Nutritious choices were also the focus at Betterine, a coconut oil-based baking spread that can replace margarine in any recipe and is made with only four natural ingredients. While I didn’t taste the gorgeous looking Betterine-based baked goods on display, I think everyone else did – by the time I got to their booth there were just crumbs left. With the demand for natural products growing annually, Kosherfest veteran De La Rosa Vineyards is really having its moment in the sun. Their raspberry vinegar took this year’s best new product award in the spices, oil and vinegar category and their ever-growing list of products includes a three ingredient balsamic glaze and soon to be released oils made from chia seeds and Styrian pumpkin seeds, not that I have any idea what Styrian pumpkins actually are. Also riding the natural product wave was the Israel-based Bikurim whose sugar free, high protein flax bread has an eight-month long shelf life and could have a huge impact on the diabetic world when it crosses the Atlantic and hits our stores. Bikurim’s Isaac Weisz told me that someone he had given a loaf of bread to the previous day called him in tears because his blood sugar levels hadn’t gone up after eating it and he couldn’t believe that he had found bread that he could actually eat.
Root Valley Farms had a huge display of Honduran-grown veggie chips in 11 flavors, all of which are picked, processed and packaged within 24 hours. With the Central American seasons allowing for year round planting, the sugars in their assorted chips maintain their sweetness and both their mango-habanero and maple-bacon sweet potato chips were awesome. Also hailing from below the equator was Yarbae sparkling water, a lightly sweetened beverage with a natural caffeine boost from the South American yarbae mate tea leaf, great for coffee haters like me who sometimes need that extra jump start to make mornings happen. And coming all the way from Kyrgyzstan was Arashan raw white spreadable honey, which Zholodosh Beishembek described as an effective immune system booster that also makes a great facial mask.
“It’s really in style to be healthy and everybody wants to do it,” Nutrition by Tanya’s Tanya Rosen told us. With offices in just about every Jewish community in the greater New York area as well as in Florida and Israel, Rosen was at the show with new cookies, cake pops and rugelach and is releasing her first cookbook before Chanukah.
Of course, there was plenty to see that had nothing to do with organic, gluten free, non-GMO and vegan fare. The Meal Mart food truck had a steady line of people enjoying food that was anything but dietician approved and crowds gathered around Emes Charcuterie’s table, oohing and aahing over their gorgeous meats which had been aged anywhere from six weeks to six months. While I saw almost no chocolate on display at the show, Coco Jolie’s stunning hand painted chocolates were literal works of art that looked almost too good to eat, especially when packed up in treasure chests for gift-giving. After indulging in a gold-flecked domed blue square filled with chocolate ganache, I can happily tell you that they tasted as good as they looked.
Convenience was the name of the game with Ungar’s new bottled, frozen potato kugel and latke batter, a great way to minimize prep time with Chanukah just weeks away. Quick and easy was also the theme at D’Onions, pre-sautéed frozen sliced and diced onions, a business born when Paulie Shamah and her three sisters realized that while they enjoyed cooking, they all disliked caramelizing onions.
“Nobody wants to stand over the stove frying onions and we have found it to be a real marriage saver, with husbands calling and telling us that their wives’ early morning cooking had them going to work smelling like onions, which they hated,” said Shamah.
Pickles are always part of Kosherfest and after making my annual stop at Guss’ for a half sour, I visited their neighbor in the pickle juice business. Get Pikl’ed evolved when two Florida friends ran out of brine while drinking picklebacks, shots of whiskey with pickle juice chasers. The idea for marketing sediment free pickle juice began marinating in their heads and after hearing that George Steinbrenner used to buy weekly gallons of brine from Guss’ to keep his Yankee players fortified, the two decided to market their product as a sports beverage for athletes, as well as those who enjoy it in other ways.
There was plenty of buzz in the air and not all of it was business related. “Liquid paradise” is how Al-Chemy described its premium syrups, orange wine-based schnapps substitutes and their frozen margaritas, which were super popular among show goers and have been dubbed best in Miami by the Miami Herald. I skipped the wines, liquors and liqueurs and Fruits By Pesha’s enticing fresh cocktails made with their all new line of juices in deference to my diet, but did indulge in a tiny taste of a blueberry, pomegranate and tequila flavored Buzz Pop, frozen push pops made with authentic Italian sorbet and a full shot of premium liquor. These guys, which are pareve but made on dairy equipment, have a serious kick so don’t serve them to the kids. Also intriguing was Exodus hopped cider, a brand new Pesach-friendly beer-like beverage, which wasn’t quite ready yet, but will hopefully make it to the market soon.
Last but not least, I was truly blown away by Nathalie Glazier of Au Bon Cake, a professional cake designer who grew increasingly frustrated by her inability to find well designed Jewish-themed cookie cutters and similar items. Turning to her computer scientist husband, the two created a full line of 3D and resin printed items whose intricate details produce stunning baked goods. Au Bon Cake’s hamsa mold was filled with traditional lines and squiggles and their bar mitzvah boy molds come in two versions: one with a hat and another wearing a yarmulke. The Glaziers also created alef bais and English letters in different sizes and fonts, as well as stunning cake toppers, so that even home bakers can put together yummies that look truly professional.
From fresh to frozen, from the traditional to the unconventional, there is always something for everyone at Kosherfest. Hopefully, we can all look forward to seeing unique and innovative products on store shelves in the months and weeks ahead!