Alcohol-Free Cocktails, Sesame Milk, and 4 Other Food Trends to Look For

These products from the Summer Fancy Food show are coming to supermarkets and specialty food stores soon, if they aren’t there already

New Food Products Hope and Sesame Milk, Colicchio Sauce, Ziba Almonds, Simply Sheep Yogurt, Free Spirits The spirit of Milano, Teffola granola Photo: Consumer Reports, Manufacturers

Whenever I travel, either in the U.S. or abroad, one of the first places I go is a supermarket or specialty food shop. I want to see what fun and interesting products are available in the area that maybe I can’t find at home. Attending the Summer Fancy Food Show, with its more than 1,700 exhibitors from all around the world, was like rolling several vacation shopping trips into two days. A few of my colleagues and I ate our way through the aisles and spotted some food trends worth sharing.

Seed Milks

The “it” plant milk has gone from soy to almond to oat over the years. Now there are sesame and sunflower seed milks, which could be the next contenders for the top spot.

Sunflower Seed Milk
The Original Sunflower Seed milk from Lattini has 6 grams of added sugars in a cup, worth it because the extra sweetness elevates the flavor.

Photo: Lattini Photo: Lattini

More on Healthy Eating

Hope and Sesame Unsweetened vanilla sesame seed milk has a nice toasty flavor, with a hint of vanilla. One thing plant milks (except soy milk) fall short on is protein. This one has 8 grams per cup—about the same as what’s in a cup of nonfat dairy milk—but it also contains pea protein, which is what I suspect bumps it up.

The Unsweetened Sunflower Seed milk from Lattini is mild and creamy, and though I don’t think I’d drink it straight, the flavor would pair well with cereal or oatmeal. The Original variety has 6 grams of added sugars in a cup, worth it because the extra sweetness elevates the flavor. Both unsweetened and original have 2 grams of protein. 

Both companies claim environmental benefits. Lattini says sunflowers are drought-tolerant, and attract bees and other pollinators. Sesame seeds use less water than other plant milk crops, like almonds, Hope and Sesame says. And sesame is a naturally pest-resistant plant, so it doesn’t need pesticides.

Alcohol-Free Cocktails

A Negroni or an aperol spritz are among my favorite summer cocktails because they’re refreshing, but also because if I close my eyes and concentrate really hard, I can pretend I am in Florence. But sometimes, I want the fantasy without the alcohol. Any of these would make a nice replacement. 

Free Spirits The Spirit of Milano is herby and citrusy, with just the right amount of bitter and a bit of red pepper, which gives it the warming sensation you get when you drink alcohol.

I also enjoyed the complex blend of Riesling grape, yuzu juices, and several herbal extracts in Ghia Le Spritz. You could pour it out of the can and dress it up, but you don’t have to—it’s a nice change of pace from the more straightforward (and sometimes artificial-tasting) flavors of sparkling waters.

For something a little sweeter, fizzy Big Easy Tepache would be a good choice. Tepache is a traditional Mexican soda made from fermented pineapple and fruit—a kind of kombucha alternative. But it’s not overly sweet, and the fermentation adds a tang. A can of mango mandarin flavor has 45 calories and 7 grams of sugars from the fruit juice, but it also contains stevia and allulose. If you prefer to avoid sugar substitutes, the company also makes pineapple, mango, and prickly pear flavors (in bottles) with 13 grams of sugars from juice but no added sugars or other sweeteners.

And for those who crave beer but can do without the calories or just don’t want the buzz, my colleague Althea Chang-Cook recommends Hop Lark sparkling teas. It has a fairly strong hoppy flavor and a light tea essence with no calories and no sugars. To make it, Hop Lark steeps hops and tea together, then adds carbonation, resulting in a nonalcoholic drink with just the right amount of bubbles, she says. Hoppy water, without the tea, is also available. “At first taste, I wished these were around when I was pregnant!” Althea says. ”It’s better than some of the nonalcoholic beers I’ve had.”

Ghia Spritzer
Ghia Le Spritz is a nice change of pace from the more straightforward (and sometimes artificial-tasting) flavors of sparkling waters.

Photo: Ghia Photo: Ghia

A Nutty Twist

Packed with protein, fiber, and healthy fats, nuts are super-healthy. I eat a handful every day. But lately I’ve grown tired of the same old almonds, cashews, and walnuts.

My taste buds perked up though when I tried the heirloom varieties of shakhubai almonds and sweet apricot kernels and wild-grown baby pistachios from Ziba foods. The products are grown by small farmers and cooperatives in Afghanistan, which was once a leading supplier of nuts and dried fruit worldwide, a Ziba spokeperson told me. The almonds and pistachios have a deeper, sweeter flavor than the ones I pick up at Costco or Trader Joe’s. The apricot kernels taste sweet and almondy but also had a pleasant bitterness.

Another favorite is the Turkish Pistachios from Otto. They’re less meaty than American pistachios and have a more delicate flavor.

Daily Crunch claims its sprouted nut medleys are uniquely crunchy, and the mixes didn’t disappoint. Sprouting—soaking the nuts in water—supposedly makes some of the nutrients more available and the nuts easier to digest. Then they’re dried again, and the soaking-and-drying process creates a hollow in the center of the almonds, which helps make them satisfyingly crisp. For the cinnamon java nut blend, the nuts are soaked in coffee. The flavor’s a real eye-opener.

Olina’s Bakehouse Seeded Snackers may not be nuts, but with 81 percent seeds, they provide many of the same healthy fats nuts do, plus 5 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein in six pieces. These cracker-shaped nuggets come in several flavors. I liked both the balsamic vinegar and caramelized onion and the beetroot varieties.

Daily Crunch Nut Medley Cinnamon Java
Daily Crunch claims its sprouted nut medleys are uniquely crunchy, and the mix didn’t disappoint.

Photo: Daily Crunch Photo: Daily Crunch

Plant-Based Comfort Food

There isn’t much that’s more comforting than a bag of chips. But why munch on corn or potato when you could get something satisfyingly crunchy and better for you?

Crispy mushrooms were having a moment at the show. 

Rhythm introduced its sea salt and fire-roasted Mushroom Crisps, made with brown and white button mushrooms. They have that rich umami flavor, but didn’t taste too earthy. 

Popadelics aren’t exactly chips—they’re small, crunchy, whole shiitake mushrooms that come in flavors that, despite being psychedelic-free, will blow your mind, like Trippin’ Truffle (vegan) Parm and Twisted Thai Chili.

• My colleague Lisa Ruiz tried the shitake mushrooms from Mush Garden and said they’re “highlighted by crispy, savory, umami goodness.” 

Many companies have turned other veggies into tasty treats. 

Root Tomato Chips are dehydrated tomatoes with sea salt that taste like a burst of summer. They’re packed with fiber—5 grams in an ounce—and have just 15 mg of sodium.

• Eating your carrots and beets in chip form also seems to concentrate the veggies’ sweetness and Rhythm Organic Carrot Sticks and Beet Chips were intensely flavored. An ounce of either has about 75 calories and around 150 mg of sodium. The carrots have around 6 grams of fiber, while the beets have 4 grams.

• Carrots also played a starring role in Rind’s Carrot Cheese slices, which are made with carrot purée. I had this vegan cheese in a quesadilla, and it was so melty and cheesy-tasting I could swear it was a mild dairy cheddar.

• Heat up Roots Farm Fresh Organic Sweet Potato Croutons (sold frozen) and you have a crispy on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside snack that’s better than any tater tot. They’d go well on top of a salad, or as a little nibble with cocktails before dinner. Two-thirds cup has 130 calories, just 100 mg of sodium, and 4 grams of fiber.

Rhythm Mushroom Crisps
Rhythm's sea salt and fire-roasted Mushroom Crisps have that rich umami flavor, but they didn’t taste too earthy.

Photo: Rhythm Foods Photo: Rhythm Foods

Lesser-Known Grains

Teff is a poppy-sized grain native to Ethiopia with a mild, nutty flavor. It helps put a fresh spin on granola in the form of Teffola, a product made with oats, millet or buckwheat, and teff grown on a seventh-generation family farm in Michigan. The original flavor is lightly sweetened with maple syrup (just 4 grams of added sugar per ounce) and has decent amounts of protein, fiber, calcium, and iron.

Oats aren’t an unfamiliar grain to most, but Yishi puts oatmeal into another category, thanks to unique flavors such as matcha latte, taro bubble tea, and toasted black sesame. “Toasted black sesame is one of my favorite flavors,” Althea says. “It’s more fragrant than more common white sesame, and it works well in sweets like ice cream, Chinese dessert soups, and even coffee drinks.” Made with hemp, chia, and flax seeds, Yishi’s toasted black sesame oatmeal has 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and 15 percent of the daily value for calcium per serving. It doesn’t contain any added sugars but is sweetened with stevia and the sugar alcohol erythritol.

Yishi Oatmeals
Yishi puts oatmeal into another category, thanks to unique flavors such as matcha latte, taro bubble tea, and toasted black sesame.

Photo: Yishi Photo: Yishi

Restaurant-Quality Pasta Sauce

Rao’s Homemade Marinara is the standard-bearer among premium pasta sauces. (It gets top marks in Consumer Reports’ pasta sauce ratings.) But a few of the sauces I tasted at the show were as good, if not better. 

Chef and restaurateur Tom Colicchio and Jersey Tomato introduced the Colicchio Collection, six tomato-based sauces inspired by regions of Italy. They can go with pasta, vegetables, or meat. The Abruzzo flavor, which is made with saffron and fennel pollen, reminded me that I don’t eat foods made with saffron often enough. The spice added a pleasant earthy flavor all its own, but it also heightened the tomatoes, making them taste richer. 

Like Rao’s, Carbone is a legendary New York Italian restaurant that packages its sauces. It has the deep flavor of a slow-cooked Sunday sauce, but you still get a hit of fresh tomatoes—not tomato paste. The new Delicato flavor doesn’t contain onions or garlic, which can be hard for some people to digest. 

For something that comes close to a quick fresh tomato sauce flavor, I’d suggest cookbook author and blogger Anna Vocino’s Eat Happy Kitchen organic Marinara sauce. It has just 60 calories and 220 mg of sodium per ½ cup. 

While you could serve any of these sauces over a plateful of your favorite pasta shape, I would opt for Mama Emma’s Potato Gnocchi. Packaged gnocchi is usually hard and gluey, but this brand was light and delicate. I kind of hesitated to look at the nutritional info because I was afraid I’d be forced to put them on my “eat occasionally” list. But though the sodium is a little high at 500 mg, a cup only has 210 calories and 1 gram of fat, plus 3 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein.

marinara sauce bottle
Eat Happy Kitchen’s organic Marinara sauce has just 60 calories and 220 mg of sodium per ½ cup.

Photo: Eat Happy Kitchen Photo: Eat Happy Kitchen

Random Finds

These products didn’t fit into any trend category, but they did make an impression.

“I felt like I came to the end of a lifelong quest when I tasted the Naked Jams from Blake Hill Preserves. I’ve been searching for a jam that didn’t have any added sugars but was sweet, with a bright, identifiable fruit flavor. The raspberry was sweet-tart, and the blueberry tasted exactly like the filling in blueberry pie. Either would be great on a PB&J or thick slice of toast, in place of syrup on pancakes, stirred into yogurt, or on a cheese board.” —TC 

“Coffee alternatives made of roasted figs! Caffeine-free Fig Brew is actually passable as regular coffee, and you can prepare it the same ways you’d make coffee, in a drip machine, French press, and more. There are even K-Cups. The result is not sweet at all; it tastes nice and roasty, with just a hint of dried fig when you really close your eyes and think about it. If you still need some caffeine, Fig Brew has a blend that’s half ground coffee.” —ACC

“Luscious is a good word for Valley Shepherd Simply Sheep Yogurt. The Tahitian vanilla flavor was smooth and creamy, but not thick like Greek cow’s milk yogurt, and it had a clean vanilla taste. It’s perfect for dessert, and with 155 calories and 6 grams of added sugars in a 6.3-ounce jar, it’s a healthier pick than premium ice cream. Sheep’s milk has more protein than cow’s milk, and there’s some evidence to suggest that it is easier to digest. It also has more calcium; a jar of the yogurt supplies nearly a third of the daily value for the mineral.” —TC

Naked Jams
Naked Jams from Blake Hill Preserves doesn't have any added sugars, but they’re sweet, with a bright, identifiable fruit flavor.

Photo: Blake Hill Preserves Photo: Blake Hill Preserves

Trisha Calvo

I've covered health and nutrition my entire career, so I know how to separate science from hype. Whether it's about food labels, sunscreen, or food safety, my goal is to deliver information that makes following a healthy lifestyle easier. Healthy cooking is a favorite hobby, and friends think I'm crazy, but I can happily spend hours grocery shopping. Follow me on Twitter. (@TrishaCalvo)