Every year food producers, product innovators and culinary creators gather together at the Auckland Food Show.
Each stall stands hopeful that what they have on offer will impress the wandering hordes so much that they will dig deep into their wallets and buy some.
Wandering the aisles at the Food Show each year I like to pay attention to the foods that appear en masse compared to other years. A few years ago it was hemp everything, the last two years showcased plant-based products and natural energy drinks, while this year brought us... meat.
Once we had sampled our sixth spicy salami stick I started to dub it the "meatsurgence", it felt like artisan meat producers had decided they were tired of being labelled the bad guy and were coming out in force.
Masses of meat aside though, there were some wonderful hidden treasures to be found at the show this year, including some that have only been on sale for a few months.
Here are the best bites on show in 2021
Real Pasta Sauces
Made by hand with fresh ingredients the ready made pasta sauces on show by the guys at Real Pasta were quite the show stopper. With three different sauces on offer including a bolognese, it was the puttanesca and the creamy tomato and gin flavours that had me reaching for my wallet. They also have a range of dried pastas in their range, including a squid ink pasta and one infused with chilli.
Tucked away in a back corner of the venue you could easily miss Karma Bites, but made sure you don't. This was my favourite discovery of the entire Food Show. With just three products on offer, we were delighted by these crunchy morsels. We were kindly informed that they are puffed seeds of the lotus root, which are then lightly flavoured. The three flavours on offer were Himalayan sea salt, peri peri and caramel. I recommend them all, the caramel is like a lighter version of caramel-corn, while the peri peri has a genuine chilli kick.
Lazy Seed Cracker Mix
The idea behind Lazy is that you just need to one or two ingredients to their mixes to bake it yourself at home. With three products to sample, including a muesli bar mix, it was the seed cracker mix that impressed. To the mix you simply add water, lay the mixture flat on a tray and bake. The result were delicate, crunchy, gluten-free crackers.
I adore Culleys sauces and recently they have added quite a very innovative products to their range, including some fun aiolis. Today on display were two brand new items, a pickle-naise, which was great, and a bacon-naise, which was so unique I had to include it. The bacon-naise was creamy, yet smokey and, well, baconey, in spite of being 100% vegetarian. This may not be for everyone, but it is definitely worth a try.
Sunny Hill Crispy Pea Pods
Ok, so pea crisps are absolutely everywhere at the moment, but these still make my list because they were simple and unfettered. These are dried, lightly salted entire pea pods, that's it. With the simplicity you really get to enjoy the pea flavour, which makes them almost sweet.
Pacific Harvest Smoked Dulse
The most innovative product of the day was definitely the range of seaweed seasonings from the guys at Pacific Harvest. From flavoured dried kelp to sea salt and seaweed combinations, if there was a clever thing to do with sea plants then these guys were doing it. The most innovative was a smoked dulse, which was basically seaweed that had been dried, smoked and flaked. The flavour was an umami hit to the senses that would add depth to just about any meal.
Almighty Sparkling Water
While looking for some light refreshment I stumbled upon the Almighty guys. I don't normally get excited about flavoured sparkling water, they are usually too sweet or entirely devoid of flavour, these hit the sweet middle spot. My personal favourite was the blood orange flavour and it amazed me that these were completely sugar-free, with no gag-worthy sugar substitutes. One to keep in mind for summer.
Henderson's Dry Cured Streaky Bacon
I kind of always though bacon was bacon. Henderson's was out in force at the show, offering samples of their salami, while also cooking up some bites of their streaky bacon. I was going to saunter on past without stopping as the "meatsurgence" had been pretty strong by this stage, but the smell got to me and I grabbed a toothpick of bacon. It was incredible. The smoke wasn't overpowering, it wasn't too salty and it didn't feel heavy or greasy. On closer inspection their bacon boasts no added water or chemicals, which might explain why this is one of the best bacons I have tried.
Waitoki Washhouse Gin
I am always keen to try new NZ small batch gins and Washhouse really impressed. Their silver medal winning traditional gin is destined to be my drink of the summer, while the rhubarb also did a great job of wooing me, making it hard to choose. Waitoki Washhouse also have a barrel oaked gin in their range which was truly unique, although the complexity may not be for everyone.
Fruit Hitz Apple Chips
I am always looking for new not-so-naughty treats for my kids so these apple chips stood out. Made with no additives, just air-dried apple, the chips were light, crunchy, sweet and moreish. There are a lot of dried fruit options out there these days, but these spoke to me, perhaps because of their "just apple" simplicity and the fact that their packaging almost looks like a crisps packet, which might trick my kids enough to try them.
I love an innovation story, so when we started chatting to the incredible charming salespeople at the Oh Bubbles stand I was intrigued. A carbonation system that differs from others you may have heard of, this one uses patented technology that enables you to carbonate literally anything. Everything from juices to cocktails wine or even flat soft drinks or beer can be bubbled up. We were greeted with sparkling water infused with fresh fruit and mint, bubbled before our eyes. The other key product differentiator here is the look of the product, with an eye for style this is a product you would be happy to have as the centrepiece on your kitchen bench. I was also impressed with their soda flavours, which were much less sweet and all natural than other alternatives I have tried.