It’s impossible to cover 60,000 square feet of food and drink products in the first day of the National Restaurant Show, which opened Saturday at McCormick Place in Chicago.
But I set out to taste as much as I could, identifying a number of trends as I walked the aisles. Here are some notable items I tried.
Breaking out of the cookie cutter mold.
Cookie shots were a new one to me. At Dirty Cookie, a first-time exhibitor, cookie dough was molded into shot glasses in flavors like chocolate chip and red velvet, then filled with cold brew, coconut cold brew and milk. Liqueurs and mini cocktails are other options for filling the cups. A novel idea that takes milk and cookies to the next dimension.
Alcohol-free is no longer flavor-free.
Zero-proof cocktail lists are growing in size and scope and bartenders now have a lot more options for crafting these drinks. At Revolution Iced Tea, mocktails were crafted from peach-flavored iced tea with peach foam for a dramatic presentation.
Mingle canned cocktails come in flavors like a Blackberry Hisbiscus Bellini, Blood Orange Elderflower Mimosa and Cucumber Melon Mojito. All were well balanced and very close to their alcoholic counterparts.
Alcohol-free wines from Wolffer Estates and Jukes also stood out in this category.
Spanning the culinary globe.
Iceland has not been a hotbed of culinary exploration here in the U.S., but Thor’s Skyr is about to change that. The creamy, yogurt-like dairy product is packed with protein and probiotics. Whipped into a smoothie with spinach, pineapple and bananas, it packs a wallop of nutrients and makes a satisfying breakfast or snack.
Authentic Mexican made easy.
Birria tacos, made with braised meat and dipped into a beefy consommé, started soaring in popularity in U.S. mom-and-pops and now have trickled down into chain restaurants. But the traditional cooking method requires a multitude of spices. Birria seasoning blends them all together in foodservice size packaging to create authentic birria tacos and quesadillas.
Vegetables from the sea.
Blue Evolution regeneratively farms seaweed on the Pacific coast, operates a seaweed nursery in Alaska and harvests sea lettuce. The company blended the sea lettuce into butter to create a umami-rich spread. Other of its seaweed products were pulverized into seasonings to sprinkle on soups, combine into dips and sauces and add a flavor and nutrition boost to seafood dishes.
Reshaped for grab-and-go.
Lantmannen Unibake has been making Danish pastries and breads for restaurants for many years. But for 2023, they showed how their laminated doughs could fit into the grab-and-go eating style, forming the Danish into muffin cups that could be baked and packaged to eat on the run and downsizing them into mini-versions with varied toppings. The products have the taste and quality of artisan European pastries shaped for the next generation.
Bowls around the world.
Bowl food is a hot trend, but when consumers build their own bowls, the ingredients don't always play well together. Hormel is curating bowls that combine global flavors in exciting ways, pairing its fire-braised chicken thigh with coconut rice and curry cashew pesto. The fire-roasted meat products work well as a value-added protein base rounded out with Asian, Latin or Mediterranean flavors.
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