When you’re tasked with trying all the “crazy new products” at Natural Products Expo East, which was last week, it can be overwhelming. There were more than 9,000 booths of food and beverage innovation — 9,106 to be exact. So I did what any good journalist would do. I came hungry, started at the top floor and worked my way down.
Quickly the idea of “crazy” transformed into trendy. I’d like to say that eating Exo’s whole roasted spicy taco crickets with a swig of pickle juice sports drink from the Pickle Juice Company is out there, but in today’s food world, those are simply some of the hottest new foods. There’s cricket flour for the avid baker and Sriracha cricket chips for the snacker. Fresh dill pickle juice is a popular ingredient for usually sweet treats like ice cream, slushies and marshmallows.
So what innovations did I consume?
The power (and usually protein) is in the puff
If you grow it, it can puff. Samples of airy snacks lined aisle after aisle. There were Taali’s popped water lily seeds, Snacklin’s puffed veggie crisps, I Heart Keenwah’s quinoa puffs, Crunch-a-mame’s edamame snack, Hippeas’ chickpeas, Hopapops’ popped lotus seeds, Sun Tropic’s mochi rice bites, 24 Mantra’s Indian-flavored organic grain snacks and 4505 chicharrones for the meat eater. The list could go on — and it did.
The sheer number of puffed snacks comes as no surprise. A report by IRIcited by Snack Food found that puffed and extruded snacks saw growth of 4.45% in dollar sales in the 52 weeks ending April 16, 2017, and the market is expected to reach $31 billion by 2019.
So why puffs? In “Salt Sugar Fat,” food scientist Steven Witherly talked to author Michael Moss about how puffed snacks melt in your mouth. “It’s called vanishing caloric density,” Witherly said. “If something melts down quickly, the brain thinks that there’s no calories in it … you can just keep eating it forever.”
That perhaps may be the scientific reason for the popularity at Expo East, but according to numerous companies, the common refrain was, “Why not?” The ability to pop so many foods lets companies play with different flavor profiles — beyond traditional cheese to include international tastes such as Thai curry or tikka masala — on numerous nutrient-rich foods like legumes and ancient grains.
Puffs also typically meet consumer desire for a crunchy but better-for-you snack when they’re made with little or no oil. An added benefit for many of the munchies? Protein. A lot of products packed a protein punch — 8 grams, 12 grams, 22 grams — with each little puff bag, which was highlighted on the front of most packaging.