Natural Product Expo West was held a couple of weeks ago and truthfully I am just recovering the craziness of it all. More than 60,000 industry members and over 2,000 exhibiting companies filled more than 1 million net square feet at the Anaheim Convention Center on March 8 – 11, 2012. Totally Whole Foods in Vegas on Crack!

The Expo can be many different things to many different people, but for me it’s about seeing where the world of healthy eating is going, learning more, and trying more. Last year the watchword of the Expo was Gluten Free, this year it all boiled down to two phrases I heard over and over again: non-GMO and Vegan.

The rally to finally get America to start labeling GMOs on the state and national level is picking up speed (by the way in case you were wondering countries that require labels or have outright banned GMOs include: Brazil, Germany, UK, Spain, France, Italy, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Australia, South Korean, and China). Also the concept of Veganism has definitely come to the forefront (by the way in case you were wondering (again) some famous people who are members of the Vegan Club include: Bill Clinton, Ellen Degeneres, James Cromwell, Steve Wynn, Casey Affleck, Travis Barker, Russell Simmons, Mike Tyson, and Ozzy Osbourne).

In terms of learning more and trying more the Expo is an amazing experience of having the ability to ask every question you might have ever had about your favorite foods and sampling new foods. Which leads us to the Best of the Best (for me at least) most of these products are new to the market, but there are a few that are just new to me. Either way, they’re awesome and I would totally check
them out if you get a chance!

NPEW Dandies Marshmallows
In the world of Vegan eating there sometimes are unexpected gaps in your food choices. Everyone knows there’s no meat or dairy, but how many people realize that marshmallows are also blacklisted? But food conscious S’Mores lovers rejoice! Dandies Vegan Marshmallows are 100% Vegan, Certified Kosher, and Gluten Free. Made on dedicated Vegan equipment with zero Gelatin these little sugar pillow even catch fire like traditional marshmallows.
NPEW Bolani
I have to say I am tragically undereducated when it comes to Afghani food (which I thoroughly admit is ridiculous considering how much our countries have intertwined in the past decade). So I was totally floored when I discovered East & West Gourmet Afghan Food Inc and that their vegetarian product Bolani was one of my favorite foods at the Expo! Bolani is a traditional Afghani flatbread stuffed and baked with either spinach, pumpkin, red potato, or green lentil filling. It is usually served warm and as a side dish, appetizer, hors d'Ĺ“uvre, or even as a main dish. Initially found in only a few of the Bay Area’s farmers’ markets, this unique fusion of East and West now participates in over a 100 farmers’ markets every week and can be found at Whole Foods.
NPEW Vegetarian Plus Turkey
In the world of meat subs (meat subsitutions) 71% of the meat sub dollars go to MorningStar. And yes they make kickass Buffalo Wings, but this year I made sure to spend time focusing on the all the other companies out there. Now I have mixed feeling about meat substitutions (in reality they’re chocked full of chemicals) but sometimes you just want a chicken nugget or in Vegetarian Plus’ case a Whole Turkey. No joke! They actually make a 100% non-GMO Soy Based (not my favorite, but in small amounts totally okay) Turkey with Vegan Gravy and Stuffing. It was crazy, their “bird” was firm, moist, and totally tasty. Another benefit: their turkey heats and serves in just an hour. Score and score again!
NPEW Girasole
Every year I learn something at the Expo that totally blows my mind. This year it was that most wine these days isn’t considered Vegan (this is because of a process called Isinglass, where wine is filtered or clarified with non-Vegan things such as: Egg whites, Fish bladder, Milk Protein, and Gelatin). But for those who want to enjoy the nectar of the Gods, Girasole makes a totally Vegan wine. Girasole (which is Italian for sunflower) vineyard’s have been certified organic by the California Certified Organic Farmers for the past 20 years (the founder of Girasole notes that he’s “been farming organically for 50 years; the first 30 I didn’t know it. There was no organic certification process. Prior to World War II, growing without commercial chemicals and fertilizers was standard procedure."). My favorite bottle of theirs is their Hybrid Red: a great combination of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon/ 25% Syrah/10% Merlot and Gold Medal 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Tasting. With the flavors of black plum, coco power, and violet in a medium tannic environment, the Vegan/Organic certification and the under $20 price point make it both ethical and economical.
NPEW Brooklyn Salsa
I met Rob Behnke Bowman, founder of Brooklyn Salsa, rocking it out to the band Holy Ghost! at his booth at the Expo (which is totally not the norm at this trade show). A businessman and musician (Rob plays under the title The Blue and Red 3D Spectacular), he and a friend started Brooklyn Salsa when they made their first batch of salsa for a party they were hosting. A few years later the company has become a Brooklyn institution. Made with primarily organic ingredients from small, New York based farms, they use no artificial preservatives only fresh Lime Juice (the tomatoes are harvested and then frozen until they needed to be used). Their salsa blends represent each of New York City's six boroughs. My Absolute Fav? The Bronx, an Indian-inspired salsa with eggplant and curry powder. It totally rocks!
NPEW Sir Richard's Condom Company
Another thing I learned that isn’t normally Vegan: condoms! That is until Sir Richard's Condom Company entered the scene last year. Their belief is simple: that condoms, like food, should be chemical free. With that mission statement their casein-free 100% natural latex condoms are vegan certified by the American Vegetarian Association and free of parabens and spermicides. Like a lot of great companies these days they have a one for one commitment, so for every Sir Richard’s Condom purchased they donate one to a developing country. Found at Whole Foods across the company they’re definitely a fun find!
NPEW Coconut Bliss
Yes they’ve been around since 2004, but Coconut Bliss is worth mentioning just because of the number of visitors they were getting at their booth at the Expo. Their “ice cream” is Dairy, Soy, and Gluten free, uses only USDA certified organic ingredients, and has received certification from the non-GMO Project. At the Expo I was "talked into" trying their Naked flavor, which is exactly what you think it would be: plain coconut. Now as someone who has a tendency to go for the bells and whistles of flavored ice cream, I was blown away by the simplicity of it. Creamy, creamy, creamy goodness. Turns out plain coconut, is anything but boring.