The International Food and Drink Event (IFE) has always been a great showcase for new, exciting or innovative food and drink products from the UK and abroad. This year was no exception, so here is a personal round-up of some of the highlights from the show:-
Porridge and bircher muesli are justifiably regarded as healthy breakfast cereals and, when flavoured well, can be among the tastiest. Moma have created a range of both of these products in single-portion pots. Brimming with slow release energy, tasty and packed full of good ingredients, many of which are sourced from this country, their cereal pots are already widely available in the UK. I especially enjoyed their "Wild Berry" Bircher Muesli and their "Cranberry and Raisin Porridge".
There are so many curry sauces on the market, that it’s difficult to know which ones are either authentic or worth the expense for the taste alone. However, based on two trade shows, I can definitely recommend Little Turban. They currently offer a range of four or five gluten-free sauces, inspired by traditional recipes and suitable for vegetarians, with more planned for release later this year. Their "Bourbon Masaledar", which contains a hint of whiskey flavouring, adding a modern twist and extra dimension to this sauce, would be perfect with beef. My favourite sauce, "Goan Coconut and Orange Curry" makes a fragrant and mouth-watering accompaniment to fish. These are the best ready-made curry sauces I have tasted and I shall look out for their new flavours with interest.
SALSA-approved and award-winning Supernature, from Midlothian in Scotland, produce a range of cold-pressed rapeseed oils infused with various flavourings, as well as a natural version. With soft, delicate buttery and nutty flavours, rapeseed oil contains Omegas 3, 6 and 9, has low saturated fat content and is a good source of vitamin E. Also, due to its high burning point, it is extremely versatile, so can be used for frying and roasting, as well as for marinades and salad dressings. Out of all their flavours, I was very impressed by the "garden mint" infused oil and cannot wait to try this out with roast lamb, or to freshen up a tomato and rocket salad. At £3.95 for a 250ml bottle, this is a superbly-priced product and a great alternative to olive oil.
Pre-prepared noodles in a pot might not be everyone’s idea of excellence and nutrition, but Kabuto Noodles have brought to the instant noodles market a range of quality freeze-dried noodles, flavoured with Asian spices and containing no additives or preservatives. These products have already received favourable reviews in the press and it’s clear to see why. Their "Miso Ramen" is delicious and the "Chicken Ramen" is a wonderful mix of noodles, chicken, chilli, spring onion, ginger and coriander, with all constituents in balance. The chilli gives just the right amount of heat and the coriander is clearly evident without being overpowering.
Tom’s Pies are an award-winning maker of gourmet pies based in Devon. They use locally sourced ingredients to create a superb range of pies, tarts and cakes. My favourite was their "Steak and Ale" pie, which unlike many similar products had more meat filling than pastry and other ingredients! I look forward to trying more of their range in future.
The English Cheesecake Company have been supplying businesses and individuals with cheesecakes for nearly 20 years. With an incredible range of flavours, each cake not only tastes divine, but looks amazing too. I was drawn to their "After Dinner Mint", which was creamy, delectably minty, not too sweet and utterly scrumptious. Their range is too big to detail here, but I was a proud recipient of a box of their frozen Cheesecake Minis, a collection of 12 mixed single-portion baked cheesecakes.
My favourite of these was the Toffee Pecan, but the Sicilian Lemon was a close second. The company can also provide personalised cheesecakes and other cakes for special occasions, such as children’s parties and engagement celebrations. Their cakes keep for 6 months in the freezer and can be pre-portioned before delivery, so individual slices can be defrosted when required. Time to indulge!
There are always many ice cream producers at these shows, so I’ve chosen two that stood out for me.
Tickety-Moo from Northern Ireland produce their ice cream within 24 hours of milking, giving a fresh, clean and creamy taste. They offer a good range of classic and imaginative flavours, with the star for me being their delicious "Liquorice and Blackcurrant", the liquorice being subtle and not too intense – a brilliant flavour combination which works really well.
Dorset’s award-winning Purbeck Ice Cream make some of my favourite ice cream and this year I tried two of their newest flavours. "Dorset Watercress" has a delicate, peppery and refreshing taste, which would make an interesting match for smoked salmon. "Dorset Blue Vinny Cheese" is a modern take on mixing savoury and sweet to create an intriguing taste sensation. The result is delightfully creamy and sweet with a subtle salty tang and Purbeck suggest serving this ice cream with warmed poached pears or melon balls in a green salad. Lastly, I have to mention their "Chilli Red", a Great Taste Award Winner in 2010 and a flavour which I always enjoy every time I try it.
Another category generally well-represented at these shows is chocolate and Black River produce a range of handmade Jamaican single origin luxury chocolates, using all natural ingredients, including cane sugar and no preservatives or additives. The resultant quality is excellent and the sophistication is enhanced by elegant and eye-catching packaging. The chocolate is especially notable for its velvety smooth aftertaste, which is not bitter despite having up to 70% cocoa content. This is classy chocolate to be savoured and enjoyed.
An alternative to the traditional product is "free-from" chocolate and Conscious Chocolate make an entirely vegan and organic range of chocolate bars with no dairy, gluten, soya or refined sugars. All ingredients are ethically sourced and the chocolate is sweetened using raw agave nectar. The result is silky smooth and tasty and I particularly liked their "Mint Hint" flavour. The market for "free-from" sweet treats and snacks is set to grow further, with the emphasis on combating health risks. Conscious Chocolate offer excellent quality products for chocolate lovers, whether vegans, vegetarians, the health-conscious or individuals with specific dietary requirements, including diabetics and coeliacs.
Landgarten is an Austrian company who make Fairtrade-certified organic snacks, using fruit, nuts, soya and chocolate. Their delicious dark chocolate-covered pumpkin seeds and gojiberries are superb; indeed their whole range is impressive and they clearly base all their products on good quality raw ingredients.
The global craft beer revolution shows no sign of abating, yet how many people in the UK have had the opportunity to try Japanese craft beer? Probably not many, but this looks set to change as James Clay will soon be importing bottles from the innovative and varied "Hitachino Nest" range of beers by the Kiuchi Brewery.
Most of the beers use hops from the UK, central Europe and the US and I thoroughly enjoyed the "Espresso Stout", with its coffee and roasted malt aromas and flavours, complemented by notes of chocolate and dark fruit. However, probably their most intriguing beer was one exclusively made from Japanese hops and Japanese barley - "Nipponia". With a floral, lemon, herbal and nutty nose, this exhibits a good level of complexity on the palate too, offering plenty of citrus flavours with spice, nuts and herbs plus hints of honey and salinity on the aftertaste. At 6.5%ABV, this is strong, well-rounded and easily drinkable, with the alcohol level completely in harmony. I can certainly recommend this beer for an interesting and enjoyable taste experience, but we’ll have to wait until June before any of these beers are available in the UK.
Among the many Welsh beers on show, I particularly liked those from Monty’s Brewery. Their range of excellent real ales includes the crisp and hoppy 5% ABV "Mischief" golden bitter and the dark and creamy 4% ABV "Midnight" stout, both smooth, refreshing, easy to drink and award-winners. Their excellent flagship beer, the floral and hoppy "Sunshine" won two Gold Stars at The 2011 Great Taste Awards.
Lager fans need look no further than Wrexham Lager, Britain’s oldest lager brew and effectively "back from the dead" after production ceased in 2000. Now housed in a new microbrewery, the beer was relaunched towards the end of 2011 and is currently available at pubs and hotels in the local area. I look forward to a time when this excellent lager is available more widely.
Cider was also represented and Pilton Cider are a craft producer from Somerset. They use a traditional method called "keeving" to produce their wonderfully fresh and fruity, naturally sparkling bottle-fermented cider, which won a two-star gold at the Great Taste Awards 2012.
Among the wines on show, sake is always a fixture at IFE and this year, I sampled several excellent examples, including those from Suehiro and Homare Sake Breweries. I particularly liked the drier, traditional styles, which sometimes had an extra percentage of alcohol over the more modern expressions and also an extra layer of complexity on the palate, such as Suehiro’s "Yamahai". Homare’s sour and sweet "Yuzu Sake Aladdin" was an interesting, tangy and refreshing flavoured sake new to me. Tazaki Foods, based in London are importers, distributors and wholesalers of Japanese food and drink in Europe. They also showcased sake at the show, as well as other products and their website, which has an online shop, has plenty of succinct and highly useful information on the various types of sake.
Other alcoholic drinks of interest included Pig in a Poke "Old Spot" white, red and rosé wines, blended from quality grapes and packaged in an eye-catching way with distinctive and jargon-free labels. In 2009, the "Old Spot Red" earned the title of "Best Alcoholic Drink" at the Caterer and Hotelkeeper Excellence in Food & Drink Awards.
Mallorviena Handels GmbH produces a range of "From Vienna With Love" wines. In addition, their 5% ABV "Full Moon" sparkling red and white exotic fruit drinks offer a sophisticated alternative to alcopops and traditional spritzers. Light, fruity and refreshing, their 300ml bottles can be drunk on their own or mixed with vodka.
On the theme of vodka, I have to mention the award-winning UK-made Thunder Toffee Vodka, which is triple-distilled, made with natural toffee syrup and free from artificial additives and preservatives. This deliciously sweet flavoured vodka has already gained plenty of industry recognition and can be drunk "on the rocks" or used in cocktail mixes.
Energy drinks form a huge category by themselves and this year, I was drawn to Scheckter’s Organic Energy drinks, made from 100% natural, organic, Fairtrade ingredients, such as extracts of Brazilian raw coffee bean and guarana. They taste great and are specially formulated to provide slow-release energy over a longer period of time. Pussy Drinks also offer a 100% natural energy drink, which incorporates a mix of six different botanical herbs traditionally used for their health benefits. The result is refreshing and tasty. Among the other drinks at the show, I liked Berry White Organic Drinks. Using a blend of vitamin-rich superfruits plus nutrient and antioxidant-rich white tea, BerryWhite have created four delightfully thirst-quenching fruit drinks.
The popularity of coconut water in the UK has been rising sharply in recent years. It is naturally rehydrating, low in fat and calories and has been feted for its health benefits. Chi Coconut Water was "the fastest growing coconut water brand of 2012". The product is 100% pure with no added sugar, preservatives or chemicals and the packaging is distinctive and enticing. The company also supports the One Seed One Life charity and a percentage of sales is donated to them.
Another brand which impressed me was Oxford Dry. The company produces two iced teas – the crisp, tangy "Darjeeling and Lemon" and the fragrant, revitalising "Green Tea and Mango". The flavours are clean, refreshing and palate cleansing and would provide a delightful afternoon pick-me-up.
There are always plenty of distinctive products at IFE and among the drinks category, one of the most original has to be Qcumber, a cucumber-flavoured sparkling soft drink made with natural cucumber essence and spring water. Free from artificial sweeteners, colourings, preservatives and flavourings, the sweetness, which is not overpowering, is provided by the addition of sucrose. The result is a clear, light, aromatic and refreshing beverage which can be drunk on its own or could be used in a G&T, for example, as a unique twist on a classic drink. Qcumber was named winner of "The Outstanding New Product Innovation" at IFE13. It is currently available from Ocado at £2.60 for a 750ml bottle.
The last product I want to mention in my review is Fruitbroo, a low-calorie liquid hot drink mix, made from a blend of fruit juices, herbs and spices and packaged in 100ml bottles. Hot water is added to a couple of teaspoons of Fruitbroo to create a tasty hot drink. There are eight flavours to choose from, including "Peppermint & Elderflower", which gives a refreshing mint hit with sweetness provided by honey and apple juice extracts.
So there’s my personal round-up of some of the highlights of this year’s IFE – plenty of innovative and highly appetising products from the UK and abroad. However, it was also good to see the charity, Enough Food For Everyone represented, to remind us of the ever-present need to be aware of preventable food wastage and that hunger remains a global problem of huge and tragic significance. On that sobering thought, I nevertheless look forward to future food and drink trade shows and to reviewing many interesting and original products.