Nothing exciting can be done with olive oil, you may be thinking. Apparently, a lot of companies disagree. A surprising number were showcasing the ingredient, bearing goods from Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy.
There was a lot of focus on premiumisation, including flavoured olive oils like Pellas Nature’s sage, basil and red hot pepper options, as well as brands highlighting provenance.
Topping the pile, at least according to the Speciality & Find Food Fair’s Fresh Discovery Awards, was Picualia’s Pure Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Voted as the People’s Choice, the product claims to have three times more antioxidants than other olive oils on the market. The Drop of Gold, meanwhile, offered its olive oil as jams and caviar pearls.
Making America great again
Big, bold and brash products inspired by American eating habits made a more modest but still notable appearance. Aiming for upmarket appeal in the meat snacks category, Jekl founder Russ Klinger was inspired by the popularity of jerky in the States, but carefully avoids using that term in association with his products. Instead, the emphasis is on the quality of the beef used, as well as the nutritional benefits: California-style honeyed jalapeno, Japanese-style spiced teriyaki and Hawaiian-style pineapple and orange are all high in protein, gluten-free and contain no preservatives.
The Sweet Beet might sound like a vegetarian concept – and to be fair most of its products are – but it was the company’s bacon jam that received the most attention. “Born in Texas, made in the UK,” other flavours include oak-smoked apple butter, strawberry chipotle, Texas jelly and habanero jelly, to be used as sauces, marinades or just to sex up porridge.
In a jam
Speaking of chilli jams, the other big Fresh Discovery Award winner was Single Variety Co, which nabbed the top prize from the judging panel for its lemon drop chilli jam. As its name suggests, the company selects only “the perfect variety of every fruit for each recipe” (in case you’re wondering, that means Ben Starav blackcurrants, maravilla raspberries and King George blackberries).
Single Variety Co was far from the only brand displaying playful condiments, though its spreads were the ones that most resembled traditional jams in terms of style and packaging. Vivia Crumps had a selection of relishes (e.g., red chilli and pineapple) as well as chutneys (e.g., carrot and orange with a hint of clove) on show.
Elsewhere, Rogues Preserves took full advantage of the current fad for using alcohol as a seasoning with its bloody mary chutney and espresso martini marmalade, while Patchwork Foods dabbled in not just chilli jams but also mushroom marmalades and some imaginative (or weird, depending on your viewpoint) pates.
On a diet
There was a nod to the on-the-fence FODMAP dietary trend in the shape of Bay’s Kitchen, but a lot more exhibitors focused on gluten. While that was especially true for breads and cakes, there were also a fair few snacks gunning for healthy status, including Growers Garden’s broccoli crisps and lotus seeds in a popcorn style from Purl Pops.
Vegan desserts have been particularly buzzy of late, but one of the few brands representing the category at the fair was Norty Puds. Its dairy-free, gluten-free sweets contain no refined sugar and come in three tastes: Chia Me Up (lemon and chia seeds), Bana-Norty (banoffee pie by another name) and Salted Choc (date caramel and chocolate).
Speaking of chocolate, there was a lot of that in evidence too. Plenty of companies had a good ol’ yarn to spin, amongst them multi-award-winning Chocolat Madagascar and CasaLuker Cacao from Colombia. Spouting more ethics than Aristotle and Spinoza combined, many spoke of sustainability credentials and how profits were shared with farmers – and there was almost as much talk about single origin as with the coffee crowd.
Dark chocolate in particular put in a good showing, drawing on the twin weapons of health benefits and vegan suitability to lure in buyers, but arguably the most popular stalls were those who threw caution to the winds and just doubled down on indulgence and luxury.
A slightly curious one to finish off: alcohol-infused fish, or Pished Fish, if you will. These drunken piscatorial goods all hail from Scottish waters and come doused in raspberry vodka, aquavit and gin, among other spirits. There’s even a mocktail-style offering called the Designated Driver. Different wood combos are used to smoke each flavour.
Another seafood seller that caught our eye was Zooteek, who were luring people in with squid in black ink, sardines in olive oil and cockles in brine. With Lonely Planet guidebooks having just named pintxos its number-one foodie experience, these bites from the Basque region seem particularly timely – albeit not the most original. Judging from the businesses on display at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair, however, provenance remains a top selling point.