I got a big taste — or, rather, a lot of little tastes — of North Carolina on March 6, when the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences held its first Flavors of Carolina show in three years.
This trade show, temporarily derailed by the coronavirus pandemic, is a chance for N.C. food producers to show what they got — to an audience of not only journalists and bloggers but also such potential buyers as restaurants and supermarkets. It’s part of the department’s Got to Be NC program that promotes food products made in the state.
In short, if you’re in the business and looking to buy local — especially value-added products that go beyond raw produce or meats — this is a good place to learn what’s out there.
The show draws everything from well-established companies that are in supermarkets nationwide to young mom-and-pop businesses that don’t distribute beyond their local farmers market.
And though this gathering of N.C. food producers continues to lean heavily on such things as pork and barbecue sauce, it does offer some diversity in both producers and products.
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Wicked Crisps is a relatively new line of products from Carolina Fine Snacks, which has been based in Greensboro since the early 1980s. Founder Phil Kosak introduced Wicked Crisps about five years ago. And though the brand doesn’t yet enjoy the familiarity of Kosak’s former employer Frito-Lay, it is sold in thousands of supermarkets throughout the Southeast, including Walmart and Publix. It also has been featured on QVC home-shopping channel. Wicked Crisps’ niche is as a gluten-free, baked snack. Flavors include spinach Parmesan, sweet potato souffle, red curry hummus, roasted garlic and Asiago cheese, spring vegetable medley, sea salt and hummus, and cheesy cheese pizza. The crisps use alternative flours or starches, such as rice flour, pea flour and potato starch in combination with spices and often dried vegetables. The result is a chip-like snack lower in fat and calories than other fried chips (wickedcrisps.com).
Also based in Greensboro, Elaka Treats is selling frozen desserts inspired by Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine. It was founded by Shafna Shamsuddin, a woman of South Indian heritage who grew up in the United Arab Emirates. Elaka’s vegan sulaimani sorbet combines black tea, lemon and cardamom — based on the popular Sulaimani tea. Elaka also makes a pineapple hibiscus sorbet and a frozen creamy dessert that combines plantains, cardamom and cashew-nut brittle (elakatreats.com).
Winston-Salem’s TW Garner Food Co. was there with its full line of sauces and other products plus something new: hot popcorn. Not yet in stores, the Texas Pete Hot Popcorn comes in two flavors, original and Cheddar. Garner is making the popcorn with another of its recent innovations: Texas Pete Dust, a spice blend that mirrors the flavor of its flagship Texas Pete Sauce. As with the sauce itself, the popcorn is not super spicy but instead offers a mild kick. It probably will be several months or more before you can get this in stores, but stay tuned (texaspete.com).
Jabin Beverage Co., based in Raleigh, was at the show with what it calls a sports beverage based on the founder Homayoon Ershadi family’s Persian recipe. This refreshing drink is actually cucumber water flavored with mint and dill. It’s lightly sweetened and has just seven ingredients — no preservatives. The company is pitching it as a recovery drink after a workout, and I can see why. Sadly, it is not yet distributed in the Triad (jabinbev.co).
Another interesting young beverage company is Shanti Elixirs, founded in Asheville by Shanti Volpe. Originally a beekeeper, Volpe married her love of honey with her love of Jun, a fermented drink similar to kombucha but made with green tea. Shanti uses jun culture and raw honey in a wide variety of probiotic elixirs, including pineapple turmeric, elderberry lemon, ginger and blueberry basil (shantielixirs.com).
Speaking of raw honey, the Turmeric Zone, based in Morrisville, makes a line of all organic, 100% raw honeys with a variety of added flavors. The one flavor they all have in common is turmeric, which adds a noticeable but subtle complexity to the honey. Samir and Elizabeth Trivedi say they prepare the honey with raw turmeric roots, following ancient Ayurveda techniques. Flavors include original turmeric honey plus ginger, cinnamon and cloves, and elderberry. The company has a retail store in Morrisville, sells online on its own site as well as at Amazon, and also at such stores as Deep Roots in Greensboro (turmericzone.com).
Anyone familiar with the Miso Master miso made in Rutherfordton by American Miso Co. for Great Eastern Sun (and sold in Whole Foods in Winston-Salem) may be interested in its new product, Miso Tamari. Whereas regular tamari is made from fermented soybeans — essentially soy sauce — miso tamari is a by-product of the miso fermentation. I guess, you’d still say it’s essentially soy sauce, since miso is made from soy, but it comes out a little bit different. Miso Master’s tamari is thicker than other tamari or soy sauce, and I found it to have a rich and complex flavor. Definitely a fun addition to any pantry. The tamari is sold only online at present (great-eastern-sun.com).
Though there was a ton of pork at this trade show, I did find other meats, too. One was bison from Dr. King’s Farms near Asheville. The company is founded by Dr. Frank King, a fourth-generation farmer and advocate of sustainable farming. The company has grown to the extent that it also partners with other bison breeders to supplement its N.C. herd. It sells a variety of cuts of grass-raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free bison, touted as being a leaner, more heart-healthy alternative to beef. Cuts include roasts, sirloin, rib-eye and ground. The ground, at least, is sold in many Harris Teeters. The company also sells online (drkings.com).
I could go on and on. Local favorites Neese’s Sausage, Mt. Olive Pickles, Cheerwine, Chad’s Carolina Corn and Old North State Winery of Mount Airy also were in attendance.
Though last week’s show was for media and people in the trade, the agriculture department is planning a similar event for the general public. The Got To Be NC Festival is scheduled for May 20-22 at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. In addition to a food expo, it will have carnival rides, music and more.
Contact Michael Hastings at 336-727-7394 or [email protected].