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22 of The Craziest Eats and Drinks We Saw at the ‘Super Bowl of Natural Products’

Does tasting an unreleased velvety oat milk-based nondairy whipped cream months before it hits supermarket shelves excite you? Then you were probably one of the 67 thousand registered attendees who took home at least 50 pounds of free samples each day at the world's biggest natural products expo, Expo West. For one week a year, over 3,000 brands associated with natural products invade Anaheim's Convention Center. It is the spot to be if you work in any kind of retail or food company since the event attracts international buyers from prestigious supermarkets worldwide, scouting out the food, drink, and health supplement companies for items to stock their highly coveted shelf space. It's also the spot to be if you are in hardcore food nerd and work in media, like us.

Every year reveals a new trend in American retail foodways. For example, years before oat milk started to overtake almond milk in the alternative milk world, attendees at Expo West knew that would happen by simply attending and seeing the trend before the rest of the world. This year, we noticed a lot of non-alcoholic wines and canned cocktails, including non-alcoholic liquor alternatives (each liquor—whether it was tequila, bourbon, or rum, frankly tasted like significantly watered-down liquor left out overnight). Other trends we noticed were a surplus of vegan cultured cream cheeses.

The expo has gained a reputation for the insane amount of swag that this billion-dollar industry gives out to attendees. Sometimes entire packages of gluten-free flax muffins, whole boxes of chocolate bars, and so much damn more.

Expo West is a trade-only event, so it is not open to the public. You must work in the products or industry to attend. That being said, these were the foods and drinks that stood out the most this year.

All photos by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO. 

xoconostle jam
xoconostle jam

Xoconostle Spread

A mom-and-daughter team from Mexico is banking that the U.S. is ready for wild cactus fruit jam, specifically xoconostle. This is a meatier, extremely sour "prickly pear" varietal that is primarily used in savory salsas in Mexico. However, in jam form, it is also delicious.

Ready to Use Uni Butter

A Japanese company is making it extremely convenient to make uni pasta by selling uni-enriched butter. By the spoonful, it tasted like uni ice cream in a delicious way, and naturally sweet.  We can imagine that it will taste great when swirled into some al dente pasta.

Canned Horchata 

Aguas Locas just made the first ever canned horchata that is refreshing and delicious. Crack open a cinnamon-y cold one with tacos if you ever see it. It is definitely worth a shot.

Hoppy Carbonated Honey Beverage

It's not beer. It's not mead. It's a crushable 6% beer-like beverage made from fermented honey. The dry-hopped one had some IPA vibes but had that honey-like sweetness (with only ten grams of sugar per serving).

Farmer-Direct Chocolate

After supplying coffee to a leading international coffee chain, this farmer-owned coffee collective out of Guatemala grew tired of being portrayed as the "poor farmers" in marketing materials and selling their products at a loss. As the brand representative told L.A. TACO, "farmers are capable and powerful people, we can sell our own things to consumers."

Dog Gelato 

The pet food and supplement category in the natural food space has grown exponentially in the last few years, alongside natural products for humans. Dog gelato, however, is a first. Unsurprisingly, the company is Oregon-based.

Lobster Oil

Like truffle oil, but made with the most luxurious crustacean out there. The flavor was...lobstery.

Freakishly Real Sashimi-Like Vegan Sushi 

Made from konjac (a snappy, naturally gelatinous root vegetable popular in Asia), this vegan sashimi was delicious and dare we say—better than the sashimi in some cheap sushi we've had, especially the tuna.

Alcohol-less Liquors 

Alcohol-free liquor is an emerging category. They are never, ever going to taste like the real thing, but they get as close as they can. It is essentially purified water with botanicals and natural flavor extracts to replicate the flavor of the liquor. The tequila one even stung a little bit going down the throat!

Alcohol-Free Wine

Made using tea-based tannins, fruit, and other tingly things, these zero-alcohol wines were refreshing and definitely did the job. They smelled like wine and had deep, complex lingering flavor, with a good mouthfeel.

Coconut Calamari

There are two schools of thought when it comes to plant-based alternatives: lab-grown and scientifically perfected meat-like fake meat vs. plants that accidentally can be meaty when cooked perfectly. This coconut calamari is the latter and makes so much sense if you think about it.

Half Veggie, Half Real Beef Patties

If you are a proud flexitarian, there is a new beef pattie for you. It is made from half real ground beef, and half vegetables, so it's neither a veggie pattie or beef pattie, but somewhere in between the two. A hybrid patty to meet in between that tastes delicious, too.

True-to-Culture Seasonings

Todo Verde, started by East L.A.'s homegrown plant-based taquera Jocelyn Ramirez, was presente at Expo West. Her savory and umami-forward spices are ready to be sprinkled on a stewing guisado near you.

Instant Frozen Boba

Genius if you think about it, just add your favorite milk and warm up the frozen boba and you can bring the boba tea house experience to your home.

Cacao Water

Everyone has been rushing to find the next coconut water and this company may have found the closest thing. At least in terms of flavor, nutrients, and refreshing qualities. Cacao water is made from the sweet white pulp that surrounds the cacao seeds when the fruit is fresh. It's flavor is lightly chocolate-like.

Oatly Whip

If you are a devout follower of the Oatly-only oat milk religion, then you know why this soon-to-be-released whipped topping out of a can is so exciting.

Vegan Hard-Boiled Eggs

Packaged and ready to eat from the refrigerated section, these hard-boiled eggs are made from konjac and rely on a sprinkly of sulphuric black salt to impart that strong "eggy" flavor. Again, crazy how accurate to the real thing some of these plant-based alternatives are getting. However, each egg half only had 1.5 grams of protein.

Gluten-Free Conchas

The same ingredient that goes into making Brazil's famous oozy cheese bread (tapioca) is now being extrapolated to make vegan gluten-free conchas and warm out of the oven, they weren't bad...if you can't eat gluten-full real ones.

Lightly Sweetened Fruit Beverages For Latin American U.S. Market

The race to find the next Jarritos is also on and this cutesy named "Besitos" beverage was our favorite contender.

Dole Whip At Home

Now you can have your favorite frozen Disneyland-exclusive treat at home. It was not too sweet.

Chia Vegan Caviar

Why not?

An Actually Delicious New-School Hot Sauce

More hometown love to Zab's datil pepper hot sauce, one of L.A. TACO's favorite hot sauces and one that we have been known to polish in a couple of weeks. It's the thick and rich texture that does it for us. It tastes like a much more low key habanero hot sauce, but not as blindingly spicy and much better ingredient label.

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