Sunday, December 22, 2019

Housewares Gift Ideas for Beverage Lovers

Looking for last minute gift ideas for friends and family who enjoy beverages? I have some gift ideas for everyone from coffee drinkers to fans of cocktails and wines as well as those seeking to avoid using disposable straws from the International Home + Housewares Show (being renamed as The Inspired Home Show for 2020) held by the International Housewares Association (IHA) which took place in March at Chicago’s McCormick Place. Beverages are so important to the housewares buyers that the IHA hosted A Marketplace for Specialty Beverage on March 2 prior to the opening of the show.

For coffee aficionados

ESPRO’s TC1 Coffee Tasting Cups caught my eye at the Housewares Show. Similar to how Riedel offers grape varietal specific wine glasses to accentuate the flavor of different varietals, ESPRO’s new Coffee Tasting Cups are designed to bring out a coffee’s individual characteristics. The company states that a cup’s shape can intensify the flavors and aromas in coffee. The set of four cups include Cocoa, Floral Jasmine, Fruity Berry, and Spicy Cinnamon.

The traditional pour-over coffee brewing method has become popular in recent years. I even wrote a blog article on the rise of pour-over coffee. Melitta is the brand that originated the pour-over brew method. In 1908, Melitta Bentz, a German housewife, got frustrated with drinking bitter coffee so she punched holes in the bottom of a brass pot and used blotting paper from her son's book as a filter for the coffee grounds. The company's Heritage Series Porcelain Pour-Over Coffeemakers offer a time-tested way to make coffee and are an attractive addition to the kitchen in pastel shades (Blue, Yellow, Pink), and White. The Coffeemaker includes a porcelain Pour-Over cone, a matching 20 oz. porcelain serving carafe, and a porcelain lid for the carafe. 

AeroPress fans can now get a travel version to brew American, espresso, and cold brew style coffee. The original AeroPress is already small and lightweight as it is made with plastic. The new AeroPress Go Travel Coffee Press packs all the features of the original AeroPress and includes a mug that allows the AeroPress and all of its accessories (scoop, filter holder, stirrer) to fit inside. The Go version features a slightly shorter design with 8 oz (237ml) brewing capacity instead of the original’s 10 oz (296ml) capacity. and a carry case to hold 20 of its proprietary filters.

Counter Culture Coffee is one of the leaders in specialty coffee and known for their quality, sustainability, and education. The company offers year-round coffees, single-origin coffees, and limited-release coffees as a coffee subscription. You can also find their coffees on and at Target. I have had the pleasure of attending one of their Friday morning coffee cupping sessions at their Chicago training center. They host free cupping sessions and paid coffee brewing workshops for the public at training centers throughout the US. 

Nespresso coffee machine owners can enjoy the company’s new Nespresso Master Origin coffee range. To showcase its “Mastered by Craftsmen, Inspired By The Land” message, Nespresso featured a multi-sensorial display involving sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste at their booth. The coffees were from Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Nicaragua. My favorite among the new Nespresso coffee capsules was the one from India as it offered complexity – I detected very different taste notes as I sipped the coffee at multiple temperatures from hot to warm. The coffee beans from India go through a monsooning process where the beans are exposed to warm and wet monsoon winds. The official flavor notes are woody, spicy, complex, and intense.

Keurig coffee maker users now have the option to make lattes and cappuccinos with the K-Café Special Edition Single Serve Coffee, Latte & Cappuccino Maker. In addition to brewing single-serve coffees with K-Cup pods, it has a SHOT button to brew a concentrated shot of coffee from a K-Cup pod to make hot or iced lattes and cappuccinos. The attached dishwasher safe frother can froth fresh milk, including skim, soy, and almond. It even has a COLD setting for cold frother milk. This model is also the most attractive Keurig brewer to date with metal details and a nickel colored finish.

For the at-home mixologist

The neighbors who love to throw a party but don’t want to act as a bartender will like the Bartesian appliance that makes premium cocktails at the touch of a button. The machine works like a Keurig coffee brewer by using cocktail capsules filled with real ingredients and mixing with a liquid (in this case, your choice of whiskey, tequila, vodka, rum, or water). The Bartesian reads the bar code on the capsule to identify the cocktail selection, chooses which spirit to draw from one of four reservoirs, and allows the user to choose the strength from mocktail to double.

Dexas says that its ice-ology Clear Ice Cube Trays removes impurities and bubbles during the freezing process as the two silicone molds separate in the freezing process to separate the clear ice from the impurities below. The 2 Large Cubes option makes two oversized clear ice cubes that is slower melting and causes less dilution.

Chef’n introduced the SLICESTER Watermelon Tool. The tool cubes and slices melons safely and quickly to make beautiful watermelon garnishes for cocktails.

For the wine connoisseur

For your wine drinking friends (with a large collection of expensive wines) who like to have a glass at a time, Coravin introduced their latest model - Coravin Model Eleven. The Coravin Model Eleven is the first Bluetooth connected and fully automatic Wine Preservation System. Coravin allows one drinkers to have a glass of wine from a bottle of without opening it and uses argon gas in its Coravin capsule to keep the wine preserved. You insert the Needle through the cork, tip the bottle, and automatically pour the wine. 

For the craft beer drinker

The active craft beer drinker may enjoy Stanley’s Classic Easy-Pour Growler. The 64 oz Classic Vacuum Growler has a rugged handle for easy carrying and one-handed pouring. The wide mouth allows for fast filling and easy cleaning. The growler can keep the beer cold for 24 hours with is 18/8 stainless steel, double-wall vacuum insulation, and steel-lined insulated lid.

For the person who doesn’t want to use disposable straws

Critics of disposable plastic straws cite the statistic that Americans use 500 million drinking straws a day. Restaurant chains are beginning to switch to paper straws or eliminate them altogether as plastics in oceans can harm the environment and kill aquatic sea life. Reusable straws can make a nice stocking stuffer. Multiple companies at the show featured reusable straws. 

ASOBU’s Re-Usable Straws are made of recyclable stainless steel and silicone. It has a bendable silicone middle section. The accompanying silicone carry holder has a holder strap. The company will donate 10% of the profits to the World Wildlife Fund. 

GoSip Multi-Use Straws come in glass and stainless steel options and have a soft sip tip. The straws have a silicone connector and can be adjusted from 4.5” to 6”, all the way to 10.5”. 

The HotSips Eco-Friendly Reusable Straws are pre-washed 7.5” reusable straws and designed to be safely used in hot or cold beverages. The dishwasher safe, made in USA straws are patent-pending, recyclable, non-leaching, food-grade, and BPA-free and come in a petite travel tube. In Small, Medium, and Large varieties.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Sweets & Snacks Trends for 2019

With Halloween right around the corner, I wanted to write about sweets & snacks trends that I observed at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo (popularly known as The Candy Show) that took place in May at Chicago’s McCormick Place. The trade show organized by the National Confectioners Association hosted over 800 companies offering candy, chocolate, and snacks. The trends I observed: nut butters, keto friendly, flavor duos, superfoods (cauliflower, mushrooms, and superfruits), and low sugar.

Nut Butters

Childhood lunch favorite peanut butter is expanding into the chocolate and snacks aisles. At the show, The J.M. Smucker Company launched Jif Power Ups granola bars and soft baked bars with peanuts as the first ingredient. You may remember the slogan, “choosy moms choose Jif” peanut butter. The Hershey Company relaunched its Take5 bar as Reese’s Take 5 so that consumers know that peanut butter is one of the five layers in the bar – pretzels, caramel, peanut butter, peanuts, and chocolate. Mars Wrigley offered up its new Creamy Snickers bars with Peanut Butter, Almond Butter, and Maple Almond Butter. The creamy nut butters replace the peanuts in the classic Snickers bar. On the gourmet end, ChocXO Chocolatier combined peanut butter with ruby cacao (a chocolate with fruity notes developed by Barry Callebaut) in its PB & Ruby cups. Peanut puffs were offered by Galil Foods, Perfect Life Nutrition, and popchips Inc. All three companies tout protein (from 3.5 to 5g per bag) on the front of the packs while Perfect Life Nutrition states that is a good source of fiber (3g per 1 oz bag) due to its use of navy beans. Justin’s, known for its almond butters, introduced Almond Butter Covered Cashews and Cashew Butter Covered Cashews at the show. They are not in the photo because I did not receive a sample.

Keto Friendly

The Keto diet remains a favorite of dieters and keto friendly snack options were plentiful at the show. Dang Foods Company offered its dang bars. The Cardamom Chai dang bar is a 100% plant-based bar with 3g sugar, 5g net carbs, and 9g protein. Fat Snax’s Double Chocolate Chip Cookies are low-carb, sugar-free, and keto with 0g sugar, 2g net carbs, and 2g protein.  The Good Fat Co offered a range of keto friendly bars including a plant-based option. Its rich chocolatey almond bar contains 2g sugar, 14g fats, and 9g protein. Krisp Nutrition’s Keto Krisp bars contain 5 net carbs, 10g protein, 2g sugar, 10g fiber, and MCT oil.

Double the Flavors

More the merrier is the thinking behind sugar confectionery and chocolates that combine two flavors in one. The Hershey Company’s KitKat Duos combine Mint + Dark Chocolate Candies for a minty and crispy experience. Duoz from Endangered Species Chocolate offers 2 flavors side by side such as Cinnamon Caramel + Coffee Caramel. The Duoz are patent-pending, with the company donating 10 percent of net profits to save wildlife. Mars Wrigley’s Starburst Duos Fruit Chews combine two flavors (blue raspberry + lemonade, strawberry + watermelon) in one chew. Sour Patch Kids Heads from Mondelez Global offer 2 flavors in 1 soft & chewy candy that is 2x bigger than original Sour Patch Kids. The 2 in 1 flavor combos are pink lemonade + blue raspberry, pineapple + redberry, and peach + orange. Jelly Belly’s new Recipe Mix features two flavors in every bean. Fini Sweets Inc’s Fini Flip it! offers sweet and sour varieties in one bag. The unique packaging provides two pouches inside one bag. The Fini Flip it! Cinema Mix + Sour Little Mix features Cinema Mix on one side and Sour Little Mix on the other side. The two candy mixes do not touch each other because there is a plastic divider in the middle.


Cauliflower, dragon fruit, and mushrooms were some of the key “superfoods” highlighted at the show. The inclusion of cauliflower is aimed at healthy snackers as the high-fiber vegetable is being transformed into healthier pizza crusts and into “rice”. Earthly Treats, Inc offered From The Ground Up Cauliflower Pretzels made with cassava flour, cauliflower flour, and a vegetable blend powder (spinach, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, beets and shitake mushrooms). BFY Brands offered Popcorners Flourish Lightly Salted Veggie Crisps with Toasted Cauliflower with Chickpeas, Rice & Yellow Peas. they are high in protein, high in fiber, gluten free, low in fat, low in sugar, and vegan. Dragonfruit was featured by EVOLVE Brands in its Supernola (chewy clusters of seeds, tree nuts, and energizing superfoods) in a Dragonfruit Lemon Zest variety. The Asian superfruit made its appearance in HI-CHEW candies from Morinaga America, Inc. Tru Fru, LLC featured raspberries that have been picked ripe, frozen fresh, and then freeze-dried before being immersed in dark chocolate. Deebee’s Organics provided a healthy kids snack with its Superfruit Freezies that are USDA Certified Organic and contain organic passionfruit juice concentrate and organic mango puree. Ziba Foods LLC offered Ziba Afghan Dried White Hindu Kush Mulberries that are sustainably sourced, an heirloom superfood, and nutrient dense. The harvest and export of the white mulberries are dedicated to improving the lives of women and farmers in Afghanisan. Mushrooms were transformed into both jerky and snack bar formats by Shrooms Snacks. The Shrooms Bars feature white mushrooms and crimini mushrooms alongside pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, yellow roasted chickpeas, white quinoa puffs, and brown flaxseeds.

Low Sugar

Many consumers want to reduce sugar consumption while still enjoying candies and chocolates. A number of companies offered low sugar options at the show. Lily’s, one of the best known companies in the low sugar chocolate space, showcased their Milk Chocolate Style Peanut Butter Cups and Extra Dark Chocolate that are sweetened with stevia extract and erythritol. SMARTSWEETS INC offered up its stevia leaf extract-sweetened SMARTSWEETS Gummy Bears and new Peach Rings with 3g of sugar per 1.8 oz bag. The SMARTSWEETS are also high in fiber, with 28g of dietary fiber from prebiotic soluble fiber from tapioca and chicory root fiber. Ross Chocolates launched a Dark Chocolate Bar that is sugar free, sweetened with stevia extract and erythritol, and no maltitol that is diabetic friendly and keto diet friendly. Chocolette S.A. offered its RED Delight & Delicious Milk Chocolate Hazelnut & Macadamia bar with no sugar added and 35% less calories than regular milk chocolate with nuts. The RED bar is sweetened with erythritol, stevia extract, and polydextrose. SkinnyMe Chocolate’s Sugar Free Belgian Chocolate Mint variety is sweetend with erythritol and stevia extract.

Monday, May 6, 2019

A Look at the Upcoming 2019 Sweets & Snacks Expo

The Sweets & Snacks Expo (popularly known as The Candy Show) will be taking place on May 21 to 23 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. The trade show organized by the National Confectioners Association will host over 800 companies offering candy, chocolate, and snacks. I will highlight a few interesting companies that are scheduled to exhibit at the show.

Bear Yoyos

Bear, “the UK’s #1 fruit snack”, aims to appeal to parents and children with its real fruit rolls and colorful packaging. The fruit rolls are made with no added sugar or fruit concentrates and contain 1 cup of fruit in every pack. The Bear yoyos are gently baked, hand cut into shapes, and hand rolled. The fruit rolls are Certified Gluten Free, kosher, and Non -GMO Project Verified. Every pack contains an adventure card for children to collect that offers information on one country including capital city and how to say hello. The company sends customers a free adventure world map and stickers after you send in 10 “bearcodes”.

Blake’s Seed Based

I first met Blake Sorensen (on the left) and Adam Root (on the right) of Blake’s Seed Based at a September 2018 The Hatchery Chicago networking event. The Blake’s Seed Based snack bars are free of The Top 8 allergens (tree nuts, peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish, wheat), are certified gluten-free, and use seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax) to provide taste and nutrition. The pumpkin, sunflower, and flax seeds provide health benefits including natural energy, antioxidants, bone health, cardiovascular health, healthy fats, and fiber. Their new protein bars contain pumpkin and sunflower seeds and pea protein to provide 15 grams of protein.


Chomps is a maker of meat snacks that are Certified Paleo, Certified Gluten Free, Whole30 Approved, Non -GMO Project Verified, Keto Friendly, and Diabetic Friendly. The protein packed meat snacks contain a short list of ingredients – sustainably sourced meat (grass-fed beef, free-range turkey, or free-range venison), fruits, vegetables, celery juice, and spices. The meat snacks contain no added sugar, no gluten, no fillers or binders, no soy, no dairy, no MSG, no nitrates or nitrites added and no artificial preservatives and have 9 grams of protein. Additionally, the snacks contain less salt than other commercially produced jerky sticks.

Lebby Chickpea Snacks

Lebby Chickpea Snacks are aimed at healthy snackers as they are high in protein, high in fiber, gluten free, low in fat, low in sugar, and vegan. The snacks are also non-GMO and kosher. Inspired by a childhood snack purchased from street sellers, the company uses an artisanal Mediterranean recipe dating back over 500 years, and combines it with modern flavors. The production process for the chickpea snacks is a long one: the chickpeas are dry roasted three times, soaked in water, dry roasted again, and then cooled and flavored. The flavors are Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate, Mocha, and Sesame Honey.

Morinaga America Inc

I really like Morinaga’s HI-CHEW fruity, chewy candy which are made with fruit juice and purees and are gluten-free. HI-CHEW used to be difficult to find outside of Asian food stores and Cost Plus World Market but they are now more widely available in the United States since the company opened its first candymaking facility in the US – in North Carolina in 2015. The Acai flavor (which contains real chia seeds) was launched in May 2018.

Though Morinaga is a Japanese company, the founder was influenced by his time living in the United States. The founder, Taichiro Morinaga, moved from Japan to the US at the age of 23 in 1888. A Good Samaritan gave him a piece of candy, which he had never tasted during his improverished childhood. He learned how to make candy in the US, moved back to Japan in 1899 and started selling candy from a push cart. Success from the push cart leads to the establishment of the Morinaga Western Confectionery Shop in Tokyo the creation of Morinaga & Company in 1918. In 2008, the company establishes Morinaga America, Inc.

Morinaga America Inc. had introduced HI-CHEW Cola & Orange Soda Fizzies offering “Incredibly Real Soda Taste” in 2017. I can’t wait to see what new flavors they introduce at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Chicago’s Twisted Alchemy Offers Cold-Pressed Juices for Foodservice Operators to Make Craft Cocktails

 Scott Holstein (far right) and the Twisted Alchemy team at their office

I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Holstein, co-founder of Twisted Alchemy, a maker of curated, cold-pressed juice for craft cocktails, at the inaugural Naturally Chicago (a program by FamilyFarmed) breakfast held on May 3 at the LYFE Kitchen on 413 North Clark Street. Scott and his wife Kim Oster-Holstein previously co-founded Kim & Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels before selling the company to J&J Snack Foods Corp. in 2012. Twisted Alchemy will be exhibiting at the National Restaurant Association’s 100th annual Restaurant Show in the BAR (Beverage Alcohol for Restaurants) Show pavilion to be held from May 18 to 21 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. I had the chance to try some cocktails made with Twisted Alchemy juices and G4 tequila at a Cinco de Mayo event held at their office in the Apparel Center.

Julianna and Kirby making cocktails for the Cinco de Mayo tasting

How do the co-founders of Kim & Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels enter the cocktails arena?

You may be wondering like I did, how do the co-founders of a Chicago pretzels company, get into the business of producing juices for bars and restaurants. It turns out that Kim and Scott have a lot of experience making margaritas. After college, Scott bartended at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Paris. With birthdays two days apart in May, Kim and Scott celebrate with a Mexican fiesta with tacos and craft margaritas, requiring a lot of fresh lime juice. They were always looking for fresh lime juice. Scott came up with a solution for fresh lime juice that offers a great tasting lime juice that is not heat-treated or contains sugars and preservative

A grapefruit margarita made with Twisted Alchemy's ruby red grapefruit juice and G4 Tequila

An alternative to juicing fruits on-premise

Twisted Alchemy's cold-pressed Lemon, Watermelon and Orange juices

With the rise of the craft cocktail movement, Scott says that “customers want the same quality level at restaurants as well at home”. Cocktail lovers want handcrafted cocktails with the taste of freshly squeezed juice. However, juicing fruits at the bar or restaurant takes up staff time, is messy, and may lead to inconsistent quality. The Twisted Alchemy line of fresh cold-pressed juices use the HPP (high pressure processing) technology to offer delicious taste and 90 to 120 days (depending on the variety) of refrigerated shelf life without the use of heat pasteurization or preservatives. The not from concentrate juices are free from added sugars and GMOs. 

Additionally, the Twisted Alchemy line of juices offer consistent Brix and noted pH levels as well as consistent yield (no more worries about dry limes or lemons). The front of each juice label states the Brix (sweetness) measurement so that mixologists can get the same sweetness level every time they make a cocktail. Twisted Alchemy offers a line of eight juices: Persian limes (25 limes are used in each 750ml bottle), Lemon, Grapefruit, Pineapple, Watermelon, Orange, Key Lime, and Blood Orange.

Sustainability through use of “ugly fruit” and composting

Twisted Alchemy has a number of initiatives to promote sustainability. The juice producer uses so called “ugly fruit” because the company is selecting fruits for ripeness and juice quality, not for appearance. The company composts 100% of its curated produce. In January 2019, its manufacturing facility began a composting program for its juice waste. The company’s bottles are made of 25% post-consumer recycled material. Its plastics are made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the most widely recycle plastic in the world. The company packs juices shipped direct in environmentally friendly packaging material.   

This will be the company’s third appearance at the National Restaurant Association Show and the first under the Twisted Alchemy name. In January 2019, the company changed its name from Industry Juice to Twisted Alchemy.

G4 tequilas were used in the cocktails at the event