Not a harmonica—it’s a Banana Guard, to protect your fresh fruit.
Love to bring a banana for a workday snack (or send the kids to school with one), but hate to find it brown and beaten up when you remove it from your bag? Have no fear—Banana Guard is here! The banana protectors are designed to fit most banana sizes and have ventilation holes to allow the banana to ripen at its natural rate. Banana Guard comes in several different colors including a glow-in-the-dark variety—perhaps for spelunkers and theater ushers. It’s $6.99 for a single Banana Guard, $12.99 for a 2-pack and $29.99 for a 5-pack at BananaGuard.com. Let’s hear it for healthier snacks, and the folks who invent ways to carry them.
Just in time for Halloween, McCormick’s has introduced black food coloring. While it’s been easy to make orange from the standard yellow and red food colors, black has always represented a challenge. Now, thanks to spooky food technology, cakes, cupcakes and cookies can be decorated in true Halloween spirit. Check out McCormick.com for a recipe for a black cat cake, purrfect for kids or adults! The food coloring is available nationwide for a suggested retail price of $2.80 for a one ounce bottle. Also new are Italian Tabletop Spices and Traditional Tabletop Spices, single shakers with four sections of different spices.
McCormick’s new Tabletop Spices: at left, Italian spices, at right, Traditional.
The Traditional shaker offers sea salt, black pepper, garlic salt and an Italian seasoning blend. We’re not keen on pre-ground black pepper (piperines, the fiery compounds we love in pepper, start to fade within 20 minutes after grinding). But the Italian shaker, with oregano, sweet basil, garlic powder and crushed red pepper, seems perfect for Pizza Night. If you also like salt and pepper on your pizza, get both and shake away! Each has a suggested retail price of $3.99, at grocery stores nationwide.
Photo of Czechoslovakian hops vines by Dušan Gavenda | IST.
What revelers at next week’s Great American Beer Festival won’t be discussing is the higher prices forthcoming on their brews of choice. While the segment grew 11% the first half of this year, the cost of materials is growing as well. As reported today in the Wall Street Journal, poor harvests, the week dollar and farmers’ shifts to more profitable crops have caused the price of hops and barley to rise—the largest ever faced by the industry. Malting barley, which gives beer its color and sweetness, is less a profitable crop than corn, in demand for biofuels like ethanol. Hops, which provide aroma and bitterness, are commanding higher prices because of poor crops in Europe (hops are also grown in America’s Pacific Northwest). At the same time, the acreage devoted to hops has decreased by half over the past dozen years because of a previous glut of hops.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the cost pressures could slow the expansion of American craft brewers and even put some smaller ones, who have not locked in contracts for hops and malt, out of business. Big brewers face the same cost increases, but they use far fewer hops and barley in most of their beers, which is why they are lighter in taste (and calories). A barrel of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, for example, has about twice the malt and up to five times the hops of a mass-market brew like Budweiser or Miller. As in any industry, large manufacturers have the finances to to secure long-term contracts that protect against rising costs of materials. Now, smaller brewers are trying to do the same, and some are tweaking their recipes to see what they can do without the European hops they’ve always relied on.
The doors open on Thursday, October 11, 5:30 p.m., and until Saturday at 10 p.m. (not nonstop, of course); attendees at the 2007 Great American Beer Festival will have 1,884 beers available to sample. A total of 2,832 beers will be judged over three days by more than 100 judges. There are some new styles among this year’s 75 beer categories, including Pumpkin Beer, Other Low Strength Ale or Lager, Gluten Free Beer, American-Style Sour Ale, Wood and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer and American-Style Imperial Stout.
Attendees can sample beer by state, visit educational booth areas, attend food and beer seminars from an A-list of chefs and food experts and listen to live interviews with the rock stars of the brewing industry. New this year, the festival has gone green with the goal of recycling all possible packaging and festival programs. Craft beer has never been hotter. According to data from Information Resources Inc., supermarket sales increased a whopping 17.8% increase in 2006—more growth than any other alcohol beverage category in the supermarket channel. In the past three years, craft beer sales have grown by an astounding 31.5%. Visit GreatAmericanBeerFestival.com for tickets and event information.
Last week we attended the Natural Products Expo East (ExpoEast.com), the largest natural and organic products trade show and conference on the east coast (its sister show, Expo West in Anaheim, is even larger). Among the 25,000 other attendees and 1,790 exhibits, just 25% or so of the exhibitors are in the food industry, but much of the food there is healthy and exciting (the rest of the products are dietary supplements,
organic personal and household care products, clothing and home furnishings). According to The Natural Foods Merchandiser’s 2007 Market Overview, the natural and organic products industry is growing at 9.7%, with more than $56 billion in consumer sales (the food segment is growing at about 15%, and topped $15 billion in sales). What’s happening in natural foods? The energy bar was ubiquitous: So many bars, so little time! So many beverages, too: In one burgeoning category, fruit juices, it seemed as if the different brands of pomegranate and açaí juices could stretch from coast to coast. The organic baby food category has grown even more, too. This year, many more products targeted to older kids were evident, from Wild Waters vitamin-enhanced waters to Can Do Kids nutrition/energy bars. People with gluten allergies can eat better now too, thanks to a large variety of really delicious bread products made from flaxseed and other flours. While people with celiac disease can’t eat spelt, some people who have simpler wheat allergies can—and so can the rest of us. Spelt is truly delicious—the next time you see spelt bread or burger rolls, try them! What we love about this show is that we nibble from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and never get, well, ill, because all of the food is so good for you. Try that at any other food show—by noon you’re begging for mercy and by 2 p.m. you can’t eat another bite. The newest of new ideas was a probiotic juice from Next Foods called Verb: Good Belly. Get 20 million probiotic bacteria in every serving of organic fruit juice (VerbDaily.com). The patented probiotics are proven to help with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. You’ll read about what we loved in the November issue of THE NIBBLE, and we’ll be reviewing our favorites in our January “healthy gourmet” issue.