NEW YORK – Summertime stirs up memories of fresh-squeezed lemonade, deviled eggs and watermelon under the verandah. But each year, food companies try to break away from the same old picnic fare, hoping to create the next food sensation.
Here's a roundup of some of the more notable of this year's unusual summer victuals:
Byron Bay Chilli Company sauces: These competition-winning hot sauces were developed by John Boland, a California native who moved to the eponymous Australian beach town. Combining sweet with spicy, they come in three flavors — sweet chilli, coconut and mango — that liven up the flavor of any dish and that our taste testers found to be simply excellent. www.byronbaychilli.com.
Popcorn Ranch watermelon popcorn: Coming in a hot-pink hue that assaults the eyes before it hits the tongue, these sticky-sweet confections take some getting used to for those brave enough to try. Even then, it's like simultaneously gobbling on movie-theater puffs and Jolly Ranchers. The effect's the same with the jelly-bean flavor popcorn (best avoid the licorice and grape flavors), similarly lacquered in traffic-light bright colors. More successful are flavors like vanilla butternut, caramel and almond/pecan, a culinary cousin to Cracker Jacks. Most popular overall with our taste testers were cookies & crème (with chunks of real cookie treats) and white cheddar. Tasters were split down the middle for kosher dill, whose pickle smell put off more than a few but whose taste eventually won it a fanatical following. www.popcornranch.com.
Miss Meringue cookies: The old French treat, which was a favorite delicacy of Marie Antoinette but now too often languishes in a corner of the bakery section at the supermarket, gets an infusion of freshness from this San Marcos, Calif., company. Like other meringues, these award-winning cookies come in fat-free and mini-sized versions, but it's the richness of texture and flavor that set Miss Meringue's thangs apart. Tasters' top picks included Very Chocolate and Triple Chocolate Chip. www.missmeringue.com.
Scorned Woman jalapeno fudge: Continuing the trend toward dovetailing sweet and spicy, this Tennessee-made confection includes small chunks of jalapeno peppers. Though it's not especially hot, despite the name and motto ("Don't Get Mad … Get Even!!!"), the peppers add bite and an interesting flavor to the fudge, which isn't overly sweet like some other chocolate fudges. www.countryfreshfood.com.
Bruce & Clark bubble tea: Bringing a Chinese favorite to the United States, these iced teas come in odd-sounding but thoroughly tasty flavors like Taro Tea Latte and Mango Bango. The make-it-yourself kit (blender not included) lets you brew your own without having to wait in line at the local Chinese tea house — and even includes those fat, funky straws so you can suck up the tapioca pearls that put the bubbles in bubble tea. www.bruceandclark.com.
Jelly Belly Harry Potter Bertie Bott's jelly beans: The flavors of the little wizard's world come to stomach-turning life with jelly beans that taste like earwax, grass, dirt, black pepper, sardines, boogers and vomit (actually a variation on a failed pepperoni-pizza attempt by Jelly Belly researchers). Courageous taste testers found them distressingly accurate and sure to bring out the prankster in your child. www.jellybelly.com.
North Aire Market chilled fruit soup: Soup isn't normally on the top of anyone's list during a sweltering summer, but chilled fruit soups from this pair of Minnesota women make for a refreshing, liquid meal. Just add water and buttermilk to make Blue and Wildberry Soup or Orange Cranberry Soup. www.northairemarket.com.
McSteven's pink & blue hot chocolate: Hot cocoa's not exactly a summer treat, but some modern offices have their air-conditioning ratcheted up to winter levels from June to August, so we included these hearty beverages from Vancouver, Wash. The white powder turns a vibrant pink or cheery baby blue when added to hot water. Not as rich as other cocoas — it's made of white hot chocolate. Tasters were varied in their reaction to the stuff. Pink or blue, it's available in small "It's a Girl!/Boy!" tins for new parents. www.mcstevens.com.
Big Bark Bakery and Three Dog Bakery doggie treats: They don't call them the dog days for nothing. These companies, in Dallas and Kansas City, Mo., respectively, make fancy, all-natural treats for your best friend. Three Dog sends out gift packages with doggie "pizzas," carob-based Scottie Biscotti and BBQ sauce-slathered Kansas City "ribs." Big Bark makes heart-shaped Pupsicles, peanut- and honey-cinnamon Taste Twisters and even apple-cinnamon wedding-style cakes. On the whole, however, canine taste testers were somewhat skeptical of the treats from either bakery, though their owners are continuing their research. Human taste testers found they preferred human food. www.threedog.com and www.bigbarkbakery.com.