NEW YORK – It took me a long time to come clean, but I'll admit it — I'm a foodie.
Now that the confession is out of the way, you won't be surprised to learn that the annual Fancy Foods Show in New York City is one of the highlights of my entire year.
The show turned 50 this year, and 2,300 companies specializing in everything from gourmet soda to hand-made chocolate turned out to participate in this grand event, which ran from June 27 through June 29.
While I wish I could have paid a visit to each and every booth, it just wasn't possible this year. However, my colleagues and I did manage to spot some intriguing new food offerings in several categories that are worth seeking out, even if you don't want to call yourself a foodie.
Gus: Grown Up Soda
As the label proclaims, this is a soft-drink for sophisticated grown-up palates. In fact, the sodas are marketed as being "not too sweet," and show up in specialty food markets and gourmet delicatessens.
The sodas are lightly carbonated and refreshing and come in flavors that include extra dry ginger ale, dry Meyer lemon, star ruby grapefruit, dry Valencia orange and dry crimson grape. FOXNews.com tried the ginger ale, grape and grapefruit sodas and liked all three.
Web site: www.drinkgus.com
Tom and Sally's Handmade Chocolates
FOXNews.com was struck by the whimsical, old-fashioned and sometimes downright silly products from this Vermont-based candy company.
Tom and Sally offer everything from "fun candies" in 1-oz. bags, including "reindeer noses" (small red hots), candy corn with the tag line "I'm corny for you" and the best-selling "nose worms" (gummy bear worms that any youngster might like to ... well, you know).
Old-fashioned penny candy is offered in a Norman Rockwell-style 16-ounce box with childhood favorites such as Mary Janes, Necco wafers, Sweet Tarts and other favorites.
Web site: www.tomandsallys.com
One of the most decadent treats among the fancy foods at the New York festival came from Marich Confectionery. The sweets maker creates chocolate-covered blueberries, -cherries and mint-chocolate malt balls, among other surprising confections.
Each single bite is a taste sensation, with a surprising mix of flavor and texture. These sophisticated little candies are made of fine chocolate and fall outside the norm of average sweets in taste and imagination.
Web site: www.marich.com
If you've spent any time in Seattle, you've probably heard of the delicious chocolates offered by Fran's. The company has gradually developed a nationwide presence.
Until recently the company's sinful "Gold Bars," — a blend of chocolate, caramel and either macadamia nuts, almonds or coconut — were its most famous product. Now the bars have been surpassed in popularity by the best-selling gray salt hand-dipped dark-chocolate caramels.
While it may sound strange, the caramels are topped with fleur-de-sel, or coarse sea salt. The salt cuts the sweetness of the chocolate and caramel, creating a unique and memorable treat.
Fran is actually a real person named Fran Bigelow. Her cookbook, "Pure Chocolate: Divine Desserts and Sweets from the Creator of Fran's Chocolates" will be published by Random House in October.
Web site: www.franschocolate.com
John Scharffenberger is also a real person, and he is almost as hard to resist as his chocolates. A charming prophet of chocolate, Scharffenberger switched from making fine champagne in California's Anderson Valley to creating a new American chocolate company with his partner Robert Steinberg.
Scharffenberger pointed out some of the company's newest and best products, including the three pancake and waffle mixes his enterprise has begun to offer this year. As the company says, "whole grains, cacao nibs and chocolate chunks make these pancake mixes unique to Scharffen Berger." I'll say!
Web site: www.scharffenberger.com
Seabear Raging River "Ready-to-Eat" Wild Salmon
By now, health-conscious Americans know that Omega-3 fatty acids are good for their hearts. Salmon and other types of fish are high in Omega-3s. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times a week.
Seabear has begun offering a 3-oz.package of wild Alaskan Sockeye salmon with just a touch of salt in a ready-to-eat pouch. The single-serving size would be perfect for a lunch or dinner. The salmon can be eaten by itself or used to top off a salad.
Seabear is especially proud to offer wild salmon. The quality of the fish was consistent with other products already offered by the Seattle-based company.
Web site: www.SeaBear.com
If you like unusual snack foods, you probably have tried "Terra" chips. They're the chips made out of "exotic vegetables" including beets, taro roots and even carrots.
Now the company is offering kettle-fried versions of its signature chips. These chips offer more crunch and, dare we say it, make for an even more exotic snack.
Web site: www.terrachips.com
Snyder's of Hanover
Joining the ranks of "healthy snack foods," Snyder's of Hanover has introduced some new soy crisps. For the carb-conscious eater, the crunchy munchies have only 6 grams of net carbs and 7 grams of soy protein.
The surprisingly satisfying chips, which were labeled as "Soy-Teins" at the food fair, but are said to be changing their name to "Soy-Crisps," come in flavors of parmesan, garlic and olive oil and tomato, Romano cheese and olive oil.
Web site: www.snydersofhanover.com
Vosges Haut Chocolat
The Chicago-based chocolate company introduced a line of specialty ice cream at the Fancy Food Show.
I've sampled a lot of ice cream and even made some fairly unusual ice cream myself (black pepper ice cream or prune, Armagnac ice cream anyone?) but I have never tasted anything like the frozen "haut glaces" offered by Vosges.
Four flavors are available: Pandan, which is Belgian dark chocolate and pandan leaf; Red Fire, made of dark chocolate, ancho, chipotle chili and Ceylon cinnamon; Naga, consisting of sweet Indian curry, organic coconut, coconut milk and white chocolate; and Wattleseed, which is Australian Aboriginal wattleseed, Australian macadamia nuts and white chocolate.
In addition to offering its products through retailers, Vosges also has four "boutiques" in the United States: two in Chicago, one in New York, one in Miami and another opening soon in Las Vegas.
Web site: www.vosgeschocolate.com