Speciality and Fine Food Fair

Crunch time

September 12, 2016

Laura Gelder discovers it’s all a question of crunch as she tours the Speciality and Fine Food Fair in London looking for the latest in snacking trends.

I visit the Speciality and Fine Food Fair every year and it’s always an interesting day out. It’s not an event targeted at the onboard market so I sometimes feel slightly like a headless chicken, trying to spot products which could work for travel catering amongst a plethora of things which wouldn’t, such as the giant wheel of parmesan which sat temptingly at the bottom of the stairs to the upper gallery.

Each year, there is one trend which jumps out at me, unavoidable in its sudden abundance. In previous years it’s varied from coconut water to birch water, popcorn to marshmallows.

This year it was the crisp, and I’m not talking about potatoes. I’m referring to an explosion of crunchy/crispy snacks which try to imitate the moreish texture of the crisp (or potato chip, depending on where you live), whilst adhering to the demand for healthy foods.

We seem to be living in an increasingly health-obsessed culture but we’re unwilling to relinquish the idea of snacking – something which my own mother insists is the reason we’re all so fat, although she does enjoy a chocolate digestive herself once a day.

Perhaps it has something to do with the pace of our lives, something I mused on the day I was at the show, having rushed there, zoomed around it and rushed off to another event without time for a ‘proper’ lunch.

I once read that ‘crunch’ is a most sought-after texture for us humans. I’ve heard this love explained away by a link to our ancient consumption of protein-rich insects as well as the sensory pleasure we take from the sound of a crunch, an onomatopoeic word itself.

Traditionally, crunchy favourites like crisps have been deep-fried to get their satisfactory texture. But at this year’s show I saw crunchy snacks made from non-fried, healthy ingredients like lentils, seeds and seaweed.

Burt’s is famous for its not-so-healthy but delicious potato crisps, but have recently released a line of very crunchy lentil waves, made using lentil flour, potato starch and sunflower oil. The 20g packs are less than 99 calories each and come in lightly salted, sour cream and chive and Thai sweet chili flavours.

One of my favourites, and a great alternative to both popcorn and crisps, was Nuto, a popped lotus seed snack. Founder of Nuto, Babita Singh, explained to me that the nutritious seed is already a popular snack in India, where it grows in shallow pools, lakes and rivers.

The round balls are made from popping the outer shell of the seed and are gluten-free and have a soft but pleasing crunch. They come in a sweet maple and smoked paprika and a savoury salt and pepper flavour.

Too delicate to achieve a proper crunch, but certainly crispy, was Selwyn’s Crispy Seaweed Snacks. The Welsh company has been harvesting seaweed for over 50 years, initially for use in the traditional Welsh dish laverbread. Now, Ashley Jones is continuing the tradition started by his grandfather but bringing some Asian flair to proceedings.

Having travelled to the Far East, he discovered the popularity of seaweed as a snack and decided his company was well-placed to make them in Britain. In 2014, he sourced raw Nori seaweed from the Far East and brought it back to Wales to triple-roast and flavour. But Selwyn’s is now working on a project with Swansea University and The Tidal Lagoon in its native Swansea Bay to start farming its own organic seaweed

The fine sheets of mineral and vitamin-rich dried seaweed are seasoned in coconut and chili, honey and sesame and sea salt and vinegar flavours and are a very modest 12 calories a pack.

Keep an eye out for more on this trend in the next issue of Onboard Hospitality magazine.