The geometric exquisiteness of the chocolate bars is what first attracted me to Deux Cranes, but it’s French-trained chocolatier Michiko Marron-Kibbey’s delicate Japanese flavors combined with French technique that converted me into a die hard fan. Made by hand in Los Gatos, CA, ingredients are sourced from travels to Japan and Japanese markets in the US. My favorites include the Matcha with Caramelized Sesame and the Dark Chocolate Hazelnut.
Fishwife smoked tuna is my answer to “what’s for lunch” at least one day a week. The tuna has a lovely hint of smoke and a gentle texture. Founded during the pandemic by tinned fish obsessive Becca Millstein, Fishwife admirably focuses on working with small boat fisherfolk, sustainable aquaculture farms, and micro canneries on the Pacific coast and in Idaho. Usually I just eat it directly from the tin, though sometimes I’ve restrained myself enough to put together an entire Grand Aioli complete with steamed vegetables and a dip.
Yun Hai’s thick cut sliced fruits of Taiwan are nature preserved at its best--no additives, sulfur, colorants or preservatives. My favorite is the Pearl Guava, which is perfumey and a touch vegetal. Delicious with a cup of oolong tea. Lisa Cheng launched this business in March 2021 to support Taiwanese farmers who are vulnerable to trade volatility between Taiwan and China. At that time, China banned imports of Taiwan pineapples nearly overnight, wiping out 90% of Taiwan's export market and leaving farmers scrambling to find buyers.
The whole flower teas from The Qi bloom in hot water, bringing the natural world back to life, which feels like wizardry. "According to ancient Eastern philosophies when a plant flowers it is believed that it’s at the peak of its life and the flowers are the fruit of this highest level energy Qi. When we take in this flower Qi, it can help us heal, too," says founder Lisa Li. Li grew up near Beijing drinking tea with her grandmother and now works directly with small family owned farms across Asia.
In the time honored tradition of Chex mix, with a lot more punch and taste, west~bourne has created a compulsively snackable combination of corn squares, smoked almonds, seaweed, peppers and tamari. It’s crunchy, smoky, savory and slightly sweet. LA-born west~bourne founder Camilla Marcus dreamed up Togarashi Crunch by crossing two childhood favorites: togarashi spice she fell in love with in her local Japantown and typical American snacks.
Mojave Gold’s Red Flame Seedless Grapes are grown on the floor of the Coachella Valley’s Mojave Desert and dried wholly intact on the vine, then hand-clipped, hand-washed, and hand-packed to order. They are plumper and sweeter than other raisins, but what I find entirely irresistible is the fact that they’re still on the vine and look gorgeous on a platter when I’m entertaining. The revered founder Don Kizirian invented this labor-intensive process and after he passed away, his wife Lynette and daughter Amanda Marshall have carried on with the utmost love and dedication to the business.
Nasrin’s orange jam is packed with fruit that's so shockingly delicious, it simply can't get pushed to the back of the shelf. The oranges are sliced and layered in the jar, the rind is blissfully bitter and chewy. Founded during the pandemic, chef Nasrin Rejali is channeling the foods of her native Iran with love laced with nostalgia and longing. I cut the slices in quarters and fold them into a bowl of Greek yogurt for the most incredible breakfast.
PRMRY’s extra virgin olive oil was developed by Erin Ridley and Janell Pekkain, two olive oil sommeliers (yes! That’s a thing!), during the pandemic. The two bottlings, Transform and Enhance, are called “finishing oils” because they’re just right for a drizzle of lush and explosive oliveness. The bottles have a top that controls the flow, so I’m reminded not to just glug the oil in the pan to saute away! Instead, I use them to top roasted vegetables, mix into dips, and pour on greens.
This triumphant trio of conservas from Porto-Muiños in Galicia are odes to the sea with seaweed punching up the flavor of the mild oil. Long, skinny, briny and chewy, the razor clams are exceptional. The piquillo peppers with sweet kombu sauce are a step in opening up the exciting world of Spanish conservas to vegetarians. A tribute to cross-continental collaboration, these are the brainchild of Karrie Kimble at Regalis Foods.
Produced for Ariel Pasternak and Atara Berntein of Pineapple Collaborative in partnership with Sarela Herrada of SIMPLi and Yolanda Acurio Mendoza of the women-run co-op Comunidad Salinera de Maras, this blush pink salt is from ponds high in the Peruvian Andes where people have been producing salt since the Incan Empire. Because of the mild taste and medium grind size – between fine kosher salt and crunchy finishing salt—I reach for this one more than any other salt in my pantry.
The New York Shuk Matbucha is a Boring Dinner Rescue Plan in a jar. This tomato-based Middle Eastern condiment with olives, spearmint, and preserved lemon paste can perk up everything from shakshuka, roast chicken, and pasta sauce. The New York Shuk brand was born when founders Leetal and Ron Arazi searched for Middle Eastern pantry items that were common back in Tel Aviv but missing from grocery shelves in New York City. Say Leetal, “We couldn't come to terms with the fact that that there was nothing available representing the rich culture we came from. Instead of complaining about it we decided to do something about it...and here we are.”
Primary Beans’ organic Mexican trio of Flor de Junio, Avocote Morado and Bayo cook up faster, tastes fresher and is more delicious than other grocery store dried beans I’ve tried. And that’s because, unlike beans that pass through the commodity supply chain, each of the varieties comes directly from one of the family farm partners,maintaining its origin and preserving the uniqueness of each harvest. Plus, there’s a harvest date on every bag. Founded during the pandemic by Lesley and Renee Sykes, fifth-generation Arizonans from a small town on the Mexican border, their love of Mexican cooking shows up clearly in this fantastic selection of beans not commonly found on grocery shelves.
The extraordinary spices selected by Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen are my gateway to the bold flavors of West Africa. Take the alligator pepper! According to Zoe, “It’s commonly known as Grains of Paradise because it was claimed by Medieval spice traders that these peppery seeds grew only in Eden, and had to be collected as they floated down the river out of paradise. Once crushed, the seeds release a pungent citrusy aroma with hints of jasmine and cardamom. If you bite into one, you’ll notice that the peppery heat slowly intensifies and develops on your palate. They are great used as a spice rub for fish, especially if you toast them in a dry frying pan before crushing!” Zoe sources from organic farmers all over West Africa and it’s that connection, and transparency of the supply chain, that makes me particularly excited to try everything from the alligator peppers (seeds when crushed are pungent citrusy aroma with hints of jasmine and cardamom.) to baobab floral, citrusy powder and dawa dawa looks like a truffle and performs like miso.
Lavi’s Spicy Haitian Peanut Butter is worlds away from the common mild, chunky processed nut butters of my childhood. The only peanut butter made and distributed from Haiti, it is a family recipe that is spicy, full of character and potential. A bonus, explained by one of Lavi’s founders, Sergeline René, is that the peanut butter is “transforming lives in Haiti by improving smallholder farmer productivity, creating jobs, linking smallholder farmers to stable markets, and bringing nutritious snacks to schools.”
Spanish Town Kitchen has created Goldilocks choices for lovers of jerk marinades--Red Hot for hotheads, Mellow Yellow for zesty types and Go Green for herb lovers. The base for all is the bracingly delicious combo of Caribbean herbs, spices and peppers. Founder Pat Marrett is from Spanish Town, Jamaica, and her vision is all-embracing--jerk for Korean BBQ! Jerk for Japanese scallops! There is no border for these sauces.
Rancho Meladuco dates are like Mother Nature's caramel. The dates are plump and ugly, skins yielding to juicy, deep, rich flavor flesh. “Medjool dates grow on date palms and are a very labor-intensive crop,” explains founder Joan Smith. “The Palmeros have to work up in each tree an average of 8-9 times per season,” to reduce the number of dates on each bunch and ensure the most delicious fruit.
Don't ask me how Fly by Jing Sichuan Chili Crisp that is oily, and hot and crunchy tastes as good on poached chicken as it does on vanilla ice cream or avocado. I have no idea. I do know that Jing Gao makes magnificent condiments with tremendous care and excellent ingredients in Sichuan, China, and in the process is helping change the narrative that Chinese food lacks subtlety and needs to be cheap to sell.
Seed + Mill's halva is like cotton candy spun from sesame seeds. I love the one studded with pistachios. Says founder Rachel Simons, “Our halva is made by combining the freshest tahini with a piping hot sugar syrup. We gently hand stir every batch until the ingredients are well combined, forming a delicate, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth texture that makes halva so unique!”