Every year thousands of food companies, professionals, and enthusiasts gather for the summer Fancy Food Show to spot trends and see the products expected to be big on menus and in diets in the coming year. This year's New York conference, held in late June, was full of items that can be enjoyed and experienced cheaply. Here are some of the most notable.
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Flavored popcorn is off the charts in terms of hot trends. It was showcased by almost 50 exhibitors, who had everything from caramel- and chocolate-coated popcorn to spicy popcorn and herbed truffle popcorn on offer. Popcorn is one of the cheapest snacks to make, and flavors are limited only by the imagination, with 50 from the Food Network alone.
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Staying hydrated in style was popular on the show's floor this year. Coconut water continues to sell, but it was joined by maple and birch water as well as fruit and flower infusions such as Blossom Water. Expect the prepackaged products to come at a high price, but making infused water at home is easy, fun, and cheap. Cheapism has 20 flavors to try, from lemon-blueberry to pine.
Frozen treats were popular this year, with a slant toward whole foods and "natural" ingredients. Many frozen pops featured fresh fruit and vegetable blends. Although often reasonably priced, they're still cheaper to make yourself, and ice pops that start with whole fruits contain less sugar and no chemical stabilizers. Country Living has 20 recipes.
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Sweet and bubbly, soda is a trend that endures through the ages. Grown-up flavors such as strong ginger and rose are becoming the norm, but so are high retail prices. Many soda lovers invest in a SodaStream for a kitchen or bar, but just mixing flavored syrups with club soda works well. Experiment by infusing simple syrup with interesting flavor combinations and food-grade essential oils and essences, or try one of 50 homemade soda recipes from the Food Network.
It seemed like nearly everything at the show came in a spicy version, with habanero flavor appearing often -- including in chocolates and caramels. The actual spice level of the habanero- and spicy-flavored treats varied from barely detectable to flavorful and long-lasting. As cuisines from other cultures continue to gain U.S. popularity, spice is becoming more of a staple flavor. Once you've developed a taste for heat, it can be a cost-effective way to enhance the flavor of many dishes, and even desserts.
Mustard is giving ketchup a run for its money in the condiment world, with flavors and artisanal takes on the classic popping up from around the globe. More than 70 companies had mustards on display, including fancy truffled varieties and, of course, spicy mustards. As one of the most concentrated condiments, mustard is a low-cost way to pack a lot of flavor into a small amount. Consider mustard and its ever-growing varieties as an alternative to dips and sauces that require a lot of expense for a little flavor.
From ice cream, cookies, and cakes to meat substitutes and cheeses, vegan foods were all over the Fancy Food Show. With the explosion of this animal-friendly diet in recent years, there are more recipes than ever that appeal to everyone, not just vegans. Wondering how to create a satisfying dish with no meat or dairy? Try one of 15 vegan meals for less than $4.
This once-obscure fermented tea beverage was promoted throughout the show, where there were nearly 100 different versions to taste. It's packed with probiotics (which stimulate growth of bacteria that make good companions for the digestive system). Recreating kombucha at home is worth the effort for those who indulge regularly, since a small bottle of from a store can cost $4 or more. Once you have a SCOBY -- the "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast" that turns tea and sugar into kombucha -- you can make unlimited amounts of the stuff with only a glass jar, tea, sugar, and patience. The Kitchn has instructions.
The Fancy Food Show is a dangerous place for chocolate lovers, with hundreds of companies offering chocolate samples year after year. But there's no need to pay top dollar for tempting chocolates with interesting flavors when they can be made at home for much less. Master a basic truffle from the blog Simply Recipes before moving on to wild flavors and beautiful designs.
Health-conscious consumers already had concerns about mainstream food companies ignoring the potential risks of pesticides and herbicides, and genetically modified organisms have given them more to worry about. Dozens of companies have responded by displaying the "Non-GMO Project" logo on their packaging. For gardeners, it's easy to enjoy guaranteed non-GMO, organic produce year-round without the markup: Simply choose non-GMO seeds and don't buy extra chemicals to spray on the fruits and vegetables as they grow.
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The medicinal properties of turmeric have been part of traditional medicine for centuries, and the ancient knowledge is finally catching up to modern gastronomy. Large and small companies alike are driving the trend, including Numi Tea and its new line of flavors blended with the herb. A powdered drink mix from Bija Bhar, a boutique food company in Brooklyn, combines turmeric with maple, ginger, and other natural flavors meant to increase the effect. But turmeric, fresh or dried, is cheap to buy -- it's one of 15 "superfoods" under $1 a serving -- and it's easy to find ways to combine it with other foods to release its healthful properties.
It was the year of the pulse, a term for the edible seeds of legumes. These include staples such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas. Among the many recipes at the show featuring these nutrient-dense delicacies were inventive and surprising applications -- pulse pastas and chips being among the most creative. The good news for frugal home cooks is that pulses are generally inexpensive per serving and offer well-rounded nutrition, making them a trend easily embraced within any budget.
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There were more varieties of Indian snacks on offer than ever. Many featured homemade traditional foods from family recipes packaged as heat-and-eat or frozen convenience foods. Since many of the snacks, such as pakoras and samosas, are vegetable-based, the ingredients are cheap and easy to find. Mastering the technique may take a bit of practice, but it's well worth the effort to be able to turn a few simple vegetables into an international delicacy. The Indian Foods Co. has recipes for pakoras, samosas, and more favorite South Asian appetizers.
The kimchi and sauerkraut categories grow every year, but the trend of fermented foods and probiotics took a big leap at this summer's Fancy Food Show. One of the most surprising offerings was a probiotic ice cream from Brio made with whole milk and loaded with good-for-you bacteria. Other dairy and dairy substitutes, including coconut yogurt, also flaunted their probiotic benefits, but anyone can enjoy the benefits of probiotics by fermenting at home, which is easy and surprisingly cheap with instructions from the green-living site Organic Authority.