Top Ten New Dairy-Free Foods in 2009: Round-Up and Honorable Mention

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Each year our review staff samples hundreds of new dairy-free products. We are constantly scouring the shelves for the latest natural goodies to challenge the myth that dairy-free living is anything less than delicious. This year we had so many new innovations to choose from that it was mind-boggling, but we finally narrowed it down to ten wonderful foods. Oh yes, and our selections are completely unbiased, unsponsored, and personally sampled, so you can bet these are foods we happily spend our own hard-earned money on …

All week long we have celebrated our top ten list of new dairy-free products in 2009. In case you are just now tuning in, our picks are as follows:

  1. Milkless Milk Chocolate Bar from Premium ChocolatiersEarth Balance Natural Buttery Spread – Soy-Free
  2. Go Max Go Candy Bars
  3. So Delicious Coconut Milk Beverage
  4. Amy’s Organic Cakes (Frozen)
  5. Clean Cravings Pesto Pizza
  6. Manitoba Harvest HempPro 70
  7. Applegate Farms Gluten-Free Chicken Nuggets
  8. Amazing Grass Berry GREENSuperFood Drink Mix
  9. Food Should Taste Good Tortilla Chips (new Cinnamon, Potato & Chive, and Lime flavors)
  10. Erewhon Strawberry Crisp Cereal

Number 10: Erewhon Strawberry Crisp Cereal

Sure, in our pursuit of health, we do our best to stick with hearty bowls of oats and completely unsweetened cereals, but once in a while, an “adult” cereal treat is in order. Luckily, this new cereal from U.S. Mills still only packs in 6 grams of sugar per serving, and a portion of this is from the freeze dried strawberries (that magically soften in milk alternative). Plus, it is made with simple organic ingredients to boot: Organic brown rice, organic corn meal, organic evaporated cane juice, freeze-dried strawberries, sea salt, natural flavor.

Though they might appear to be ordinary flakes, the rice / corn combo makes these delightfully light and crispy with a gentle sweetness that really hits the spot first thing in the a.m. My sugar-sensitive taste buds and my husband’s sugar-addicted taste buds were able to reach a common pleasure ground with Erewhon’s Strawberry Crisp. Other tasters (and kids) reported equally rave reviews.

In keeping with the free-from trends, this cereal is vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free,  soy-free, and free from refined sugars.

For more information:

Erewhon Strawberry Crisp Cereal

Number 9: Food Should Taste Good Tortilla Chips (new Cinnamon, Potato & Chive, and Lime flavors)

When a company starts out with a solid product line, it is often difficult for them to create new products that match up. But, this company is one that seems to be moving forward successfully. We loved the original Food Should Taste Good Tortilla Chip flavors, and the new flavors they released in 2009 did not disappoint.

My personal favorites were the lightly sweet Cinnamon Tortilla Chips and the earthy Potato & Chive Tortilla Chips, but the Mexican food lovers in our group gave top marks to the Lime Tortilla Chips. No matter which flavor you choose, you can expect a thick, high-quality, uber-crunchy chip that will keep guests standing next to the food table.

I also love how this company frequently releases coupons and offers sales promotions. I have been able to get the competitively-sized bags at my local store for $1.50 to $2.50 per bag … excellent for last-minute party needs and husbands with the afternoon munchies. In fact, if you haven’t done so already, you can actually sign-up on their website to receive a printable coupon.

For more information:

 

Number 8: Amazing Grass Berry GREENSuperFood

Technically, this product was released in December of 2008, but since it was so close to year end, and well into 2009 before we started seeing this flavor in stores, we made a judgment call and classified it as a 2009 release.  Actually, if the Amazing Grass Organic SuperFood Bars had been released just a bit later (they came out in November 2008), then they would be on this top ten list too! Now back to that drink mix …

I had been a fan of the Chocolate GREENSuperfood Drink Mix for a couple of years , but since I really haven’t liked the berry flavor of any other supplement type mixes or protein powders, I was hesitant on trying Amazing Grass’s berry version. After all, I really didn’t want to taint my view of one of my favorite companies. Yet, to my immense surprise, this product was awesome. With so many greens and powders on the market, you might be wondering what would make this one so fantastic that it would leap into our top ten?  Well let me tell you …

  • It actually ENHANCES smoothies rather than taking away from them as so many greens do. When my smoothie needed that little extra bump in flavor, a packet of this tasty mix did the trick. Mind you, we didn’t like it just mixed in water (a bit gritty and not enough of a flavor punch on its own), but when mixed in with some fruit, milk alternative, and even a handful of spinach, it created some of the best smoothies I have ever had.
  • I have not yet bought into the theory that superfoods offer you some magical health boost, but I must admit I always felt really good after getting in a scoop or packet of these greens. I couldn’t pinpoint it, but I was just somehow more energized and clear-headed. Placebo? Perhaps, but as some doctors say, placebo or not, if it works, it works!
  • Somehow this delicious powder added the perfect little dose of sweetness to drinks, but it contains not an ounce of sweetener. That is correct, no sugars in any form, no faux sugars, and no stevia. While I think stevia has its place, I can’t stand it in protein powders and green drinks, it is just too much.

The Berry SuperFood mix will add a dose of the following to your smoothies: Organic wheat grass, organic barley grass, organic alfalfa, organic spirulina, organic spinach, organic chlorella (cracked cell-wall), organic broccoli, organic acai from Sambazon, organic maca, organic carrot, organic beet, raspberry, organic rose hips, pineapple, organic goji berries, green tea, acerola cherry, organic flax seed powder, apple pectin fiber, F.O.S. (from chicory root), L. acidophilus, alpha and beta amylase, protease, lipase, lactase, cellulase, siberian eleuthero root, peppermint and other natural flavors. This mix is of course dairy-free (don’t worry, lactase is not milk), soy-free, and vegan, and for my purposes, I consider it gluten-free (it contains the grasses not grains).

Note: Amazing Grass did come out with a Berry SuperFood Energy Bar in 2009 that uses this mix, but our review group hasn’t trialed it as of yet.

For more information:

Amazing Grass Berry Green SuperFood

Number 7: Applegate Farms Gluten-Free Chicken Nuggets

I know what some of you are thinking, “Chicken nuggets? Seriously?” Yes, but these aren’t your ordinary Mickey-D’s nuggets. In fact, my skeptical husband proclaimed with surprise how delicious they were and how they actually tasted like (and I quote) “real chicken.”

What’s more, this frozen convenience food is gluten-free, casein-free, egg-free, and soy-free (don’t worry, no one will every guess), and thus suitable for various special diets. I also like the fact that all Applegate Farms products are all natural and that even their non-organic meat (including the chicken in these tenders) is free from antibiotics and hormones.

But I think what really accelerated this product into our top ten was its ability to offer that feel-good quality of overly processed junk in a completely wholesome package. Though they taste nothing like pressed or formed chicken (fortunately), these bite-sized delights are still tender and flavorful, unlike the typically tough and stringy all-breast tenders that we often equate with healthier options. Kids and husbands alike will not be disappointed, and moms … don’t be surprised to find yourself fighting for that last nugget.

For more information:

Applegate Farms Gluten-Free Casein-Free Chicken Nuggets

Number 6: Manitoba Harvest HempPro 70

This year a couple of our reviewers, myself included, have been making the review rounds with dairy-free protein powders. At first I was on a mission to help the many people who email us in seek of protein supplements that don’t contain dairy or soy, but as my own athletic pursuits picked up, I found myself taking the sampling a bit more seriously.

We trialed an abundance of brown rice protein powders, egg white protein powders, and hemp protein powders. Yet, it wasn’t until Manitoba Harvest released their HempPro 70 that I found myself truly impressed. I do feel that each of the various protein powders has their place, and I in fact stock three different types myself. However, the HempPro 70 does some things that the other hemp protein powders can’t match, it packs more protein per serving (70%, hence the 70) and the finer texture all but eliminates the grit issue (see the picture below for the comparison in texture of HempPro with two lower protein hemp powders).

Though I am not a fan of most hemp protein powders in smoothies (due to the grit and thick consistency), the HempPro 70 is seamless. It also works nicely in homemade energy bars and bites, and whisked into salad dressings. Since those good Omega-3’s in Hemp are fragile, this isn’t a protein powder you will want to heat up, say as a supplement in pancakes or baked goods; though it is wonderful for raw and uncooked applications.

Hemp protein powder is completely vegan, gluten-free / grain-free, soy-free, dairy-free, hexane-free (referring to the method for concentrating the protein), and pretty well all allergen-free (unless of course you are allergic to the hemp plant!).

For more information:

Manitoba Harvest Hemp Protein Powders

Number 5: Clean Cravings Pesto Pizza

Wow, wow, wow! If you have ever proclaimed that pizza is not pizza without cheese, then it is time for you to eat your words. This amazing pizza was so wonderfully rich and flavorful that it left me feeling beyond fulfilled. And the real kicker: It is dairy-free, gluten-free, AND vegan!

Each of these personal-sized pizzas is topped with a generous layer of homemade dairy-free pesto, a couple handfuls of sliced mushrooms, and just enough pine nuts to add richness and flavor without going too over the top. Really, there isn’t much more I can say beyond the fact that these pizzas are simply delicious.

I will be petitioning Clean Cravings for more vegan and non-vegan pizza flavors, and also hope that as their demand increases they can up their distribution and lower their prices (don’t we all love lower prices?). In the mean time, you can order direct from Clean Cravings and enjoy take-and-bake GFCF pizza delivered right to your door by your friendly postal worker.

For more information:

Clean Cravings Pesto Pizza - Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free

Number 4: Amy’s Organic Cakes

What do you get when you cross insane convenience with vegan ingredients and a tender, moist cake? The perfect dessert, from Amy’s of course. As someone who would choose cookies over cake any day, I really didn’t expect to like this product, let alone love it. But, I have learned, never underestimate Amy’s Kitchen.

The original two flavors of Amy’s Cakes were Chocolate and Orange (the newer Lemon Poppyseed flavor is not dairy-free). In our usual flavor fashion, I favored the Orange, while the other tasters leapt at the Chocolate. Going above and beyond your ordinary pre-packaged cake, Amy’s Cakes are made with organic ingredients, are vegan (that is dairy-free and egg-free), and taste amazingly fresh.

But what really tips them over the top is how unbelievably convenient they are. Simply open the package and let the cake defrost for a bit. No baking or additional work required, and each tea cake is served in an adorable little baked-in package. My fantasies of opening a box and heading to a party with no fuss, and a wonderfully attractive and delicious dessert in tow finally came true.

Amy’s is coming out with a gluten-free version of these cakes, just to round out the mix. If they are half as good as the original wheat-based cakes, then Amy’s Kitchen will undoubtedly have another winner on their hands.

For more information:

Number 3: So Delicious Coconut Milk Beverage

Turtle Mountain has seriously been on a coconut kick recently, adding coconut milk-based ice creams, yogurts, kefir, and coffee creamers to their dairy-free line-up. But in my opinion, nothing tops their Coconut Milk Beverage for taste and versatility.

You might be thinking, it’s just another milk alternative right? But not so. So Delicious Coconut Milk Beverage fills a gap in the dairy-free food market for an alternative to 2% milk. You know those recipes that need just a little bit of extra fat or richness; the kind that make dairy consumers turn to 2% milk over skim. This is your new dairy-free option. A bit fattier and more neutral in flavor than soymilk, coconut milk beverage proves its versatility, performing beautifully in soups, sauces, puddings, smoothies, and baked goods where you want a thicker result, but not an overload of fat. Plus, it is gluten-free, soy-free, and vegan.

So Delicious Coconut Milk Beverage is sold in the refrigerated section, and though not super cheap, it is comparable in price to the aseptic milk alternatives, and often goes on sale. I have purchased it for as low as $2.00 per half gallon, while it costs $3.99 full price at my local grocery store (in the natural food refrigerator case).

I always purchase the unsweetened variety (which is actually sugar-free, unlike regular milk), as it works wonderfully in savory recipes, and I find added sugars unnecessary in our fruit-sweetened smoothies. But, you can go for the original or vanilla version if you like your milk alternative a touch on the sweet side.

For more information:

So Delicious Coconut Milk Beverage

Number 2: Go Max Go Candy Bars

I admit it, sometimes I gaze upon the selection of convenience store candy bars with sugar-craving pangs of jealousy. Though I know I am better off without the sugar and processed junk, it just sounds so darn good. Enter the new vegan candy bar selection from Go Max Go Foods …

Miss Snickers Bars? Try a Jokerz.

Jonesing for a Milky Way? Pick up a Twilight.

Craving a Three Musketeers? Enjoy a Buccaneer.

In the mood for an Almond Joy? Sample a Mahalo.

We really put these bars to the test, with over half a dozen reviewers, two of which do indulge in dairy-containing candy bars on occasion. All flavors met with strong approval, but everyone agreed that the Mahalo was even better than an Almond Joy. Huge praises for an all-natural, vegan candy bar. The Twighlight was touted as an excellent “knock-off,” and everyone agreed that the Buccanneer was the sweetest of the bunch by far. The Jokerz was loved by all, but we all wanted a few more peanuts to really call it a solid winner. But really, we were enjoying dairy-free candy bars, so who was complaining?

Word on the street is that the Go Max Go R&D team is not willing to stop with just four candy bar options either. We have solicited them for a Butterfinger alternative, and some regular old, mass-marketed, dairy-free Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup lookalikes would be pretty awesome too. But, we will probably be excited by whatever candy bar treats those confectionary geniuses come up with.

For more information:

 

Number 1: Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread – Soy-Free

Seriously, why in the world did it take so long for someone to come out with a dairy-free, soy-free butter alternative? For its versatility, ingredients, and performance, this buttery spread easily slides into our number one spot …

As a trans fat free spread, Earth Balance Soy-Free is heads and tails above traditional old margarine in terms of ingredients, yet it performs equally well in recipes. We have trialed it in baked goodies, roasted vegetables, stove-top sauces, melted atop broccoli and green beans, whipped into frostings, and simply spread on fresh-baked bread, and I am happy to say that it easily passed all tests.

The texture of the new Earth Balance Soy-free is close to identical to your average tub margarine, the mouth feel is rich and creamy, and the flavor is spot on. My only complaint was that it tasted a touch saltier than I am used too, but my fellow reviewer thought it could use a touch more salt … so I think this is simply a matter of taste.

Not all stores are stocking the soy-free version as of yet, but when I asked my local Whole Foods and even my local mega-grocer to bring some in, both not only obliged, but were surprised when the remaining tubs from the batch they ordered flew off the shelves.

Of course, you may be wondering what our review staff is doing with all of this Earth Balance Soy-Free. Here are just a few of the delicious recipes we have been enjoying:

For more information:

 

Plus, we have a few honorable mention products that just skimmed by our top ten …

Dr. Lucy’s Cookies – These allergy-friendly little cookies (free from dairy, eggs, gluten, and nuts) did not last long in our household. One by one, the contents of each box vanished with only a few crumbs left behind. I can honestly say this was the first time crispy cookies have won me over (I am a die hard soft and chewy cookie fan).

For more information:

 

Dr. Lucy's Food Allergy-Friendly Cookies

 

Premium Chocolatiers Milkless Chocolate Bars – Premium Chocolatiers  is a completely dairy-free company and easily one of my favorite chocolatiers. So it came to me as no surprise that I loved their new “milk” chocolate bars. They are a bit sweet for some adult tastebuds, which is why this new product didn’t quite make the top ten, but for those of us with a sweet tooth and a former love of white chocolate (the rich cocoa butter and very sweet vanilla taste were almost a hybrid milk-white chocolate creation), these “milk” bars really deliver.

For more information:

 

Milkless and Premium Dark Dairy-free Chocolate Bars

 

Sahale Snacks Cashews with Pomegranate + Vanilla – Actually, we liked all of the new Sahale Snacks Glazed Nuts (which also included Almond PB&J and Almonds w/ Cranberries, Honey + Sea Salt varities), but these cashews in particular were out of control addictive. More of a dessert than a straight up snack, this is one healthy treat that we could indulge in every day!

For more information:

Sahale Snacks Single Packs of Glazed Nuts

Just so you know, the above three products were initially provided by the companies for our review, but we have already purchased the Sahale Snacks and Dr. Lucy’s on our own, and will be ordering from Premium Chocolatiers for the holidays with our hard-earned money!

About Author

Alisa is the founder of GoDairyFree.org, Food Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living, and the new cookbook, Eat Dairy Free: Your Essential Cookbook for Everyday Meals, Snacks, and Sweets. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.

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