Expo Comida Latina 2012: The Food Trade Show of the Reconquista

pulque cans con bigotes
Javier Cabral
Pulque, coming to a liquor store near you

Latino this, Latino that, it seems like there's a new Latino spin-off of something every day. Expo Comida Latina is probably the coolest, though: "North America's only trade event focused on bringing authentic, specialty, gourmet and mainstream products from around the globe to retail and foodservice buyers looking to meet the demands of today's Hispanic American U.S. population," per their website.

And the annual exhibition that took place at the Anaheim Convention Center over the last three days was just that. Half-floor show showing off Mexican edecánes, those girls dressed in scandalously tight outfits hired to make you want to buy whatever, half-official Mexican government state agencies hustling things like Chihuahua-style Tres Leches Cakes and unacquainted Oaxacan mezcales. However, there was one trend this year that was not that different to the rest of the foodservice industry.

Health! There were more nopal (cactus) products than ever: bottled nopal nectar sweetened only with agave syrup, nopal-flax powder, nopal-pineapple agua fresca, hell, even nopal jelly to spread on your whole wheat toast. Also, old-school Mexican medicinal curandero herbs like uña de gato and Valeriana seem to be making a comeback, wrapped in fancy-packaging too.

Javier Cabral
Nopal for your common ailments sir?

Soy is in, in particular the barest processed form of it: texturized soy protein flakes. There was fish-flavored soy used to make a fishy soy ceviche, sliced meaty soy chicken franks and the most popular--soyrizo.

expo comida latina crowd shot.jpg
Javier Cabral
Expo Comida Latina 2012

The Mexican government funded most of the vendors, in particular the Mexican Beef board and Oaxacan mezcal guys that were there. Mexican beef is grass-fed and corn-finished, according to the the only guy in the stand who wasn't a tall, clueless edecán girl. The booth was grilling and slicing rare skirt steak slices for all-you-can-eat sampling; it was lightly gamy, just enough to make it more satisfying. A few mezcales from Oaxaca that are trying to break into the American agave spirit market were there too. Mezcal "Los Javis" had the biggest line for their simple-bottled premium mezcal. "Fruto del Sol" Mezcal was showcasing a smooth, earthy mezcal reposado aged in clay pots.

Salvadorean treats.jpg
Javier Cabral
Salvadoran treats representin' at Expo Comida Latina 2012

Among the Mexican onslaught of foodstuffs, there was one Salvadoran booth sampling creamy Salvadoran horchata made with cacao and morro seeds, as well as the rest of the Central American goods like frozen loroco flowers for pupusas and a new "corn coffee," basically roasted ground corn made to replicate coffee's flavor.

Overall, the theme this year was staple foods, and how they can be made into an affordable artisan product with better quality, less processed ingredients. There were no canned chipotle or canned refried beans; instead there were tall bottles filled with plump chipotles in adobo and hot sauces made without any stabilizers. Based on this year's parade of products, the Latino market is evolving into a more health-conscious consumer market; luckily, the Hispanic food industry is listening to their sugar-free cries and evolving with them.  

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