Natural Products Expo West: A world of organic

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By Alison Ashton

Turning 30 is a big deal, whether you’re a person or an event, and it was certainly cause for celebration last month at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California. Its monster size–1,700-plus exhibitors and 56,000 attendees–was a reflection of how all things organic and natural have moved into mainstream. I revisited some of our faves from the Fancy Food Show and discovered new goodies you’ll want to look for too:


Revolutionary rice

Environment and flavor come together in Lotus Foods’ new SRI–One Seed Revolution rices. The company worked with Cornell University to introduce the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Indonesia, Madagascar, and Cambodia, which allows farmers to use up to 90% less seed and half as much water than conventional rice while boosting yields up to 100%–with no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Varieties include Indonesian Volcano Rice (a nutrient-dense blend of brown and red rice), Madagascar Pink Rice (an endangered type that was preserved by one farmer), and Cambodian Mekong Flower Rice (prized for its floral fragrance). The rice is currently sold in 11-pound bulk bags ($31.79) and will be available in 15-ounce packages in the fall.

Gluten-free grows up

Expo aisles were chockablock with gluten-free everything, from cookies and crackers to pizza crust. Some still have all the appeal of a hockey puck, but many compare favorably with their traditional counterparts for texture and flavor. One winner was King Arthur Flour Company’s new line of gluten-free baking mixes for bread, cookies, brownies, cakes, muffins, and pizza crust ($6.95 each). The gluten-free chocolate cake was rich and moist with a light, tender crumb. Since gluten’s not a problem for me, I was also pleased to see King Arthur now offers unbleached cake flour ($4.50 for 2 pounds), which would work beautifully with our Chocolate Angel Food Cake.

Salty flavor, less sodium

NutraSalt Low-Sodium Salt ($3.99) hails from the Red Sea and Dead Sea. It’s 66% lower in sodium than conventional table or sea salt yet high in heart-healthy potassium, with an intensely salty taste. Since going to culinary school last year, I’ve been using a heavy hand with salt in my cooking. Now I can use this salt without sacrificing flavor.

Bag it

Now that you’ve made a habit of toting reusable grocery bags to the store, the next step is to focus on produce bags. Several companies make reusable produce bags, but I like the ones from 3B Bags ($7.50 for a three-bag set) made of a breathable mesh that’s fine enough to accommodate bulk-bin items, too. If you still use plastic trash bags and the occasional zip-top bag in the kitchen, look for Green Genius’s biodegradable bags; they’re priced competitively with national brands.

alison-thumbA longtime editor, writer, and recipe developer, Alison Ashton is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and the Editorial Director for Nourish Network. She has worked as a features editor for a national wire service and as senior food editor for a top food magazine. Her work has appeared in Cooking Light, Vegetarian Times, and Natural Health as well as on her blog, Eat Cheap, Eat Well, Eat Up.

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Easy Rice Pilaf

This rice pilaf recipe is an easy side dish that uses red-and-brown Indonesian Volcano Rice, which is cultivated in mineral-rich volcanic soil and is high in magnesium, manganese and zinc. You can substitute any brown rice. We added seasonal fresh English peas for color; edamame, fresh green chickpeas or thawed frozen peas would work well, too. To cook fresh peas, blanch them in boiling water for 2 minutes or until tender but not mushy, drain, and rinse in cold water.

Easy Rice Pilaf


Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Yield: Serves 6

Easy Rice Pilaf


  1. 1 teaspoon canola or olive oil
  2. 1/4 cup finely minced onion
  3. 1 cup Indonesian Volcano Rice or any brown rice
  4. 1-3/4 cups water
  5. Sea salt
  6. 1 bay leaf
  7. 1 cup cooked fresh English peas OR 1 cup thawed frozen green peas
  8. 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  9. Freshly ground black pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 350 F.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté 2 minutes or until tender. Add rice and sauté 1 minute. Add water, salt and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Cover, transfer to oven, and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and fluff with a fork. Cover and let stand 10 minutes. Discard bay leaf, and stir in peas and parsley. Add pepper to taste.

  • Alison Ashton

    …and I discovered last night that the Madagascar Pink Rice makes a delicious risotto!

    • Julian

      That’s so interesting, how did you make the risotto? I’ve tried the pink rice before, but it seems like such an unlikely candidate for risotto!

      • Alison Ashton

        Hey, Julian:

        I cooked it the way you would any risotto–sweated some finely chopped onions in a little olive oil, added a cup pink rice and sauteed it for a minute or two, added a couple of tablespoons of vermouth (didn’t have any white wine on hand) and cooked that until it evaporated, then started adding hot chicken broth a little at time & stirring until the broth is absorbed. Turns out the pink rice was starchy enough to work in a risotto. It took a little longer and a bit more broth (about 3-3 1/2 cups to 1 cup rice) than traditional arborio or carnaroli rice. I think the Indonesian Volcano Rice would also be starchy enough to work in a risotto (the Mekong Flower rice, not so much, it’s more of a long-grain rice). We’ll have a post next month about using the risotto methods to cook all manner of grains (barley, oats, etc.).