Shopping for organic foods is an extremely rewarding experience, as you're bound to happen upon items you never knew existed.
While most of the major manufacturers and brands are represented at chain and local organic food, whole food and natural food stores, there are many vendors "off the beaten path" that can expand your culinary horizons. If you travel frequently, you've no doubt stumbled upon these smaller, specialized natural and organic food stores in out-of-the way locales, where you stocked up on delicious, hard-to-find and often-exotic treats. These days, if you can't hop on a plane to a specific location, the Internet has made shopping a 24/7 breeze.
Here's our First Seasonal Guide to organic food Finds, which profiles two distinctive vendors. All products may be purchased online for your convenience.
French-Fried Cactus, Anyone?
If you live in the Southwest, you're probably used to seeing edible cactus on your plate when you dine out at an organic Latin American or Mexican restaurant. For the uninitiated, nopal cactus leaves - which grow to be 5" to 7" - are freshly picked, with farmers carefully selecting spineless leaves so you don't feel as though you're eating a prickly porcupine.
With a somewhat tart lemon-lime flavor, organic nopal cactus leaves may be eaten raw or cooked. A 1-cup serving contains only 60 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 5 mg sodium, 5 g fiber (20% of your daily recommended intake) and 32% of your daily vitamin C requirements.
If you can't make it to Nipomo, California - home of organic cactus grower RivenRock Gardens - you may purchase freshly harvested, organic edible cactus leaves and take advantage of easy-to-follow recipes for a Cactus Breakfast Burrito, Cactus Tuna Salad and, of course, French-Fried Cactus.
Organic cactus leaves may be purchased in quantities of 2, 5, 15 or 30 lbs. The online store, which offers tips on cleaning and preparation, also sells cuttings so you can add cacti to your organic garden.
A Taste of Paradise
If a trip to Hawaii isn't on your itinerary, then bring the finest flavors of the islands to your front door by visiting the Island Organics online store, which offers certified organic fruit, nuts, nut butters, honey and dried fruit from Honoka'a (on the Hamakua Coast).
Products are grown on a 42-acre certified organic farm and forest on the Big Island. A member of the Hawaii Organic Farmers Association, Island Organics prides itself on "bringing a healthy alternative to the general public."
Our top picks include:
- Nutty Leather: an organic energy bar made of macadamia nuts, bananas and guava puree - and nothing more. There are no preservatives, additives, sugars or sweeteners. Bars are dried - not cooked - at 115°F to preserve natural fruit enzymes.
- Organic Christmasberry Honey: produced from the Christmas berry tree, which is related to the pepper tree and native to Brazil. The tree's aromatic flowers are used to make a marvelous honey with a truly unique flavor.
- Gift Baskets: Three gift baskets and one gift pack are available, at prices ranging from $15.50 to $28.50. You'll find generous, attractively packaged assortments of Island Organics' top-selling products.
If you would like more organic food Finds, email us at
. If we receive enough requests, we will make this a regular column. Also let us know if you'd like to see Organic Gardening Finds, Organic Living Finds and Organic Apparel Finds columns.