If ever there was a year where food predictions seemed unclear, 2012 is it. We’re coming off the bacon, cupcake and pork belly wagon
clearly seeking something a bit more sober. Then again, at this year’s Fancy Food Show in San Francisco — the annual arbiter of where
consumer food trends are heading held over three gut-busting days — Hudson Valley Foie Gras was one of the most popular booths. Gluten-free, meat-free, dairy-free, fat-free and all manner of ancient and alternative foodstuffs are gaining momentum. But then again, so
are cupcake pops and ice cream.

Maybe the trend is that right now, we’re all a little unsure where things are headed. We’re halfway between here and there. Which seems kind of appropriate in this election year.

Wandering through the mist of culinary confusion, a few standouts definitely do appear each year as food writers, chefs, retailers and gourmands wander the acres of stalls at the Moscone Center featuring everything from cheese and olive oil to salts, meats and more exotic fare. Here are a few of this year’s stand-outs…

Vegan Soul Food: A cuisine whose patron saint is the pig and its holy water bacon fat gets a new school makeover with meatless ingredients.  Souley Vegan in Oakland cooks up barbecue tofu, sweet yams, black eyed peas, mustard greens, cornbread and a guiltless mac and cheese so slap yo’ mamma good you won’t miss what’s missing. The gals are working on a packaged version for freezers, but meanwhile, you can get your fix take out or dine in at 301 Broadway, Oakland.

c4c flour: Gluten-free flour from Thomas Keller, a chef known for his picky ways. That means French Laundry-alum and food scientist Lena
Kwak worked directly with Keller to create a gf-flour worthy of Bouchon Brioche. It’s made with a mixture of rice flour, cornstarch, tapioca, potato starches and milk powder and can be swapped cup-for-cup (hence the name) into recipes. About $20 for 3 lbs, through Williams-Sonoma.

Rose Chai: Pre-sweetened chai teas kind of miss the point of this spicy Indian brew. The Chai Cart, based in San Francisco, offers up a Rose Chai, flavored with spices and rose water and no additional sugar. Add your own honey, sugar or just drink it straight. thechaicart.com.

Ghost Pepper Salt: Move over Morton’s. Chefs have long been fans of fancy finishing salts, but the trend is exploding with artisan fleurs de sel from Mallorca (hand-harvested blooms of sea salt) to flavor-infused versions that range from alarmingly hot ghost-pepper (Hepp’s Salt Barrel, heppssalt.com) to rose-petal (Flor de Sal D’es Trenc, flordesaldestrenc.com).

Almond Water: Unknown in the US, almond-infused water is a popular French refresher. Victoria’s Kitchen (victoriaskitchenrecipes.com) is a ready-to-drink sipper with a light almond flavor.

Bacon Beer: Craft-brews are having their shining moment, as beer eclipses the beverage world this year. Look for infused drinks with a dose of bacon or lemon-grass, nano-brews from the beer world’s version of the garagiste. Uncommon Brewers’ Bacon Brown Ale.

Coconut Oil Sticks: The newest go-to for baking, coconut oil is being hailed as a new superfood. Though nutritionists are still a bit split
on its benefits (remember the whole fracas about coconut oil in movie theater popcorn?), its advocates say its saturated fats are better than butter. There’s no doubt, however, that it adds a big bump of tropical flavor to foods. Now available in easy-measure sticks (kelapo.com).

Olive Oil more precious than Drakkar Noir: Haute olive oil is nothing new, but packaging it in luxe perfume-like bottles? Five Olive Oil is
Greek olive oil packaged in bling-tastic bottles, complete with sparkles. We saw plenty of tiny luxe bottles of these oils throughout the show, leading us to wonder: Do you put this stuff behind your ears? Cause it seems far to precious for much else. fiveoliveoil.com.

Ticklemore Cheese: The Brits have always had a handle on great cheesemaking, but a Renaissance of artisan cheesemaking includes a
handful of Bath-born winners including this hard goat’s milk cheese and Lord of the Hundreds, an unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese. Plus, we just like the sound of them. Imported by Fine Cheese Co. (finecheese.co.uk).

Thai Coconut Curry Ice Cream: Salted caramel ice cream is so 2011. This year, watch for increasingly flavorful concoctions like the
wildly imaginative flavors of spiced curry and coconut, Chinese red bean and cheesecake, buttered popcorn or maple bacon from Burbank’s Fox and Swan Ice Cream Company (foxandswan.com). Also amazing, Jenni’s Splendid Ice Creams from Ohio, with limited edition flavors that include cumin and butterscotch, frankincense and almond cake, smoked tea and plum pudding or whiskey pecan (jennisicecreams.com).

Pickles: IFC’s Portlandia recently spoofed the whole pickling craze with the catch-phrase, “We can pickle it!” showing two manic cooks stuffing everything from eggs to jewel cases into a jar. Like bacon, a great pickle is always going to be an everyday favorite, but the whole artisan pickling thing may be hitting its crest. Pickles to check out: Seattle’s Boat Street Pickles preserve fruit including French plums, apricots and figs (boastreetpickles.com). Sonoma Brinery (formerly Alexander Valley Pickles), gets a new look and name with the same great pickles locals local. We’re also huge fans of Brooklyn-Detroit picklers, McClure’s, who are soon to release a line of dill pickle potato chips (mcclurespickles.com).

Rangpur Lime Marmalade: San Rafael’s Robert Lambert is a darling of the food world, creating small-batch syrups, marmalades, preserved fruits and limited-edition white fruit cakes. Tapping into exotic citrus oils and zests, his Rangpur Lime Marmalade takes your taste buds a tart-sweet ramble to distant lands. Also exceptional: Hot Ginger Caramel Sauce. Available at robertlambert.com. On a similar tip, we’re super excited about Banana Vinegar from Rancho Gordo, made with fermented plantains in Mexico( ranchogordo.com) and Elderberry Shrub (a sort of syrupy vinegar) from forager Connie Green of Napa (thewildtable.net).