Announcing the 2021 Pantry Awards Winners
Our editors pick the very best snacks, spices, oils, sauces, and more from the West and beyond.
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We taste a lot of food here at Sunset, all in the line of duty. Whether it’s testing recipes, trying out the latest gluten-free this or keto that or alternative nut milk, or just, you know, eating lunch at our desks (at home, obviously), there’s never a dull taste bud. We’ve also been cooking more than ever before. While we love a laboriously lovely kitchen project that takes hours and hours (name check: sourdough), fast flavor and satisfaction are often the name of the game. So when we vetted, tasted, and selected this year’s winners of the Pantry Awards, it’s no wonder that sauces, pastas, condiments, and snacks figured so heavily in the final selection. We want comfort. We want convenience. And, yes, we want major flavor. So, without further ado, here are the winners of the 2021 Sunset Pantry Awards.
Brand of the Year: Patagonia Provisions
You likely know that Patagonia has set a high bar in sustainable best practices in the world of outdoor apparel, but in recent years it has applied the same rigor to its food brand Patagonia Provisions (for a crash course on founder Yvon Chouinard’s pivot from climbing gear to culinary offerings, read his essay “Why Food” on patagoniaprovisions.com). Suffice to say, unlike buying gear and traveling for adventure, we all need to eat. And Patagonia wants to be at the forefront of saving the planet by any means possible. That means supporting regenerative agriculture through the production of super-tasty products that are fantastic to have on hand at the campsite or in the kitchen: rope-cultivated mussels that clean the ocean while growing, bison jerky that restores the prairie on its way to your plate, and honey that helps save the bees. Saving the planet never tasted so good.
Smart Storage: Stasher Bags
Not only are Stasher’s reusable, dishwasher safe, high-grade platinum-silicone storage bags good for the planet, they roll up, stack, and compress to slot into even the most crowded refrigerator or cupboard. Bonus: They can be used for sous vide, no vacuum sealer required.
Cool Condiments: Fly By Jing
We’ve long loved Fly By Jing’s tingly spicy salty crunchy Sichuan chili crisp, but the company’s other spices and sauces deserve a place in your pantry. The sultry mala spice should be your go-to chicken-thigh seasoning, while the zhong sauce can turn a humble bowl of rice noodles into the main event.
Alternative Ice Cream: Negranti Creamery
Paso Robles, California–based Negranti creamery uses milk from pasture-raised sheep to create its luscious line of ice creams. With gentler lactose than cow’s milk and more protein, sheep’s milk plays well with bold flavors like Syrah and blackberry and salted brown sugar.
Meet Your Matcha: Art of Tea Matcha Fresca
The Art of Tea’s vast offerings of all things simmerable and steepable now include what might be the most refreshing way to get your daily dose of healthy caffeine with their Matcha Fresca, a premium matcha blend with uplifting notes of melon.
Blanc Slate: Cowgirl Creamery Fromage Blanc
Free of additives and fillers often found in cream cheese, this lighter version from legendary Cowgirl Creamery is made with milk from West Marin and is blended with a dollop of crème fraîche. Your breakfast bagel just got a whole lot better.
Hot Stuff: Boonville Barn Piment D’Ville
Grown from Basque Espelette chile seeds in Boonville, California, this slightly hot, slightly sweet pepper should be your go-to when you want to add color and flavor to roast chicken, pork, or soups without overwhelming the flavor of the dish. Try the smoked version as an alternative to chipotle and pimentón.
Can Do: Amy’s Organic Tortilla Soup
Is there anything more comforting than a warm bowl of tortilla soup? Yes, there is: being able to simply open a can and have all that slow-simmered, organic, vegetarian, black bean, tomato, sweet potato, and masa goodness ready in mere minutes.
Butter Up: Enzo’s Table Almond Butter
Enzo’s estate-grown almond butter is silky-smooth and rich, with a nutty natural sweetness. Their regular almond butter is delightful, but keep an eye out for their seasonal autumn blend that’s spiked with ginger, turmeric, and other warming spices.
Melt with You: Jasper Hill Farm Melting Blend
Whether you’re making grilled cheese, a gratin, or mac and cheese, you want just the right combination of sharp, salty, and creamy. This special blend of hard cheeses from Jasper Hill Farm is designed to do just that. Bonus: It freezes easily so you can always have some on hand to cook up on a whim.
Tender Is the Slice: Regal Manuka King Salmon
Possibly the sweetest, richest, most delicate, pre-cooked salmon we’ve ever had. Sustainably farmed in New Zealand, the manuka-roasted and honey-finished variety is great for crumbling into a salad, spreading on crackers as an appetizer, topping a bagel, or serving as an instant entrée.
Rad Ramen: Immi Ramen
Yes, ramen can be soul-satisfyingly, slurpingly umami-packed and warming, and now it can be truly nourishing and sustaining thanks to Immi, the first low-carb, high-protein (31 grams per serving!) ramen. The noodles are tender, the soup bases are flavorful, and the kits invite improvisation with toppings. (Braise that pork loin and set that egg timer!)
Superior Salt: Jacobsen Salt Co.
Oregon’s Jacobsen Salt Company made a name for itself with its superlatively briny-crunchy-flaky finishing salt, but we’re major fans of the company’s humbler pure kosher sea salt, harvested from Netarts Bay. Dry-cure a chicken or beef roast with these pristine crystals and you’ll be forever converted to the idea of fresh and local salt.
Goat Gets Good
Americans are finally catching on to what the rest of the world has known for centuries: Goat-dairy products are healthy and delicious. We love Meyenberg’s goat milk butter for its earthy sweetness (tip-top on toasted sourdough!) and Redwood Hill Farm’s kefir for its tangy probiotics.
Amazing Mail-Order Meat
While mail-order meat was a rarity before the pandemic, this year saw a boom in companies offering delivery of prime beef, artisanal sausages, heritage breed pork, and other quality animal proteins straight to our doors. We tried many of the services, but two companies stood out: For quality, variety, and ease of use, we love Roam Butcher Shop, plus we also love the fact that you can see which small family farm produced which cut of meat. They offer free delivery in San Francisco, ship nationwide, and can help keep your freezer stocked for the month. And for sheer deliciousness we could not find a steak, Wagyu or otherwise, that matched the deeply flavored, perfectly aged, stunningly satisfying “Jorge” cut from top Bay Area butcher Flannery Beef. It’s a thick bone-in ribsteak that includes a large portion of the exquisitely marbled deckle. It’s life changing.
Best Spices and Rubs
Better Pepper: Lillie’s Brisket Pepper
While most pre-ground pepper pales in comparison to fresh ground, Lillie’s No. 28 Brisket Pepper has tons of the spicy sweet heat and crunch we crave. Perfect for when you need peppery heat at scale (think roasts and whole birds) and don’t want to be grinding for minutes on end.
Spice Solution: Spicewalla
Spicewalla’s tins are loaded with super-fresh spices and blends and are so pretty you’ll want to leave them out on the counter. The tins stack tidily and also can lie flat in a drawer if that’s your preferred storage method. What’s more, you can order low-waste pouches to refill the tins as needed.
Rice Ready: Trader Joe’s Furikake
This additive and sugar-free furikake is a straight-up blend of white and black sesame seeds, nori, salt, and kelp powder, and it adds instant umami to rice, chicken, eggs, and other dishes. Sprinkle generously just before serving for maximum impact.
Italy in a Jar: Bona Furtuna Fennel Pollen
Foraged in Sicily, this organic fennel pollen is the easiest way to transport your tastebuds to Italy. The heady, licoricey aroma and flavor will elevate a simple roast chicken, upgrade pork chops, and perfect your porchetta.
Fiery Flavor: Che Fico Calabrian Chili Bomba
This spicy-tangy California-Italian condiment from San Francisco restaurant Che Fico combines Calabrian and Fresno chiles to powerful effect.
Top Teriyaki: Bachan’s Japanese Barbecue Sauce
Made in Sebastopol, California, this just-right salty-sweet, soy-based sauce from Justin Gill is based on his Bachan’s (a.k.a. grandmother’s) recipe. It’s cold-filled, preservative-free, and loaded with umami.
Plum Good: Girl Meets Dirt Shiro Plum Mint Jam
This tangy, mint-infused jam made from shiro plums grown in Washington’s San Juan Islands is a utility player that’s equally at home on toast and on a cheeseboard.
Oil Boom: Séka Hills Olive Oil
Milled and bottled by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation in California’s Capay Valley, this line of fresh and peppery olive oils is delicious enough to serve as a bread-dunking sauce. Also ideal for finishing salads, soups, pastas, and more.
Berry Nice: Oregon Fruit Blueberries in 100% Blueberry Juice
Canned with no added sugar, these blueberries have all the flavor of summer but can be kept in the cupboard year-round until the need for a perfect pie or next-level pancakes arises.
Best Low Carb/Non-Gluten Options
Mac Daddy: Modern Table Vegan Mac
Made with red lentil flour, rice flour, pea protein, and a vegan cheese substitute, this mac has all the comforting creaminess of the classic, but without dairy or gluten. Spicy Southwest is our favorite flavor.
Keep It Keto: Liviva Edamame Spaghetti
With more people incorporating keto into their diets, it’s handy to have an appropriate pasta on hand. This mildly flavored spaghetti cooks up al dente and pairs well with a spicy tomato ragù.
Cool Kernels: RightRice
This rice alternative made from lentils, chickpeas, and pea fiber has all the textural delights of the real thing but without the glycemic load and with twice the protein. The vibrantly seasoned Spanish flavor is our favorite.
Crunch Time: Mad Crisp
Our new favorite gluten-free happy-hour snack is made from puffed quinoa, California almonds, and chives, and comes in wine-friendly flavors like za’atar and porcini-herb.
Bar None: Kate’s Real Food
Made in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, these bars are full of energy-packed clean ingredients like gluten-free oats, hemp, and flax, and they’re sweetened with organic honey. A natural functional food that’s ideal for the trail or slopes.
Sustainable Staples: Sun & Swell
Sun & Swell’s carbon-neutral mail-order service is a sustainable way to keep your pantry stocked: Buy organic bulk foods like pistachios, dried fruit, hemp, and more, and mail back the compostable bags when you’re done.
Sweet Everythings: Clusterbucks Adaptogenic Buckwheat Crackers
Who knew sprouted buckwheat groats mixed with coconut, maple syrup, ginger, and turmeric would be an incredible topper for açai bowls and hot cereal? It’s raw, it’s gluten-free, it’s vegan, but most of all, it’s delightfully crunchy and delicious.