Sometimes you just want to snack on something crunchy. No, not a carrot stick! Something crispy and salty, made by mad food scientists and complicated machinery, specially to appeal to your Cheetos-loving inner child. Look, if you’ve had a particularly bad day, I’d say go for it, get your angries out on whatever crunchy snack your tired mind needs.
But what if you know junk food will only make you feel worse, and you want a fairly nutritious snack – maybe even something with some protein that could help you recover from a workout? Could the food scientists come up with something with a decent nutritional profile that would taste, if not identical to cheesy poofs, at least pretty good? Can you have it all? This is the kind of thing I aim to find out.
Here, rated from must-try to try-at-your-own risk, is what I’ve found after a season of searching.
Biena chickpeas , Honey Roasted (Target, CVS, Whole foods, $2.50-3.79)
Serving: 28 g, Calories: 120, Fat: 3 g, Carbs: 20 g, Fiber: 6 g, Sugar: 4 g, Protein: 5 g
By far the best of the bunch. I’m eating all I can of these crispy sweet goodies before it is exposed that they contain more sugar than the nutrition information states. It’s impossible that something so sweet-tooth satisfying has only 4 grams of sugar per 1-oz serving. It could be because all the sugar is on the outside, forming a creme-brulee-like shell around the light crisp chickpea inside, and flavored with flowery honey. If by any chance the nutrition information is correct, they fit right into my diet. The serving is satisfying, but eating the whole bag, totaling 600 calories, would not be ruinous. Please make more like this, Biena, maybe adding a touch of cinnamon or cocoa? (They do make chocolate-covered varieties now, if you’re willing to splurge for the extra calories, but I like my chocolate plain.)
Hippeas (Fresh Thyme, Whole Foods, Thrive Market, $2.99/4 oz bag)
Serving: 28 g, Calories: 130, Fat: 5 g, Carbs: 18 g, Sugars: 2 g, Fiber: 3 g, Protein: 4 g
These are gaining popularity and will soon be available almost everywhere, and for good reason. All but the pickiest taste-testers liked them. If you like Sriracha, go for that flavor; the others are good too, though the cheese flavor is very mild and not very exciting. Tried alongside a more expensive brand, Jackson’s Honest, Hippeas were preferred, and more like the cheese puffs we remember. Not identical, but good.
Bombas peanut snacks (Trader Joe’s, 99 cents)
What is it about working out that makes you crave peanut butter? If you crave it like I do, these are worth a try. They’re best described as a cheese puff with peanut-buttery coating instead of cheesy coating. Popular in Israel, they’re catching on here; they make a good introductory peanut snack for toddlers, and sorta-grownups enjoy them too. Fresh Thyme has a version of these snacks made almost entirely of peanuts and corn. Bombas add a touch of palm oil. I liked the Fresh Thyme version better, but they’re more than twice the price for very close to the same thing. Both snacks have almost no sugar, and not too much salt. Can I justify them as healthy? Only in moderation, but I could do worse, and they’re good for the soul. Melt-in-your-mouth fun that satisfies the peanut butter craving so conveniently.
Brad’s Veggie Chips (Whole Foods, $5-6 for a 3-serving bag)
Serving: 28 g, Calories: 70, Fat: 3 g, Carbs: 10 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 2 g, Protein: 2 g
Okay, not cheap, but impressively low in calories and high in actual vegetables. Check out these ingredients: Carrot, Red Bell Peppers, Chickpea Miso, Buckwheat, Flax Seed, Sunflower Seed, Tomatoes, Onion, Lemon Juice, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Garlic, Himalayan Sea Salt, Turmeric, Cayenne Powder. Air-dried and very crunchy, they can scoop up a lot of dip. The cheddar flavor is savory, and even the kale flavor doesn’t taste strongly of kale. I like Brad’s kale chips, but they’re not for everyone, and it’s nice that they’re working on snacks with a more broad appeal. I wait for them to go on sale and then get a few bags. The sweet potato flavor is pretty good too.
Kay’s Protein Puffs/Kay’s Cookie Bites (Amazon.com, 6 single-serving bags, price varies from $5.66-9.29)
Serving: 34 g, Calories: 125, Fat: 3.5 g, Carbs: 12 g, Protein: 15 g, Fiber: 4 g, Sugars: 3 g
These are made mostly of soy protein, corn and rice flours; the flavor comes from almond butter and cinnamon, and the sweetness from honey and stevia. The flavor is mildly biscuity, not overly strong or sweet, the texture is light, and I find them satisfying, though another taste tester disagreed. Okay, it doesn’t really taste like a cookie, but what did you expect from something with this much protein and so little fat and sugar?
Ready Nutrition protein puffs (Amazon.com, ~$35 for 12 bags of 3.5 servings)
Serving: 28 g, Calories: 110. Fat: 1.5 g, Carbs: 16 g, Protein: 10 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugars: 1 g
I hate that Amazon is the only place I can find these and that I have to buy a case, but I’m in no danger of eating them all within a week as if they were Bambas or Bienas because well, they don’t taste as good. The Sweet Chipotle is pretty good, but I sprinkle in a little berbere seasoning to take them up a notch. Don’t get the cinnamon; if you do, you’l have to spice them up a lot. Spices do cling to them well, and they have a neutral flavor, and a lot of satisfying crunch. Their main selling point for me is the nutritional profile. Vegan and simple, they’re made mostly of pea protein and flours of peas, corn and rice, with just a little rice bran oil. The bag also notes that a serving is 82 puffs (more like crunchy pellets, the size of cocoa puffs). This gives me a funny mental picture of overly-strict dieters counting them out like misers. I hope that doesn’t really happen. I keep them in my car for emergency recovery rations. They work well for this purpose. They’re…sturdy. Again, no danger of eating them all on the way home, and they steady the blood sugar and are easy on the stomach.
Quest Nutrition protein chips (GNC, Amazon.com, $2-3 per single-serving bag)
The flavors are what you’d expect, because they add quite a bit of salt. The texture is…interesting, as we say here in MN, because the protein comes from milk and whey. They tend to stick to your teeth. The tortilla-style chips are an improvement, but still probably won’t fool your kids. I’ve tried other whey-based protein puffs or crisps and they all come out with that funny stickiness, so it seems that pea, bean and grain proteins are the best sources for crunchy snacks.
Bottom line, if you expect A+ yumminess from your healthy snack, get crunchy chickpeas (I’ve tried other brands, and Biena is my favorite, but none of them were bad). Or make your own snacks if you have the time. I’ll continue to keep my eye out for grab-and-go nutrition, but for now, it’s time to put this mission on hold. My next foodie post will be a recipe. Stay tuned!