Why you should care
Because other vegetables and earthly creatures are getting ground — puffed, baked and bagged. And eaten.
Could the days of the potato and tortilla chip be numbered? With the Paleo and other high-protein diets having their moment, it might seem so. Add to that, our culinary landscape is increasingly becoming gluten-free, for reasons unknown and our citizens are reading nutrition labels like they once pored over their horoscopes. The chip, as we know it, fried and with an orange glow, is cast as a villain. The chip aisles, at least in markets in California, are getting quite the makeover with ingredients like chia, quinoa, bean and kale showing up on bags.
Are greasy chips the new endangered snack species?
Former tortilla chip eater Robert Mock was searching for a healthier alternative when he got to thinking about seaweed, another of his favorite foods. He was snacking on seaweed at a Korean friend’s house when he said, “Someone should make a chip out of this.” That someone turned out to be Mock, along with three partners, who formed a company called New Frontier Foods. They sampled many of the terroirs — tasting Japanese, Pacific Northwest, Chinese, Northeast U.S. and Kiwi seaweeds. Mock kept coming back to South Korean, which he felt had a superior clean flavor. Last year, the company released the Ocean’s Halo seaweed chip.
Ocean’s Halo may have struck gold in the Yellow Sea: The seaweed takes just two weeks to grow and uses no fresh water, no pesticides and no land to grow. The product ended up being healthy and sustainable.
Seaweed snacks aren’t exactly new. After all, Annie Chun’s has been selling thin sheets of seaweed for eating between meals. They’re good, but Ocean’s Halo chips are better. Shaped like a Frito, they have a satisfying crunch and come in a wide palette of flavors, including Texas and Korean BBQ. After I snarfed a bag, I wanted another. And at a mere 85 calories for a 1-ounce bag, I had one. For comparison, Frito-Lay has double the calories — and a whole lot more fat.
Even better from a Paleo-Atkins POV: “It’s a protein-rich snack,” Mock says. It has twice the protein of Frito-Lays, but what about crickets? Turns out, it’s about the same amount of protein. While Ocean’s Halo has 6 grams of protein per 1-ounce serving, new chipmaker Chirps, which uses cricket flour, along with beans and rice, has 7 grams.
To date, Americans have not been very well represented within the world’s human insect-eating population of 2.5 billion. And with flavors like aged cheddar and hickory BBQ, Chirps is hoping to change that. The founders, three recent Harvard grads, are taking pre-orders after a successful Kickstarter campaign and are planning to ship their chips in November. Just in time for holiday entertaining!
Chirps may seem pretty radical but ips (intelligent protein snacks) may one up them. Ips (rhymes with “chips”) have the same amount of protein per 1-ounce serving as Chirps but bypass the cricket flour in favor of egg whites as the main ingredient. The L.A.-based company uses a pressure-puffed process to make four flavors of never-fried egg-white (ch)ips, including aged white cheddar and cinnamon sugar.
So is it true that greasy, artificially colored chips are the new endangered snack species? Hardly, given that tortilla and potato chips rang up approximately $11.2 billion in sales in 2012.
But the battle against unhealthy, unsustainable, gluten-rich junk food is on. Fast food is getting an overhaul, along with the cookie aisle (crickets again!) and the dairy case (chia pudding). Even protein bars, apparently, aren’t safe — grass-fed bison bacon and cranberry bar, anyone?
These and other new products make pigging out a downright virtuous event — assuming you can stomach the taste of cricket. Game on.
Christine Ciarmello is a writer and editor living in San Francisco.