Between meals: things that go crunch – five unusual crisp substitutes

Some time ago I mentioned some of the fruit-based snacks I have occasionally been trying for days at work when I want something a bit more exciting than an apple but still sweet and convenient. This time I want to talk about snack foods which are alternatives to a standard bag of crisps.

I love crisps – I find them so delicious and enjoyable. But they are not very healthy: as you will see below, even ‘alternative’ crisps can contain high levels of salt and fat. Most standard crisps, and many ‘alternatives’, are also effectively devoid of nutrients. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally want to treat myself. I have reviewed a range of savoury, crunchy snacks below, but should mention that my baseline crisp – the crisp of choice, against which I really measure all others – is the decidedly low-brow Doritos tortilla chip in – yes – Cool Ranch flavour. Salty, robustly thick, with an enticing, powdery layer of flavour…well, if I could eat them every day, I would. But I can’t. (Please note this isn’t meant to imply that it would be good for you to eat the others everyday, though – see the nutritional information!).

Work-space snackin'
Work-space snackin’

Popchips Barbeque Potato Chips

Taste: Popchips burst onto the scene some years ago and reached my consciousness when Katy Perry started appearing in their adverts. However, I had my Doritos – what use had I for expensive, low-fat crisp alternatives?

Ah, foolish I. When I succumbed to the lure of the Popchip I discovered that they are fantastically, crazily delicious, and have easily become my new crisp-type snack of choice. Indeed, one (post-dinner) evening out with my boyfriend I found myself feeling peckish and insisted on a detour to Sainsbury’s so I could purchase, and devour, a bag of these Popchips. I love the barbeque flavour so much that I haven’t ventured into others, but there is a whole range to choose from.

ANYWAY: the barbeque flavour is pretty hefty and tangy, which I really like. At first I thought it was a little acrid but now I really appreciate how strong and spiced these chips taste, and prefer them to sweeter, mellower barbeque flavours. The coating of flavours is really substantial and the warmth and bite of paprika is recognisable. Just a handful of chips is a delicious snack that actually does fill me up a bit while also handling major crisp cravings. The single-size bags offer the perfect amount for me: just enough to satisfy my appetite, not so much that I feel bloated and guilty.

Claims: all the flavour, half the fat; suitable for vegetarians; ‘no artificial anything’. The chips are not fried or baked but ‘popped’ through the application of heat and pressure.

Ingredients: they are potato-based, with 54% dried potatoes, followed by sunflower oil and seasoning (composed of sugar, whey powder, salt, onion, yeast, garlic and tomato powder, oak-smoked seal salt – fancy! – yeast extract, the every-present ‘flavourings’, spices, acids and colouring based on paprika); rice four and potato starch finish it off.

Nutritional information: a bag is 23g and you will have eaten 97 calories, 3.6g fat, 15g carbohydrates (2.1g of which is sugar), 0.9g fibre, 1.3g protein and 0.49g of salt.

Availability: I have seen these in all major supermarkets and in typical snack-buying places such as corner shops.

Bottom line: I am addicted to Popchips.

063 (2)Honourable mention: Waitrose Barbecue Pop Snacks

Waitrose are serving up an own-brand answer to Popchips, which are a little cheaper. They are very similar: the discs seem a little thinner, and they are very delicious. The barbecue flavour is more mellow and slightly sweeter. If you find the Popchips version a bit too tangy you might like these.

Claims: vegetarian

Ingredients: Although the overall effect is similar, the Waitrose chips actually differ in terms of their ingredients from the branded version, as they are based primarily on soya flour (31%), with potato flour (14%) coming in third after tapioca starch. Oil, potato starch and rice flour then give way to flavourings, the first of which is sugar, followed by salt, yeast extract, ‘smoked dextrose’ (dextrose is starch-based glucose), citric acid, fructose (another sugar – I did mention it was quite sweet); garlic, paprika and chilli powders, ‘colour paprika extract’, ‘flavouring’, pepper, malic acid (which is what makes Bramley apples so tangy!) and rapeseed oil.

Nutritional information: 22g will provide you with 90 calories; you’ll eat 2.3g of fat, 12.7g of carbohydrates (1.5g of which are sugar), 1.6g of fibre, 3.8g protein and 0.28g salt.

Bottom line: if you want the fun of a popped chip but prefer a sweeter, softer flavour, pop (ha!) in to your local Waitrose.

Availability: Waitrose only.

036 (3)Propercorn Sour Cream and Black Pepper popcorn

Taste: This one was really good. The sour cream flavour was assertively tangy, the black pepper a lovely, warming background note, and the alliums offered a comforting, familiar, slightly sweetened backdrop rather than an acrid tang common to many such flavoured crisps. The pack was deeply satisfying and I really enjoyed every crumb. There are some quite noticeable grains of sugar among the popcorn; this quite overt sweetness is what, I think, makes it so irresistible: it’s hard not to fall for the combination of salt, sweet, and dairy fat. It hits that culinary sweet spot that salted caramel also touches. However, it was occasionally a bit jarring to taste the sugar amongst the onion flavour.

The popcorn also filled me up well; it seemed like a huge amount and definitely tided me over until dinner.

Claims: Suitable for vegetarians (though this flavour isn’t suitable for vegans); free from genetically modified ingredients (quite an important, though bold, claim with respect to corn); gluten and wheat free.

More generally, apparently each pack of Propercorn is ‘guilt free’.

Ingredients: popped corn, rapeseed oil, buttermilk, rice flour, salt, sugar, black pepper, onion, natural flavourings, yoghurt, sour cream and spring onion. It’s higher on the sugar and lighter on the pepper than I expected from the name, but it definitely matches up to how I tasted the ingredients.

Nutritional contents: a 20g pack is 88g calories, which is decent – it’s an easy enough amount of calories to incorporate into a balanced diet. Although 20g sounds small, I thought I got a lot of popcorn! You will consume 3.7g of fat – possibly other flavours will have less fat, since the sour cream flavour obviously is quite heavily reliant on dairy. It’s a carby snack, with 10g, but with 3.2g of fibre and 2.2g of protein – again I assume the protein is predominantly from the dairy. The pack contains 0.22g of salt (we should consume a maximum of 3.75g of salt a day apparently – this is much, much lower than you probably think!).

Availability: a standard offering at all major supermarkets, and even available at corner shops

Bottom line: delicious and filling.

050 (3)Itsu crispy seaweed thins (sea salt flavour)

Taste: the pack reveals absolutely paper-thin sheets of brittle seaweed, exactly as you might wrap around sushi, only much smaller. They are resolutely crisp but melt back into their slippery marine form in the mouth. There’s not much to say about the taste beyond that it tastes exactly of seaweed: salty, but something green, slightly murky and grassy. I always think seaweed trips the line between richly savoury and deeply satisfying and somewhat unpleasant. These are on the savoury, luscious side, but you have to like or at least be able to tolerate seaweed to consume these.

Claims: Seaweed is referred to as a ‘superfood’ – what isn’t? – and ‘naturally packed with nutrients, zinc, iron and B vitamins’. They key ingredient seaweed contains, though, is iodine, something apparently missing from most other foods and which is important in regulating hormones.

Ingredients: seaweed (65%), olive oil and sea salt.

Nutritional contents: The seemingly bottomless pack of seaweed sheets is just 24 calories. It offers up 1.6g fat from the olive oil, but since it is monounsaturated fat, this isn’t something I worry about. For those of us who are trying to reduce our carbohydrate intake, this snack contains just 0.4 grams of them, compared to 1.4g of protein. There’s just under a gram of fibre and only a trace amount of sugar.

The pack helpfully contains information about the contents of the nutrients mentioned in the ‘claims’ blurb. So I know that the pack I consumed provided me with about 81% of my iodine needs for the day (based on the Nutrient Reference Value), and 360% of my B12 needs. Since I’m not vegan, I don’t particularly worry about B12 any more than I consider my other nutritional needs, but the high levels of this nutrient would make it a good snack choice for vegans.

Availability: Unsurprisingly, you can buy these at Itsu outlets, but I also see them at supermarkets.

Bottom line: bring to your next vegan movie night.

042Eat Real Quinoa chips (sour cream and chives flavour)

Taste: Very crunchy, rippled crisps with a light, almost puffed texture, although they are crisper and offer a firmer, more robust bite than most puffed snacks. The sour cream and chive flavour is quite light compared to other crisps, but is definitely present and not-too-subtle. The chive flavour doesn’t have that throat-burning acridity which lingers for hours common to some snacks. I don’t detect anything substantially different about the base crisp in terms of flavour: there’s no particular nuttiness or earthiness which makes it stand out as quinoa.

They are nice enough, but ultimately no more filling than a packet of standard crisps.

Claims: vegetarian, vegan. The back of the packet has a blurb about quinoa, including the fact that it’s considered a ‘super food’ and a ‘super grain’. No claims are made for the extent to which these ‘super’ properties are retained once heavily processed into crisps. The crisps are described as ‘tasty’ and ‘light’ – the ‘light’ must refer to the texture rather than the calorie count (see below)…

Ingredients: 29% quinoa flour, followed by a mix of flours, including corn flour, rice flour, corn starch, lentil flour and pea flour, oil, sugar and salt and the sour cream and chive seasoning, which also contains rice flour. No artificial colours and no MSG, but there is ‘natural flavouring’ and yeast extract.

So 71% of the ingredients (over two thirds) are not the headline ingredient, quinoa.

Nutritional content: 165 calories for a 30g pack (more than a single-serve packet of Cool Ranch Doritos, the baseline crisp). The fat content is higher than Doritos, too, at 8.6g, and the saturated fat is only a smidge lower, at 0.6g. It is higher in carbohydrates and salt and lower in fibre than the Doritos (19.9g, 0.65g and 0.7g respectively – the lower levels of fibre are really surprising!). On the plus side, there is a little more protein – 2.4g worth.

Availability: I bought these at Holland and Barrett and have seen them at other independent health food shops.

Bottom line: these aren’t the healthy option.

044 (3)Eat Real Lentil chips (chilli and lemon flavour)

Taste: They had a good, robust texture and firm crunch. These curved, fat crisps feel substantial when bitten into, unlike many potato crisps. But. So salty. Surprisingly salty. Seemingly saltier to me than a pack of standard ready salted potato crisps. The lemon flavour was bright and the chilli felt fresh and nicely hot, but the shockingly high levels of salt meant I barely tasted anything else.

Claims: 40% less fat than regular potato chips. No health claims about the ‘humble lentil’, which is just as well, since lentil flour is less than 50% of the listed ingredients. No claims about the sodium content, which is unsurprising, considering that they may as well have called them salt crisps.

Ingredients: lentil flour (48%) is bulked out with potato starch and vegetable oil, followed, unsurprisingly, by salt, and then the chilli and lemon seasoning. This seasoning also contains salt. There are some flavourings you might expect: onion and garlic powder, citric acid for sharpness, ‘natural flavourings’, and lemon juice powder. This is rounded off with ‘natural colour’.

Nutritional information: The nutritional information is sneakily provided in 100g and 28g ‘serving size’, even though the bag is 40g (i.e. a serving and a half. I always find this a bit misleading because it’s easy to automatically assume that the serving amount is the size of the package). If you eat 28g of these lentil chips, you will have eaten 130 calories, 5.5g fat, 18.5g carbs and 2.6g protein. You will also have eaten 13% of your daily salt allowance –  a serving has 0.81g.

Availability: as with the quinoa chips, these are a Holland and Barrett find that I have seen at other health food shops.

Bottom line: you may as well eat salt neat. A pity because they could have been quite tasty had the other flavours been allowed to shine.


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