"Lentils aren't just for soups and hummus doesn't have to be just a dip," explains Rashim Oberoi, president of Simply7. As with black beans and pinto beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans) are rich in soluble fiber and protein.
Flourless but not flavorless
Higher protein and fiber chips are joined by other innovative takes in traditional staples. "I have always been passionate about eating well and staying healthy, says Alison Levitt, M.D., owner and founder of Dr. In The Kitchen (www.drinthekitchen.com). The Minneapolis company produces Flackers, a "natural reinvention of the traditional cracker" made with sprouted flax seeds.
"I believe that 'good food is wise medicine' — which is also why I developed Flackers," says Levitt. "As a medical doctor I feel flax seeds should be part of every health and longevity diet. Flackers are filled with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and fiber, which helps to normalize cholesterol and promote optimal digestion. In addition, Flackers contain antioxidants, protein and many vitamins and important minerals."
Gluten-free, non-GMO, vegetarian and certified organic, the crackers contain 5g protein and 7g fiber per serving.
Another sprouted snack, Way Better Snack is organic, low-sodium chips from Islandia, N.Y.-based Live Better Brands LLC. They combine old-fashioned stone-ground corn, potato starch and flour from sprouted brown rice with ground sprouted seeds from flax, quinoa, daikon radish, chia and broccoli. The oils are high-oleic and all ingredients are certified as non-GMO, gluten free, whole grain and kosher.
Jim Breen, company founder, says he "started with a vision to create a better snack" and, "in exploring concepts for healthy new products, [was] led to germination (sprouting) as a way to reincorporate nutritious ingredients into popular snacks such as tortilla chips."
Live Better's use of high-oleic oils touches on another aspect of tantalizing snacks that are better for you. Processors struggling with the (in many ways erroneous) notion that fat = unhealthy, shifted instead to better-for-you sources of fat. Looking to the boom in use of omega-3s, they applied them to chips and crackers to boost the health profile while preserving the crunch and satiety that oil brings to a good chip.
As a healthy, savory snack, popcorn has enjoyed a steady climb in popularity, in part due to its dual nature as both a whole grain and a gluten-free snack. "We are certainly seeing an upward trend in the popcorn category -- both our private label [products] as well as our own brand," says Claire Cretors, president of Cornfields Inc. (www.cornfieldsinc.com), Waukegan, Ill. "There are a number of studies on the benefits of antioxidants found in the hull of popcorn, and this has certainly helped the category."
Research on the benefits of whole grains has been at the forefront of nutrition news for more than a decade now, with scores of studies establishing that including whole grains in the diet can help lower the risk of a number of diseases, including cancer, heart disease and digestive disorders. Cornfields' Chicago Mix Popcorn uses all natural ingredients, combining cheese popcorn with a sweet caramel corn made in copper kettles.
"It's truly the old-fashioned way;" says Cretors. "We use brown rice syrup as opposed to corn syrup in our caramel, and the combination of savory and sweet has really been a hit."
Less shake, more bake
Although it's been reported lately that science is showing less of a need for reduced sodium, the demand for the category of low-salt products remains high. Salt replacers and enhancers need extra consideration when it comes to savory snacks since that's the very craving they strive to fulfill. Plus, salt has a number of functions beyond flavor, including microbial control, fermentation regulation and strengthening of textural properties in flour-based formulations. But salty snacks are the biggest contributor to sodium in the American diet.
Nu-Tek Salt Products LLC (www.nu-teksalt.com), Minnetonka, Minn., applies a balance between the two paradigms with its combinations of sea salt as a way to get more salt impact from less salt and combining it with potassium chloride, a popular salt substitute but one which consumers tend not to favor when it is used by itself due to a metallic aftertaste.
Nu-Tek's ingredient system minimizes this off-note and allows "significant sodium reduction with little to no impact on taste or functionality."
Cheese, easily the most popular flavor in savory snacks, finds its challenge in bringing that powerful taste without the concentrated calories found in this high-fat dairy product. But cheese, in addition to its popularity as a flavor, also acts as a perfect top note to cover up any slight off-notes that might remain from use of various legume flours or salt replacers and as an enhancer of mouthfeel characteristics.
"The first thing that comes to mind [with cheese] is masking and mouthfeel flavors that are perfect for better-for-you snacks," says Jennifer Tracy, director of customer marketing for Edlong Dairy Flavors (www.edlong.com), Elk Grove Village, Ill.
"Masking flavors are perfect for applications that use soy, pea or other proteins that might have 'beany' notes, as well as anything that has a sodium alternative, which could have metallic notes," explains Tracy. "The masking flavors help round out the profile flavor of the food."
The company's extensive line of cheese flavors for applications that have reduced or no dairy ingredients "contribute rich, fatty notes typical of dairy commodities without contributing anything to the nutritional profile, so consumers can enjoy the taste they love without compromising on the healthiness," she adds.
Edlong offers a full variety of savory flavors for use in snacks to enhance the flavor profile without adding any dairy. Flavors include Asiago, Cheddar, Smoked Applewood Cheddar, Cotija, Feta, Italian, Manchego, Nacho, Panela, Parmesan, Pepper Jack, Romano and Swiss. In snacks and seasonings, they boost the overall impact without modifying the nutritional panel.
Bringing snacks to the forefront was not the difficult part — Americans have shown that grab-and-go quick-fix fillers are the rule more than the exception today. With the tech know-how and creative approach to remaking old familiar favorites like chips and crackers in a new and healthy image, ingredient experts and food manufacturers are meeting the new paradigm and keeping the savory in while removing the guilt.