I Tried All The New ‘Healthy’ Chips, Popcorn And Puffs To Find Out Which Ones Taste The Best

From low-cal popcorn to organic cheese puffs, the latest salty snacks sound healthier than regular chips. But are they as tasty?

Pile of cheesies, pretzels and chips.

Popped and puffed deliciousness. Photo, iStock.

There’s a new crop of snacks at the grocery store. Along with your favourite chips, there are beautifully packed popped, puffed and, yes, even fried confections, dressed up with a healthy halo thanks to buzzwords like organic, gluten-free and non-GMO and trendy ingredients such as chia seeds and pea protein. And if you’re overwhelmed by choice now, just you wait, because more virtuous-sounding salty snacks are likely coming your way.

That’s because the “savoury healthy snack” market is booming, having grown 15 percent over the last five years. A sign of the times: Hershey and Campbell recently spent a combined $6 billion to acquire Amplify Snack Brands (the company behind SkinnyPop) and Snyder’s-Lance Inc. (it makes EatSmart Veggie Straws and Pretzel Crisps), respectively. 

Since I’m alway up for snacking in the name of science, I tried a whole bunch of the new-fangled “healthy” popcorn and chips to see if any would become our new Netflix night staples.

Bag of Hi I'm Skinny Quinoa Sticks sea salt flavour,

Quinoa sticks. Photo, Hi I’m Skinny Quinoa Sticks.

Hi I’m Skinny Quinoa Sticks (Sea Salt)

These straw-like crisps are made with quinoa flour and come studded with bits of the superfood du jour: chia. At first, they kind of just taste like oil, but after you eat a few, it’s hard to stop shovelling the these sticks into your mouth — they have that satisfying crunch that keeps you reaching for more.

Would I buy this snack again?

Absolutely.

Bag of Half Pops popcorn.

Half-popped popcorn. Photo, Halfpops.

Halfpops Curiously Crunchy Popcorn (Aged White Cheddar)

Unlike its contemporaries, this popcorn doesn’t put its virtues front and centre; they’re on the back of the bag. This half-popped popcorn (yup, these are glorified kernels) is nut-free, gluten-free, artificial flavour–free and contains 50 percent less puff than regular popcorn. It also has a short, easy-to-read list of ingredients. Taste-wise, it reminds me of corn nuts.

Would I buy this snack again?

Maybe. Although some of my colleagues at Chatelaine couldn’t get enough of it.

Bag of Neal Brothers Organic Cheese Puffs

Healthy(ish) Cheetos do exist. Photo, Neal Brothers Foods.

Neal Brothers Organic Cheese Puffs

Unlike your classic cheesies, these puffs are baked, not fried. They’re also gluten-free and made with organic ingredients. When I put all the snacks out on a table at the office, these imitation Cheetos disappeared the fastest.

Would I buy this snack again?

You bet — but I’d consider eating them with chopsticks to avoid cheese fingers.

Bag of skinnypop popcorn.

White cheddar popcorn. Photo, SkinnyPop Popcorn.

SkinnyPop Popcorn (Dairy-Free White Cheddar)

I’m not a big fan of SkinnyPop’s name (it sounds like diet food), but this popcorn is free of more than just excess calories: gluten, dairy, GMO and superfluous ingredients. It’s also filled with delicious faux-cheddar flavour. I eat this stuff by the handful and, unlike when I binge on G.H. Cretors Chicago Mix, my insides don’t feel like garbage when I get to the bottom of the bag.

Would I buy this snack again?

Heck yes! (I’m probably eating some right now.)

 

Bag of dill pickle flavoured spokes.

Spokes are puffed potato snacks. Photo, Spokes.

Spokes (Dill Pickle)

These hot air–puffed potato snacks are very low in calories. They’re shaped like little wagon wheels and have a crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth texture that’s satisfying, but not really all that memorable. The dill pickle flavour tastes just like regular, deep-fried dill pickle chips. The sea salt flavour is very, very salty (which also makes them kind of addictive). Best of all, this brand is Canadian.

Would I buy this snack again?

These were definitely an office favourite.

Orange bag of Lays poppable chips.

Lay’s Poppables. Photo, Lay’s.

Lay’s Poppables (White Cheddar)

Like Baked Lay’s before them, Poppables are marketed as a healthier alternative to regular potato chips because they’re not deep-fried. Don’t be deceived: Poppables are still very much junk food.

Would I buy this snack again?

Poppables hit the snack trifecta (crunchy, salty and flavourful), but I’d still rather eat chips than this alternative.

Ghee butter flavoured popcorn.

Oh My Ghee! Photo, Lesser Evil.

Oh My Ghee! Organic Popcorn

This popcorn is made with organic, grass-fed ghee (or clarified butter) and is naturally gluten-free. Thanks to all that buttery goodness, it has some serious movie theatre popcorn vibes.

Would I buy this snack again?

Hard yes. (But I’d still rank SkinnyPop as my go-to because white cheddar is my weakness.)

Bag of plant snacks beet and goat cheese cassava chips.

Made with real goat cheese! Photo, Plant Snacks.

Plant Snacks Cassava Crunch (Beet with Goat Cheese)

These crunchy pink squares are made with cassava and beets. They’re also non-GMO, naturally flavoured and gluten-free. Since they’re  flavoured with real goat cheese, they’re pretty tangy, which can be a little off-putting. At first, I hated these chips, but I slowly grew to appreciate their funk.

Would I buy this snack again?

Maybe. Although, I think I’d rather just eat a beet salad topped with goat cheese.

Bag of Protes protein chips.

Chips, but with protein. Photo, Protes.

Protes (Zesty Lime)

They’re chips, but with extra protein (15 grams per package). They’re made with pea protein isolate, which might be great for upping the protein content but it’s terrible for making these chips seem like anything I’d want to put in my mouth ever again. The lacklustre crunch and coating of chili lime dust made the chips taste like how Bulk Barn smells (like a mix of every spice).

Would I buy this snack again?

Never.

Watch: How to make a skillet chocolate chip cookie if you need something sweet!