Veggies masquerading as crunchy, salty piles of crave-able junk food sound deliciously impressive, a veggie-hater’s dream come true. Add some flavors to these sticks, straws, stalks or snaps and they’re party food.
But despite their labels, these crispy, extruded snacks made with potato, tapioca or corn flour and starch have minimal actual veggie content beyond those starchy potatoes. Vegetables are primarily used in powder form to color the snacks. And those straws and snaps have nearly as many calories and fat as traditional chips.
Nutrition realities aside, the array of extruded veggie snacks has multiplied, filling supermarket shelves with a dizzying array of fun colors, sizes and flavors, including smoked Gouda, cheddar, ranch, jalapeño and Hatch chile.
Great veggie snacks have bold seasoning with just the right dose of salt and spice. The bad snacks are flavorless, wickedly salty or dusted with odd, icky tastes that turn these snacks into sad bags of disappointment.
Here’s the scoop on the best veggie snacks and the hideous, inedible ones. Nutrition details refer to a single serving or 1 ounce, which can be 24 to 75 pieces, depending on size.
Good Health Jalapeño Veggie Stix
These spicy, salty sticks are tender and tasty and deliver a blast of heat thanks to both dehydrated peppers and pepper powder. 150 calories, 8 g fat, 350 mg sodium, 1 g sugar, 1 g protein. $3.99 for 6.25 ounces at Sprouts. (4 stars)
Sensible Portions Organic Garden Zesty Ranch Veggie Straws
A huge punch of salt, lots of garlic and nicely crunchy texture make for a mouthful of zesty flavor that hits all the notes of a great junk food. 130 calories, 6 g fat, 360 mg sodium, 1 g sugar, 1 g protein. $2.49 for 5 ounces at Whole Foods. (4 stars)
Sprouts Hatch Green Chile & Cheddar Veggie Straws
These powdery sticks, made primarily with potato starch and potato flour, are toasty and cheesy, with just a tiny hit of chile pepper. They’re like cheese puffs, but far more flavorful. 130 calories, 7 g fat, 260 mg sodium, 1 g protein. $2 for 6 ounces. (3½ stars)
From the Ground Up Cheddar Flavor Cauliflower Stalks
Lovers of cauliflower may enjoy these telescoped mini-tubes of crispiness. But beware, the forward flavor is cauliflower, and the snacks crumble easily. 140 calories, 7 g fat, 240 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 2 g protein. $3.99 for 4 ounces at Whole Foods. (3 stars)
Open Nature Smoked Gouda & Black Pepper Veggie Sticks
The mild barbecue flavor of these salty, but tender sticks bears no resemblance to Gouda cheese, but they are likely to please those who love barbecue chips. 130 calories, 7 g fat, 320 mg sodium, 1 g sugar, 1 g protein. $3.99 for 7.5 ounces at Safeway. (3 stars)
Lesser Evil Vegan Ranch Veggie Sticks
These thick, caterpillar-like curls are not terribly appetizing, but they’re surprisingly tender, and they taste like sour cream. The biggest downside is that they stick to your teeth. 120 calories, 5 g fat, 220 mg sodium, trace sugar and protein. $3.99 for 4.5 ounces at Whole Foods. (2 stars)
Good & Gather Sea Salt Veggie Straws
If looks mattered, these would score fairly high, but they are more hard than crispy, and they taste like oil and little else. 130 calories, 260 mg sodium, no sugar, 1 g protein. $2.19 for 7 ounces at Target. (1 star)
Raley’s Sea Salt Veggie Straws
These extra-hard straws seem stale, but they do taste like potatoes. 140 calories, 7 g fat, 240 mg sodium, 1 g sugar, 1 g protein. $2.48 for 7 ounces. (1 star)
The Daily Crave Veggie Sticks
These look like shoestring potatoes, but taste like fried strips of nothingness. 140 calories, 7 g fat, 150 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 2 g protein. $3.99 for 6 ounces at Raley’s. (½ a star)
Reviews are based on product samples purchased by this newspaper or provided by manufacturers. Contact Jolene Thym at [email protected] Read more Taste-off columns at www.mercurynews.com/tag/taste-off.