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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Not-Completely-Healthy Japanese Veggie Snack Shop Opens at Westfield

Posted By on Wed, Jul 6, 2011 at 12:04 PM

click to enlarge Calbee's new store outside the Westfield Food Emporium
  • Calbee's new store outside the Westfield Food Emporium

Calbee, the biggest snack food company in Japan, is opening its first overseas retail store at the Westfield San Francisco Centre, where it will be selling a new line of BeeMee vegetable snacks.

Calbee claims that its vegetable sticks are a "heart-healthy snack." Its brochure includes terms like "wholesome," "all natural," and "packed with vitamins and minerals." The company website also claims its goal is "harnessing what nature has to offer ... and contributing to healthier lifestyles." But how healthy are these snacks, really?

At the media opening last night, SF Weekly overheard various theories about how the veggie snacks are made. "I think it should be healthier. It's baked, right?" one guest said. Another suggested, "They seem dehydrated, because they feel really dry." Only one hit close to the truth. "They're too oily," she said.

click to enlarge Calbee's publicity photo goes for a fresh-salad look by putting fresh carrots and parsley behind its vegetable sticks. - CALBEE
  • Calbee
  • Calbee's publicity photo goes for a fresh-salad look by putting fresh carrots and parsley behind its vegetable sticks.

In fact, the BeeMee snacks are deep fried, according to coordinator Koji Shinshi. So how healthy are they? "Not completely healthy," Shinshi admits.

Store director Tomoko Mase took a different tack. "We don't emphasize them as a healthy snack," she said, "It's more about a balanced lifestyle. Every woman knows it's fried, but sometimes you can enjoy." She added that while they obviously aren't as healthy as raw vegetables, the BeeMee snacks are a "healthier choice within the snack food options."

But are they? Nutrition-label comparison shows that the BeeMee snacks are about on par with other labels. For a one-ounce serving (around 12 chips):

Lay's Potato Chips: 160 calories, 10 g fat, 170 mg sodium

Nachos Cheesier Flavored Tortilla Chips: 140 calories, 7g fat, 200 mg sodium

BeeMee Teriyaki Sticks: 130 calories, 6 g fat, 240 mg sodium

BeeMee Purple Mix Snaps: 160 calories, 13 g fat, 60 mg sodium

In comparison, Just Veggies, which are dehydrated, have 100 calories, 1 g fat, and 40 mg sodium per serving.

All of Calbee's BeeMee snacks are made from vegetables, but perhaps not surprisingly, the "sticks" and "snaps" categories aren't as healthy as those categorized as "veggies." The Island Special Veggies, which are made from Japanese Annouimo sweet potatoes, are the healthiest, with only 25 mg of sodium per serving and a high vitamin C content (35 percent of the daily recommended intake).

Interestingly, the company name Calbee is supposed to come from "Cal-cium" and "Vitamin-B," but most of the snacks on offer have only 2 percent of the daily recommended calcium intake, and none of them have any vitamin B.

So at the end of the day, the new Calbee store is adorable, the servers are friendly, and the snacks are yummy, just not quite as healthy as they are purported to be. If you want to try the new Japanese snacks and nutritional content matters to you, go for the BeeMee veggies instead of the sticks or snaps.

The store is already open, but Calbee's grand opening on Sunday (July 10) includes a contests, free gifts, and a "Character Name Contest" to name the girl on the advertising displays.

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Caroline Chen

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