Welcome to Please Don't Eat This, a new weekly column exploring the bad and the ugly of the food industry.
When I was a kid, the healthy snack du jour was fruit snacks ("made with real fruit!") which we of course loved because they were basically candy with a little fruit juice thrown in. Fruit snacks have since lost their healthy food halo, but I have a feeling that Crunchies -- pouches of freeze-dried fruits and vegetables that arrived as a sample a few weeks ago with the tagline "Nature's Ultimate Snack Food" -- will not be their replacement. The package may proclaim that "kids love them!", but I buy that as much as I buy that President Obama's favorite food is broccoli.
The veggie flavors look like the sad flecks of dehydrated corn and carrots that you find in a Cup o' Noodles before you add water. They taste like they've been in an attic for a decade. The plain veggie mix was in desperate need of salt -- as is, they resemble vaguely vegetal cardboard. Buttered Sweet Corn, made with corn and "natural butter flavor," was okay because there is some salt and fat, but I'd take a bucket of artificially flavored buttered popcorn any day (the suggestion on the Crunchies Facebook page to take a bag to the movies to save calories is laughable). BBQ Roasted Veggies had the same texture as the others, and was dusted with a sweet, tangy barbecue seasoning that only inspired a deep craving for unhealthy BBQ potato chips.
The edamame were the worst. True to the product's name, they were crunchy, like eating severely undercooked beans -- one staffer said "it's like chewing on old linoleum" -- and they tasted as musty as the rest. The back of the edamame package has a photo of Brien Seay, "Founder and Chef," who claims experience at Chez Panisse and recommends putting the edamame in trail mix or sprinkled on top of a salad. He doesn't appear on any of the other packages, probably a good career move.
The fruit was better only because fruit has a natural sweetness, though it still tasted dry and ossified, like something a mummy would eat for dessert. I couldn't identify the mystery dehydrated bits of fruit in the tropical mix, which looked like a species of sea sponge. The dried strawberries and raspberries were the best, and I could imagine sprinkling them over cereal for a DIY Special K Red Berries situation, but they weren't especially pleasant to eat on their own.
Crunchies packaging notes that freeze-dried fruit retains more nutrients than dried fruit (90 percent vs. 45 percent, for what that's worth), and that it's free of GMOs, wheat, gluten, trans fat, and hydrogenated oil. There is something admirable about promoting healthy snack food over chips and candy -- the trick is that it has to taste good as well. And not cause you to spend the rest of the afternoon picking freeze-dried fruit out of your teeth.