Kale chips, we’ve been told, are the next brave frontier in the snack food world, a healthy, vegan, raw alternative to the Frito Lays and Doritos that have for generations polluted vending machines and digestive tracts alike. On the face of it, they seem like just another way for raw foodists and orthorexics to further ensure that their children will suffer lunchroom alienation, or an attempt to make the rest of us feel guilty about the trashy food we’ve been so ignorantly stuffing down our gullets.
But we were curious: people seem to be eating and even enjoying these things, and we at Fork in the Road are the last to disapprove of new advances in snack food technology. So we set out to determine just how palatable these kale chips are, and more importantly, if all kale chips are created equal. To find some answers, we pitted kale chips from Jungle Treats and New York Naturals against one another, ingesting about a week’s worth of roughage in the process.
THE STATISTICS (both brands were purchased from the LifeThyme store on Sixth Avenue):
Jungle Treats Dehydrated Raw Kale Krisps in “Cheezy” flavor
They Are: Kosher, Vegan, and Gluten-Free
Weight: 3 ounces
Calories per 3/4-ounce serving: 120
Sodium per serving: 320 mg
New York Naturals Raw Vegan Kale Chips in Vegan “Cheese” flavor
They Are: Raw, Vegan, and possibly Gluten-Free (they contain nutritional yeast, which isn’t always gluten-free)
Weight: 3.5 ounces
Calories per 1-ounce serving: 100
Sodium per serving: 260 mg
First up were Jungle Treats kale crisps. They were very light, crunchy, and structurally unsound, prone to evaporating into a shower of green crumbs under the slightest amount of pressure. The chips tasted like a health food store smells: vegetal and slightly musky. Altogether, they weren’t so much like chips as kale that gets stuck to the edge of the saute pan, or like a dehydrated compost heap. That said, they were were oddly tasty, with a pleasantly salty flavor that was given a gentle nudge by cayenne pepper. Eating these, you’re not for one second going to forget you’re eating a leafy green instead of a chip, but for some people, this is undoubtedly part of the draw.
On to the New York Naturals chips. They were a lot sturdier, with a robust, crunchy texture that may have been in part attributable to the nutritional yeast in the ingredients list. The flavor was similarly bold — the cayenne added a significant amount of heat, and the chips were surprisingly cheesy for not containing any actual cheese. They were actually more reminiscent of a Cheeto than of anything grown in the earth, and despite the fact that they contain less salt than the Jungle Treats chips, they were more savory. Like the Jungle Treats, they were also fairly messy: if ever a snack food could be said to demand a vacuum cleaner, it’s the kale chip. But unlike with their counterparts, it’s possible to forget you’re eating a vegetable when you’re eating the New York Naturals kale chips, and although we love our vegetables, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Price-wise, too, New York Naturals has the upper hand: a 3.5-ounce box is $8.79, while Jungle Treats’ 3-ounce bag is $9.29. Either way, that’s a lot to fork over for a wad of dried, salted kale, but charging ridiculous sums for dehydrated vegetable matter is pretty much the foundation that the raw food industry was built upon.
Another important difference: nowhere in its packaging does New York Naturals use the word ‘dehydrated,’ a word that, when used to describe any food product, is about as enticing as ‘regurgitated.’
So despite the festive orange and green flowers adorning its bag, the Jungle Treats chips are at a disadvantage. That said, both brands are ultimately losers in the packaging department: the Jungle Treats bag, despite having one of those ‘tear here’ tabs, could be opened only after being repeatedly stabbed with a set of house keys. For its part, the New York Naturals box is handicapped by a weird plastic pull tab that may cause finger lacerations.
New York Naturals win this battle easily. If you’re inclined to spend almost 10 bucks on dessicated kale, you may as well spend it here.
However: we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that in addition to being horribly addictive (and really not much less caloric than regular potato chips), they also contain enough roughage to make things, well, a bit fraught in the digestive department. So eat carefully: there is a rather humbling price to be paid for too much virtue.