Everyone loves a good snack—those tasty nibbles in between meals that keep us going, especially after a hard workout or long workday. For those items typically labeled as snacks—the usual not-so-healthy snack suspects: chips, pretzels, crackers, cookies, popcorn, energy bars, and of course, the Twinkie—it’s a massive $47 billion industry.
But much like the soft drink category is changing—for the better—so too is the snack category. Today’s biggest snack food trend? Bean snacks.
As unbelievable as it may seem, beans, of all things (not of the jumping or magic kind, either), are replacing our junk food snack addiction of decades past.
On the heels of what was a pivotal point in healthy snacking, the kale chip craze, the poor man’s protein is now taking center snacking stage. Often seen as boring or bland, beans are actually quite healthy and versatile. In addition to protein, beans offer a hefty dose of heart-healthy fiber and vitamins (usually B vitamins, depending on the bean), and antioxidants—those free-radical-fighting chemicals often found in much more expensive “superfoods” like acai berries or raw chocolate.
And unlike kale chips, which are prone to crumbling, not very filling, and rather expensive—bags often consumed in one sitting can cost as much as $9— beans, on the other hand, are sturdy and so filling; it’s more like eating a handful of nuts than a few delicate, flavored leaves.
Compared with other proteins, beans are incredibly economical, too— they’re inexpensive, even when organic. Their fiber content makes them filling, so they go a long way. And, they’re versatile, lending themselves well to all kinds of flavorful dishes. Most every culture in the world eats beans.
They’re great for the environment, too, especially compared to animal products. Lentils, for example, are nitrogen fixers, making soil healthier rather than depleting it.
“[B]eans are one of those unique ingredients that seem to resonate with consumers,” Stephen Crump, associate marketing manager, Food Should Taste Good, told Nutritional Outlook about the brand’s bean-based chips—one of many chip brands cashing in on the bean trend.
Even the United Nations is behind the bean trend; it has declared 2016 “International Year of Pulses” (pulses are beans and legumes).
“The IYP 2016 aims to heighten public awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production aimed towards food security and nutrition,” says the UN. “The Year will create a unique opportunity to encourage connections throughout the food chain that would better utilize pulse-based proteins, further global production of pulses, better utilize crop rotations and address the challenges in the trade of pulses.”
Beans and legumes offer greater food security for the developing world as well.
"In developing markets, pulses are often grown by smallholders, in particular women,” Pravin Dongre, GPC's Executive Vice President and Chairman of the Indian Pulses and Grains Association said in a statement.
“Pulses provide these farmers with an additional source of food and income. Boosting global pulse consumption would have the potential benefit of increasing incomes among these families."
But bean snacks aren’t just dressed up fried corn chips. They’re trending all on their own—usually as dried or baked snacks. Edamame, chickpeas, and pea snacks have been around for a while, and there are newcomers to the dried bean snack category including lentil snacks and the exotic, hard-to-cook-at-home (because of the days worth of soaking required) lupini beans.
And for those averse to spending time in the kitchen, bean snacks are an easy and tasty way to get this plant-based protein into the diet without the labor of soaking and cooking.
A decade or two ago, a snack would have likely been a soda and a bag of chips. But modern consumers have a different palate--a healthier one--and snack time in today's market is more likely to be a bottle of bubbly low-sugar kombucha, and a handful of beans.
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Snacks image via Shutterstock