Are Roasted Chickpea Snacks Healthy? Biena & Others Reviewed
[toc]It’s totally understandable. Whether it’s an afternoon nibble to hold you over, or a substitute for popcorn while streaming, sometimes nothing satisfies more than a good crunchy snack!
Of course, potatoes chips aren’t healthy for you. Even baked tortilla chips are still loaded with carbs and calories.
Would a lesser of the evils be dry roasted garbanzo beans from Biena, The Good Bean, or another brand?
They certainly have some nutritional advantages, but also drawbacks to be aware of. Some no one discusses.
The quick takeaway: Definitely healthier than potato and tortilla chips. High protein (6g per serving) and low carb (6% of DV). Drawbacks are sodium and glycation from roasting. Enjoy as a treat, not daily.
What do they taste like?
Dry roasted chickpeas are supposed to be crunchy. That trait, along with their added sunflower oil (Biena) or canola oil (Saffron Road) and salt make them taste a lot like potato chips, popcorn, and other junk food.
That’s because with processed snacks, what you experience most is the sensation of triglycerides (fat) on your tongue (a feeling, not a taste), the salt, and the crunchy texture.
The actual flavors of junk foods take a backseat to these qualities. Pure fat doesn’t even have a flavor detectable by the human taste buds. (1)
In the case of roasted chickpeas, the plain flavors have a light and satisfying crunch similar to chips. Not hard like grape nuts. Their taste is not like beans, either. It’s rather neutral, being overpowered by the fat and salt.
That’s not a bad thing, as it’s those basic comfort characteristics you crave when you want junk food. Whether it’s good for you is another story.
While plain sea salt and similar taste good, the best tasting roasted garbanzo snacks will be those with added spices or chocolate-covered.
Our favorite flavor is Biena Girl Scouts Thin Mints. It’s not a knockoff, as they officially partnered with the Girl Scouts of America to develop roasted chickpeas that taste like the famous cookie. Unlike actual Thin Mints, Biena’s are packed with protein and without any dairy or wheat.
Biena Thin Mints are a way for vegans and those on gluten free diets to experience the taste, since they can’t eat the real thing.
You don’t often see the Thin Mints flavor for sale. When we spotted some at Whole Foods and they were on sale, we snapped ’em all up. Sadly, that was merely 3 bags. We’ll have to order some on Amazon.
Biena Salted Caramel are only vegetarian, as they contain milk. Their Dark Chocolate flavor is vegan, but not the similar from Saffron Road. Don’t mix them up if you’re plant-based.
Whether it’s Thin Mints or another chocolate variety, choose the sweet flavors for when you want a dessert-like experience that’s less naughty.
But do know that they have 5-9g of sugar per serving, which means 15-36g per bag.
And you may eat the whole bag!
For a healthier version, try the savory flavors. The brand Saffron Road makes the best; Falafel. They also have Bombay Spice, Chipotle, and Wasabi which are uniquely satisfying. They’re made with organic chickpeas.
You can’t buy dry roasted chickpeas with no oil. Those would require a homemade recipe. All of the major brands, including Saffron Road and Simply Balanced, make theirs with some oil.
Otherwise, the beans would taste dry and powdery when you crunch them.
Given their added oil, they are calorically dense.
For unflavored, Biena Sea Salt is about as simple as you can get. Here’s the nutrition label:
While potato and corn chips only have 1-2g of protein per ounce, Biena chickpeas have 6g. They also have 3x the fiber of corn and 6x the fiber of potato chips. This makes roasted chickpea snacks better for weight loss, but only on a relative basis.
An unsweetened variety of roasted chickpea snacks will have around 130 calories per ounce (28g). Corn tortilla chips are the same. Both have 19% fewer calories than the same serving size of Lay’s Classic potato chips.
How much fat there is in roasted chickpeas is relatively low; 35 out of the 130 calories are from fat (27%). Potato and corn chips are 38% and 35%, respectively.
Roasted chickpeas are not low carb, but they are lower than many crunchy snacks. Per 1 oz serving there’s 18g of carbs (6% of DV). Lay’s Classic potato actually have fewer carbs at 15g (5% DV). Mission Organics white corn tortilla chips are highest at 19g (7% DV).
A nice benefit of chickpeas roasted is that they’re naturally a gluten free snack. While potato and corn are too, many GF brands of crackers and chips are rice-based. Those usually have even more carbs and less protein than corn-based.
The reason Biena and similar are lower in fat and carbs, yet have comparable calories per ounce, is because more of the calories are coming from protein.
Since amino acids are 4 calories per gram, it means that the 6g per 130 calorie serving of roasted chickpeas equates to this snack being 18.5% protein content.
Potato chips are just 5% protein. Tortilla aren’t much better at 6-7%.
Are roasted chickpeas healthy?
Relative to chips and crackers, roasted chickpeas are better. While not low in calories, their lower carb and higher protein makes for a more balanced snack. What’s bad for you about them is their sodium and acrylamide.
Acrylamide is a carcinogen which is created when starchy foods are fried, roasted, or exposed to other forms of high heat cooking.
Acrylamide is one type of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which are created during roasting. High heat also creates AGES in fatty acids. It breaks them down into harmful byproducts. While not necessarily cancer causing, they do damage DNA and cells in the body. (2) (3)
In other words, they’re aging foods. Not anti-aging.
The formation of advanced glycation end products is why it’s important to pay attention to the smoke point of culinary oils for cooking.
If the chickpeas were raw, boiled, or steamed, there would be virtually no acrylamide and minimal AGEs present.
Because they are dry roasted and fried to make them crunchy, they are cooked using some of the worst methods when it comes to this issue.
The glass half-full attitude would be that at least garbanzo beans should create less acrylamide than frying potatoes.
Asparagine, which is an amino acid, is a crucial component in the formation of acrylamide. You can see above how it leads to over 100 times the amount created, when it’s combined with potato starch and dextrose (a sugar).
Potatoes are a rich source of asparagine, while chickpeas are average.
Still, rice tends to be lowest. So even though it’s higher in carbs, you could argue that rice chips and snack foods are healthier.
No one really talks about – or even seems to be aware – of this danger when it comes to roasted chickpea snacks.
That’s why a lot of the marketing and perception that they’re good for you and healthy is only based on part of the data; the macronutrient profile.
It’s funny too how brands like Saffron Road make organic roasted chickpeas. Not a bad thing of course, but conventionally grown beans, if not roasted, would be far healthier for you than acrylamide from roasted organic!
Despite the presence of acrylamide and other advanced glycation end products, crunchy chickpea snacks are at least not worse for you than the average snack food. They’re better for you when it comes to protein and fiber content. Unfortunately, most brands use about the same amount of sodium as potato and tortilla chips.
So they’re certainly not the worst choice you can make, but don’t eat them in abundance with the false perception that they’re good for you. They’re a good weekend treat, perhaps for movie night. Not something that should be a daily snack, or a food for weight loss.
Where to buy
Even though they’re a newer snack food, their popularity means they are sold at almost any halfway decent grocery store. Biena is the biggest brand. The Good Bean and Saffron Road are the other two major players.
Traditional grocers like Kroger and Walmart usually carry Biena but not the others. Target has their own brand; Simply Balanced. Whole Foods has Saffron Road and Biena.
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