Gluten Free Review: Van's "Say Cheese!" Baked Crackers
It's hard to find a good gluten free cracker. Nut Thins and their ilk are hardly crackers, Glutino always arrive in pieces, Ener-G are a little bland and go stale quickly, Schar are just a step below Ener-G, and both those brands break not-quite in half during shipment ... and did I leave anyone out? There really aren't a lot of brands that are REALLY in the cracker business. (Things that taste like burnt rice do not count as crackers and never will.)
This is especially true if you're talking snack crackers. A lot of the GF crackers on the market are things that you might want to eat with cheese or salami or a bit of peanut butter. But there aren't a lot of crackers that you're just supposed to ... eat. You can tell by the size. The bigger a cracker, the more likely it is that you're supposed to put something on it. If we try to limit ourselves to "snack crackers," the list that jumps to my mind includes the little cheese bites peddled by Schar and ... well, it's a short list. Maybe I just don't see enough products out here in the middle of the ocean.
Van's is one of the companies I "liked" on Facebook, so I get updates from them every so often. I already enjoy their waffles and French toast sticks on a pretty regular basis (more so when Safeway sells them for $3.49 rather than the usual $5.19), so I was intrigued by their announcement of new items. Snack bars, crackers, and cereal, if I recall correctly. Just this morning they mentioned that Safeways across the country should carry these products already, and I thought, "Hmm. I wonder if my Safeway has them yet." (It was about time for me to go grocery shopping anyway.)
I caught the bus down to Safeway and meandered through the store, picking up the usual goods. And sure enough, when I reached the tiny little "Gluten Free" section** I saw a few varieties of Van's crackers and snack bars. I didn't have a lot of money (so I couldn't pick up the snack bars at $5.99/box) so I opted to get a couple of boxes of crackers, especially since they were only about $3 each. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is an absolute STEAL when it comes to GF foods here in Hawaii.
I really couldn't wait to try them. I couldn't. After a long trek home (we won't get into the bus situation) I opened up the box of crackers and gave them a shot. The flavor I picked to test was the "Say Cheese!" variety. Based on the picture on the front I was kind of expecting a proper cracker, maybe the size of those multigrain crackers in the yellow bags (name eludes me) or bigger. And I think I was expecting a similar "burnt rice" flavor as well. I was ... surprised!
First of all, the size (as you can see in the photo--should be noted that I also have very tiny fingers) is pretty small. You're not going to be piling any cheese or meat on these crackers unless you want to make tiny teeny little itty bitty hors d'oeuvres. You could, however, dip it in peanut butter (goes great with cheese) or hummus or any other kind of cracker dip. Or just eat them plain! I managed to wolf down about a serving (30 crackers) within minutes of opening the box. I'm sure you can too.
Next, the flavor. I kept trying to figure out what they tasted like. Not quite Cheez-Its (not as salty or sharp), but not quite Goldfish (not that mellow). Somewhere in-between. It reminds me a bit of the cheddar crackers I used to eat in Ritz Snack Mix (do they even make that anymore?). Which, hey, if you're looking for something to throw into your own homemade Chex Mix, these might fit the bill pretty well. They're deliciously cheesy, crispy, and have the right amount of grains to make you feel like you're eating something healthy.
But just how healthy are they?
One serving of crackers = 30 of the little guys and 140 calories. That single serving will also set you back 5g of fat and 2g of sugar, while giving you 3g of protein and 10% of your vitamin A. You also get a wee bit of calcium and iron, at 4% each.
The crackers are made with cheddar cheese (duh) and a blend of grains including rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth and gluten free oats. They're also made with potato starch. If you feel like you're sensitive to oats, or have any issues with potato or yeast, these crackers are not good for you. But on the other hand, they contain now corn or soy, which is a rare thing these days. The "lecithin" in these crackers is sunflower lecithin. They're Kosher, cholesterol and trans fat-free, and contain no artificial colors or flavors.
I gave these crackers a 9.2 on account of the misleading picture on the front and the fact that it contains oats, which a lot of GF folks may be wary of. But these crackers are really pretty awesome. The best thing since sliced GF bread. You get a lot of whole grains per serving, which makes you think you're eating healthy when you're inhaling an entire box of crackers, and I bet no one would even know they were GF unless you told them. Seriously, seriously good stuff.
Pros: Whole grains! Non-GMO! Delicious flavor, just the right amount of cheesiness, and the price was pretty good too.
Cons: More of a snack cracker than something you can put stuff on. From the picture on the box I was thinking it might be more like Ritz. Actually it's more like a Cheez-It.
Verdict: NEED MOAR NOW PLEEZ.
**Okay, seriously guys ... either put everything GF in the GF section or put it where it's supposed to go. It makes no sense for SOME pasta to be in the pasta section and SOME to be in the GF section, or SOME cookies to be in the GF and SOME to be in the cookie aisles. Get your stuff together, Safeway!