Why Some Gluten-Free Snacks Taste Better

Gluten-free crackers and other snacks often have a different and superior texture.

Many awesome snacks just happen to be gluten-free, even if they aren't marketed that way. For example, Jalapeño Cheddar Cheetos, Lay's Original potato chips, and On The Border tortilla chips are all devoid of wheat. Another thing these gluten-free products have in common is that they offer what gluten-filled snacks lack: a loud, thunderous crunch.

Gluten-free snacks have a consistently crunchier texture than their wheaty counterparts. To illustrate this point, I'd like to turn your attention to the brand Crunchmaster.

First of all, we should all acknowledge what an awesome name Crunchmaster is: simple, catchy, and refreshingly funny. Sometimes I find myself walking around my apartment saying, "I am the Crunchmaster!!" to nobody in particular.

Anyway, Crunchmaster is a "gluten-free alternative to processed wheat crackers." That kind of sentence might make your eyes roll completely out of your skull, but hold up, because these crackers are undeniably top of the line. Crunchmaster is as advertised—these crackers are the masters of crunch. Per the website:

We found inspiration for Crunchmaster crackers in the traditional Japanese rice culinary style called "Usuyaki." We start with USA grown rice, add seeds and other better-for-you ingredients that fit perfectly into your lifestyle, dry them to a precise moisture and bake in the goodness.

Usuyaki rice crackers, from which Crunchmaster takes its cues, are exceptionally crunchy. Part of that crunch is because they're made so thin, but pay attention to the phrase "dry them to a precise moisture." That's very important, because the more dry a cracker is, the more crispiness it retains. I spoke to chef and culinary director Lo Hoang, who has a lot of experience baking gluten-free things, about what makes these snacks so good.

"It's because there's a lack of moisture," Hoang said. "[Gluten-free snacks] lack the structure gluten provides. It's like how you shape bread: That's only done by maintaining gluten integrity."

It makes sense, since "gluten" literally derives from the Latin word for glue. It's what makes bread and pasta so damn chewy. It's the reason most gluten-free pasta fails miserably—there's simply no bounce or stretch, and the final product is brittle and weak.

Gluten, however, has the inverse relationship to chips and crackers. Its absence in these snacks, I would argue, is preferred. It's why corn tortilla chips usually prove to be crispier and crunchier than their flour counterparts, as seen in The Takeout's tortilla chip rankings.

Because of their lack of structure, gluten-free snacks typically have to be thin. This leads to "max crunch," says Hoang: "Thin and cracker-like is the way."

You can tell even before you purchase a product whether it's going to have that max crunch factor. Peep some of the ingredients in Crunchmaster's original multi-grain cracker: Brown Rice Flour, Sesame Seeds, Potato Starch, Flax Seeds, Olive Oil, Amaranth, Quinoa, Salt, Tamari Soy Sauce Powder (Tamari Soy Sauce [Soybeans, Salt], Maltodextrin, Salt).

That label tells you a lot right off the bat. Tamari soy sauce powder is a really awesome flavoring agent, one that's also present in Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos. More importantly, though, check out the combination of potato starch, flax seeds, sesame seeds, and brown rice flour—these are all low-moisture ingredients. Potato starch famously inhibits gluten formation and oil absorption. That means this cracker is fully dry and maximally crisp. The crunch here is loud. These crackers are straight up fun to eat.

TH Foods, owner of the Crunchmaster brand, claims to be the only usuyaki-style rice cracker manufacturer in North America, a fact hammered upon in the website copy.

Of course, Ritz, Triscuit, Wheat Thins, and other crackers containing wheat flour can still be crunchy and delicious. But the wheat flour inhibits their ability to realize their full textural potential. Conduct a side-by-side taste test, and it becomes obvious that these snacks can't compete with the resounding crunch of Crunchmaster, Donkey Chips, or even a Jalapeño Cheddar Cheeto. (The only one that comes close is Wheat Thins, thanks to the use of cornstarch.)

A good snacking experience is informed by texture; it's just as important as flavor, if not more so. And if you're looking for maximum crunch in every bite, sometimes it's as simple as ditching the wheat. We're all crunch masters when we eat gluten-free snacks.

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