I love chips.  I love the crunchy, salty, wonderfulness of it all.  The evolution of all the flavors and styles has been amazing.  I am dating myself when I remember the only choices were straight and wavy cut potato chips.  Barbecue flavor was an amazing discovery back then.  Now entire isles in the grocery store are dedicated to all the styles and flavors of chips, and a second isle in the health food area for just “health food” chips.

The problem is that chips are anything but healthy.  They are pure simple carbohydrates fried in vegetable oil.  Both components are a bad choice.  But when you bake or fry carbs in polyunsaturated oil you form all sorts of toxic cancer forming chemicals.  It does not matter if you are using organic potatoes or blue corn or whatever other groovy ingredients you use, when you fry them in vegetable oil they become poisonous.  The most noxious of these chemicals is acrylamide and typical brands of chips contain over 500 times the safe levels of cancer causing agents as defined by California’s Prop 65 warning regulations.

Even more concerning is that any time you heat up a polyunsaturated oil it oxidizes – what we used to call turning rancid back in the day.  Back then we could tell when something had gone rancid because it smelled really bad.  But these days they treat the rancid oil with chemicals to neutralize the bad smell, but not the toxic effects on the body.  Chip manufacturers use thousands of gallons of oil to fry the chips in, and then keep reusing it over and over until only a few hundred gallons are left that looks like sewage sludge before they discard it.  The chips soak up all the rest.

What are we to do?  I still love chips… and dip!  Dip is a whole separate story.  I remember the very first dip I ever tasted – the original Lipton’s onion soup in cream cheese dip.  MSG never tasted so good – at least until the first ranch dressing was invented.

But now I view MSG and cream cheese from a different perspective.  Unfortunately I became aware that the MSG is neurotoxic – it actually causes brain cells to explode.  And the cream cheese is just one more trigger for my gluten/casein intolerance.  Bummer, ignorance is bliss…until it sneaks up and bites you on the behind.

So what am I really after when I grab for the chips?  A big part is the crunch.  Mix the crunch with some creamy cheesy delight and you almost have the essence of the chip experience.  There is a small part that is the salty – savory combo with the crunch as well.  Yes, that is the chip experience.  I am leaving out the mindless grabbing of handful after handful out of a humongous bag of convenient chip resource.

How can we recreate the chip experience without all the toxic oils, cancer causing chemicals, and weight causing carbs?

First lets tackle the crunch factor.  Several root vegetables in their raw state do a very good job of imitating the crunchiness of chips.  For the light and delicate crunch of the potato chip there is the Jicama.  If you are after a little more tooth to your bite – kind of like kettle cooked chips I like one of the big Japanese radishes that are half green and half white.  Daikon can also be used if you like a little more of a flavor bite.

When you are after the heavier crunch of a tortilla chip I suggest using a rutabaga.  Turnips are ok but a little soft to give a really good crunch, and carrots are a little tough and chewy to mimic a good chip. Lastly, if you like your chips with a slightly sweet taste, a good crisp apple or Asian pear will substitute for a nice crispy chip.

Now for the dip…fortunately for us there is now commercially prepared cashew cheese in a variety of flavors from Cultured Kitchen available in health food stores – at least here in Sacramento.  Cashew cheese is really nice because it imitates the creamy texture and cheesy taste of many dips.  If this product is not available in your area, you can make your own.

2 cups raw cashews – soaked for a few hours if possible
¼ to ½ cup filtered water (depending on the consistency you want)
½ cup nutritional yeast (this gives it the cheesy taste)
2 Tbs. Fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs. Vinegar – different flavors of vinegar produce different cheeses
2 Tbs. Coconut Aminos, or Braggs Aminos, or Fish Sauce
1 Tsp. sea salt

Add all these ingredients to a food processor or blender and blend until a smooth paste is formed.  At this point you might add extra flavor ingredients to really create interest.  This is the basic recipe, to which you would then add such things as cloves of garlic, basil, cilantro, dill, avocado, chilies, pepper, clams, shrimp, etc…

Another alternative for a great dip is hummus.  This is also readily available in grocery stores, with the widest variety I have found being at Trader Joes.  Hummus is also easily made at home with canned chick peas, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, salt, and olive oil.  This is the same basic story – into the blender and blend until smooth –

1 can chickpeas (Garbanzo beans)
¼ cup tahini (ground sesame seeds)
¼ cup lemon juice
2 Tbs. Olive oil
1 to 2 cloves of garlic
½ to 1 tsp. sea salt
a little water if needed to get the consistency you want

Again, this is a basic recipe to which you add various spices to suite your palate, such as cumin, red pepper, clove, etc…

And the last classic chip dip that is ever so healthy is good old guacamole.  How can you go wrong with fresh avocado, lemon juice, salt, and fresh tomato?

Cut your root vegetables in advance so they can be nicely chilled in the fridge and ready to use when the need for crunch hits you.  The healthy dips keep nicely in the fridge also so you can always have chips and dip on the spur of the moment with the same convenience currently enjoyed with the bagged toxic bits of heaven currently around the house.

So the next time the urge to crunch hits you, go for the cold crunch and supercharge the health of your snacking.

Take care,

David