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Healthy snack? The additives hiding in rice crackers
Saturday, 10 December 2016
Healthy snack? The additives hiding in rice crackers

A reader wrote to me concerned that his favourite snack had “a lot of stuff in there”. And he was worried that “my favourite snack with a slice of blue vein cheese is actually not that good for me!”

Rice crackers are a very popular – and quite cheap – snack for those who are gluten free or simply prefer the crisp, crunchy taste of rice rather than wheat.

I have to admit that I once had quite a bad reaction to these wasabi crackers before I had my gall bladder out, so I am keen to help this reader and see what might have caused it.

Peckish Rice Crackers, Wasabi flavour. $2 for 100g.

Ingredients (in order of greatest quantity first):

Rice flour
This is the main basis of a rice cracker, the advantage of rice flour is that it is gluten free so great for those who have an allergy to gluten.

Rice bran oil
This is a healthy oil because it is free of trans fats and low in saturated fats. It also has Oryzanol, which is believed to lower bad cholesterol and another substance called Tocotrienols, which are converted into vitamin E, a well-known antioxidant.

Garlic powder
This is dried garlic added in here for flavour.

Wasabi powder
We are all familiar with wasabi as an addition to our sushi. It is similar to horseradish and the root is grated to provide the hot, mustard-like flavour. Unfortunately, some wasabi sold outside of Japan can be a mixture of horseradish, mustard, artificial food colouring and flavours but these crackers are giving you the real deal, dried and ground into a powder.

Maltodextrin
This is a common ingredient in chips and crackers. I understand that a thin layer of this is sprayed on to the chips or crackers, which then helps to absorb the added flavours. It is made from corn, rice, potato starch, wheat and also tapioca. It is made by cooking the starch then adding acids or enzymes to break it down. The result is a white powder that is water-soluble and has a neutral taste. It can be used as a thickener, a filler and a preservative in processed foods.

Onion powder
Onion is dried then powdered.

Soy sauce powder (maltodextrin, salt, soybean oil)
Basically dehydrated soy sauce.

Salt
Quite high in salt at 120mg per 20g serving.

Sugar
Only 0.6g of sugar per 20g serving.

Black pepper

Flavour enhancers (627, 631)

These aren’t great news. MSG is not in here (621) but its usual sidekicks disodium glutamate (627) and disodium inosinate (631) are. They cause no harm at levels normally eaten but high doses given under experimental conditions have been linked to food intolerance symptoms such as asthma and gout (almost always in combination with chemicals like amines and salicylates).

Antioxidant (307)
This is tocopherol or vitamin E.

Anticaking agent (341)
To stop the flavouring powders caking on the crackers, calcium phosphate (341) is used.

My recommendations:

There is a lot going on with these crackers in terms of flavours (seven), flavour enhancers (two), additives (three) and then the rice flour and the rice bran oil. In my opinion my reader could make a simple swap to the Brown Rice Crackers – No Salt put out by the same producer Peckish. These not only have a greatly reduced amount of sodium ” from 120mg to a mere 11mg but have only two ingredients – brown rice flour and rice bran oil (10 per cent). That way you still get the feel and crunch of rice crackers with your blue vein cheese but without the 12 additives to give it the wasabi flavour. I could suggest that you buy a tube of wasabi paste and smear it on a brown rice cracker but I’m afraid you will find that the wasabi is actually horseradish with added artificial flavour and colour.

Highlights

• 12 additives to achieve wasabi flavour.
• Includes flavour enhancers.
• Uses rice flour and rice bran oil.

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