As a father and spewer of dad jokes, I’m uncomfortable maligning a good pun when I see one. That would be punitive at best and punthetic at worst. Yet, as one versed in the ways of marketing — I’ve spent endless hours in conference rooms with asshats who self-identify as “creatives” — I approach products that lean into their puns with caution. It was with trepidation that I grabbed a bag of Hippeas from the shelf at my local Whole Foods.
Hippeas are organic chickpea puffs, sort of like healthy Cheetos. However, if you are to ingest the totality of the marketing, you would also think that they represent a social movement. “This is a call to the modern hippies who want goodness for mind, body and soil and rally behind those that want the same,” explains the product website. “Let’s stand together: arms in the air, flowers in our hair and crumbs in our beards.” There are 140mg of sodium per serving so it’s fair to say that the presentation — and the snack itself — ought to be taken with a grain of salt.
Kid Food Origin Story: To be human is to love puffed snacks. From Cheerios to Cheetos, the most delicious items man has shoved into his mouth have long been the product of puffing. The process, first developed in the late 19th century by Kellogg, usually features cornmeal. Cheetos, for instance, are made of cornmeal, which is rubbed together until the starch melts and the moisture expands creating a puff then fried and coated in neon unguent. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing puffing IRL at the Museum of Food and Drink. It is quite dramatic. But, as Pirate’s Booty has taught us, anything with a starch can be puffed. Which leads us to chickpeas.
Though I hate to admit it, the people behind Hippeas are right about one thing: Chickpeas are one of the hottest trends in the industry. There’s a reason — a few actually. First of all, chickpeas do have starch and are therefore suitable candidates for puffery. Secondly, unlike corn – which we can all agree is the devil’s food of capitalist mara – chickpeas are actually good for the land, releasing nitrogen back into the soil. Hippeas officially launched in July 2016 with six flavors: Far Out Fajita, Vegan White Cheddar, Maple Haze, Pepper Power, Sriracha Sunshine, and Happenin’ Hickory. As you might gather from the glib historical references, it is targeted to Millennials. [Coming soon: SNCCer Bars and Choclattica!] Nevertheless, because I live in a household of two puff addicts, I picked up a brightly colored bag to offload into the maws of babes.
Kid Food Taste Test: Look, it has taken teams of sallow-skinned dividend-veined food scientists to perfect the crunch of Cheetos such that after the initial resistance transforms into powder. Without MSG, without Maltodextrin, without preservatives or animal products, one can not rightly expect a Hippea to compete. And it doesn’t. More substantial than a Cheeto and less yielding, the snack is less fulfilling in terms of mouthfeel.
I fed my son the Vegan White Cheddar since it seemed to be the closest apples-to-apples analogue to Cheetos. In terms of flavor, he was nonplussed. “What is this supposed to be?” he asked.
“White cheddar,” I explained.
“I don’t like it,” he retorted.
“But they give a portion of their proceeds to an NGO called Farm Africa, which helps build sustainable farm practices in Ethiopia,” I said.
“Still don’t like it,” he replied. “It’s got a weird outland taste.”
My son calls aftertaste “outland taste,” which is pretty cool. He is also correct in his assessment. There is a distinct chickpea-ish taste that is somewhat nutty and a little hummus-y, which is understandable since they share a common ancestor. But it is unexpected and a little weird. “If I eat these,” my kids asked, “can I have Cheetos later?” It’s a question that kind of sums up the experience. I told him that if he ate the whole bag he could also have a bag of Cheetos. He ate the contents of the bag, uncomplainingly, popping each poop-shaped morsel into his cherubic mouth-hole until the bag crinkled and complained of existential emptiness. By the time he was done, he had forgotten about Cheetos, for a while.
Kid Food Conclusion: The back of the bag says, “We think ‘tastes good’ and ‘do good’ can be in the same sentence. And we like, totally, love snacks.” It’s a cringe-worthy line, but also a kind of nice sentiment. And that’s pretty much Hippeas summed up. They’re okay tasting and a little annoying but fundamentally good for the world.
Kid Food Rating: Four out of six future Cheetos.