Wendyl Wants to Know: As good as they're cracked up to be?
Rice crackers have always been the safe option for parents. They are a popular snack food for kids and, for those with gluten intolerance, a good replacement for wheat crackers.
They are also highly flavoured, crunchy and it takes about 14 crackers to get 100 calories, which is great for people watching their weight.
In recent weeks an advertising campaign for Vita-Weat rice crackers has highlighted the use of additives such as MSG in other rice cracker products and promoted their own rice crackers as 100 per cent natural. Which they are, and they use brown rice, but most importantly they do not appear to be able to claim they are gluten free, which is a big driver for consumers who eat rice crackers.
They are also made in Indonesia, a detail I only found written in French and in very small type on the packet, which would seem unnecessarily cryptic for someone simply trying to find out where food comes from.
Sakata rice crackers are made in Australia and can manage a "no artificial colours" claim, but let's see how they compare.
(I could not find a chicken-flavoured Vita-Weat product so I compared with BBQ instead.)
Sakata Chicken Rice Crackers
Chicken $2.75 - 100g
Rice (93 per cent)
This is great news as rice is very good for you and for those wanting to keep away from gluten this is a good eating choice. But I have to presume its white rice which isn't as nutritionally good for you as brown rice.
This could be any oil, and possibly palm oil.
Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein (soy)
This is protein made for soy beans used as a filler in commercially produced foods.
This is corn sugar.
Vegetable Powders (onion, garlic)
These will be onion and garlic dehydrated and then ground up into a powder to sprinkle on the cracker.
Spices (paprika, turmeric, pepper)
Very nice to have a label which tells us exactly what spices are in the product.
Flavour Enhancers (621,635)
These are the bad boys which have been highlighted in the marketing campaign for Vita Weat's rice crackers. And rightly so in my opinion.
The 621 stands for mono-sodium glutamate or MSG which is avoided by healthy eaters. This substance has had a troubled past and is used commonly in takeaway food. There is anecdotal evidence it can cause asthma in some people and the New Zealand Government requires it to be labelled, even behind a code of three numbers. But despite many people reporting symptoms such as mood changes, nausea, migraine and abdominal discomfort there are no scientific studies to prove these reactions.
635 stands for Disodium 5'-ribonucleotides which healthy eaters also avoid because it has been linked with skin rashes (ranging from mild to severe) up to 30 hours after ingestion. It is recommended that no food containing this additive should be consumed by gout or asthma sufferers or given to babies under 12 weeks of age.
Having said that both of these additives are permitted by our Food Standards Authority but they do acknowledge that "a small percentage of the population may experience a mild hypersensitivity-type reaction to large amounts of MSG when consumed in a single meal".
That's enough for me to want to avoid it in my food.
Herbs (thyme, sage, parsley)
Nice to know exactly what herbs are in here.
No information as to what flavourings are used. What we are interested in as consumers is whether the flavours are naturally derived, or made out of chemical formulations which have no relation to real food.
Vita-Weat Rice Crackers
BBQ $2.85 - 90g
No idea how much of it is in the products as we are told in Sakata, but brown rice is better for us as the brown bran layer of the rice grain removed in the manufacture of white rice contains vitamins and minerals.
As with the Sakata crackers, could be anything and possibly palm oil.
Cornflour (from maize)
This is cornflour which you use in cooking as a thickener.
No description here of what spices are used as we get with Sakata.
I presume this is dehydrated as in the Sakata product.
These will be dehydrated and powdered.
An interesting ingredient possibly in here for an acidic taste but vinegar is also a great preservative which is why it is used in pickle recipes.
This will be similar to Marmite and in here for flavouring and this is where the wheat content comes from.
Nice that we are told it is natural, but what kind of natural flavouring would be a great help to inquisitive people like me.
On the ingredients count they both come in about equal at 13. I didn't count each herb or spice in the Sakata product as Vita-Weat didn't declare the number they used. For people with coeliac disease or wheat intolerance you will need to stay with the Sakata product. But for those seeking fewer additives and more real food, the Vita-Weat one will satisfy this need. Although on a taste test the Vita-Weat rice cracker had a gritty mouth feel compared to the smoothness of the Sakata and tasted a lot saltier. As a real food alternative you can make your own rice crackers so you know exactly what is in them; there are many recipes online. But, if wheat isn't a problem, try cutting pita bread into triangles and toasting in a 180C oven to make your own crackers.
- While Vita-Weat rice crackers are indeed 100 per cent natural, they are not gluten free.
- Sakata rice crackers have MSG, which is widely avoided by healthy eaters.
- Sakata rice crackers are made in Australia, Vita Weat in Indonesia - or Indonesie as it says in French on the packet.