By Greg B. A few weeks (months?) ago I was shopping in Wegmans when my girlfriend and I came across a table, promoting some new ‘raw’ food that Wegmans was selling. We sampled several Brad’s Raw Chips‘ dehydrated kale which were quite good and after chatting with the people at the stand, left my contact information. Not a few weeks later, I was graciously offered the opportunity to review some of their foods, and a rather large package arrived, complete with several varieties of the kale as well as their chips. This is the tale of their review.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include a paragraph here about the Raw Food diet. So, my personal opinion about this diet, as a scientist, is of a basically similar view as those crazy new wave religions, like scientology. People will believe anything, and that is exceptionally unfortunate. Don’t get me wrong, I do recognize the need for a portion of ‘raw’ food in one’s diet (indeed, most of my meat is quickly pan seared and cold and red in the middle, while I love to eat my fish raw as well). Eating salads, fruits and nuts is a great way to accomplish this. Why is ‘raw’ food important? There are certain vitamins that do not fair so well under the heat of cooking (such at Vitamins D, E, K, B-12 and niacin). If you want to increase these in your diet, eating some raw vegetables is a great way to do so. However, I do want to point out a very ridiculous claim made by many raw food products/individuals, that heating food to less than 115 degrees will preserve not just vitamins, but enzymes, and that this will aid in digestion and absorption of nutrients from food. Yes, it’s true that some raw foods have natural amylases (the stuff secreted in your saliva, that turns a starchy cracker into a sweet pile of glucose), though your mouth secretes plenty of this enzyme, and by and large, it only functions in your mouth and esophagus. Why only here? Well, with a pH of 1.5-3, your stomach has an average pH that is far lower than that of your saliva, (around 6.8pH) which functions as a buffer for this enzyme, which will render this enzyme useless Why is this also important? Well, some foods also have lipases, which raw food-ists like to mention will help in digesting fats. And that’s true, except lipases also function exceptionally poorly in a pH of 4, and continue to work less well below that. Of course in the stomach, with a pH of 1.5-3 and a ton of pepsin, an enzyme that breaks down proteins (enzymes are proteins, so all those enzymes you eat that work well at relatively neutral pH, stop functioning and get chopped up and degraded while in the stomach, which is a step before your intestine really starts to absorb anything from food.) is practically useless.
I apologize for the lengthy paragraph, but I just have to point this stuff out. When people don’t know enough science (and with the current state of the US educational system….yeah), they can be easily misled by statements that sound scientific. And shame on many people for exploiting this fact. What’s the real truth? Eat some raw foods to get dietary fiber and more vitamins in your diet. Grow them yourself or eat some local foods. Do enzymes from foods matter? Hardly. This is not to dismiss any benefits that eating some raw foods might and do have, but this is really mostly me ranting about a tangentially related topic that pops up quite often regarding raw foods.
Now, back to the review! I received several packages of raw food, three boxes of their delicious leafy kale and four varieties of their raw chips (my personal favorite).
Brad’s Raw Leafy Kale
Vampire Killer: Kale with garlic & Vegan Cheese -2.5oz of very tasty dehydrated kale, covered in a mixture of vegan cheese, garlic and nuts. I didn’t get much of the garlic from this, though it was a noticeable by aroma and less by flavor.
Nasty Hot! Kale with jalapeno & Vegan Cheese – 2.5oz of tasty dehydrated kale with jalapeno and vegan cheese (also with nuts). This was my personal favorite, as it actually had a good amount of heat to it and really woke up the palate a bit.
Naked: Plain (Vegan cheese) -Tasty, the basic version of the above mentioned two varieties.
All of these packages contain a ton of vitamins, on account of them being cooked below 115F. 139% vitamin A, 129% Vitamin C, for example. But these suffer from a few major flaws. First, quantity. If you’re looking for a healthy snack, 1oz of this kale is just not going to cut it. I’m a fairly active individual, and I know that even the full quantity in the box, 2.5oz of kale is probably not going to be a great snack in terms of filling me up. Especially for the cost that Wegmans was selling it at (Wegmans had these on the shelf for $7.99 if I remember correctly, and I see here that they likely buy this product at $4.87 a box… Wegmans, that’s a 60% markup. That is not cool). My second point has more to do with how to eat this product… the kale is very fragile and quickly crumbles under even the most delicate touch. After searching out maybe 1oz of good, solid whole leaf kale, you’re left with a ton of crumbly bits and almost a kale powder. Don’t get me wrong, it’s damn tasty, but unless you want to eat it with a spoon or dump the plastic container into your mouth, you won’t easily have access to this. My other main criticism is that most of the weight comes from the cashews. Just crunching the numbers here on the nutritional value, 1 serving of kale contains 14% daily total fat, and 6% saturated fat. So, one box of this contains 35% of your daily recommended fat, and 15% of your daily recommended saturated fat…. that’s a lot. Especially for a raw food product that prides itself on having lower trans and saturated fats than cooked foods. Yes, it might be lower, but in terms of fat: calorie, this kale might not be your healthiest friend.
On a second, and slightly more annoyed note, all over the packaging are the labels for ‘local’. Yes, the vast majority of their ingredients are local and no doubt can be grown locally up in PA (carrots, scallions, peppers, tomatoes, etc). As a supporter of local foods, I think this is great. However, It kind of irritates me that they use Himalayan sea salt for their salt source. I mean, just looking at a globe or map, you can easily see that the Himalayan mountains are about as close to being the opposite side of the northern hemisphere as you can get. Really. Take a map and fold it, finding the opposite northern hemisphere side. Or a globe. That’s not local, unless your definition of local is within our solar system. I know that NY finger lake’s region has salt mines, and they’re only 5 hours by car, not 30hrs by plane. PA must have salt mines somewhere as well. It’s a slight annoyance, and yes, the salt is not among any of the main ingredients (in fact, it’s the last ingredient on almost every item) but it’s more of a slight annoyance to me.
Brad’s Raw Chips
There are a lot of varieties here, and I only sampled four of them. But I can make a good estimate that these will sell a lot better than the leafy kale will.
Red Bell Pepper: (8 o’clock in the image) Tasty, sweet and slightly reddish in color. Each chip honestly tastes like you just crunched into a slice of a fresh bell pepper (obviously without all the liquid). This was my personal all around favorite of the chips.
Kale:(2 o’clock) Green in color, tasty at first but a bit too bitter at the finish for my personal liking. I enjoyed these in a smaller quantity than the red bell pepper chips.
Indian: (11 o’clock) Personally, I’m not a big fan of the typical Indian curry, though I felt these chips were ok in terms of texture. Everyone who I let sample them who also enjoyed curry, however, loved them.
Sweet Potato: (4 o’clock) My second favorite chip. At first I thought they had limited flavor, but the more I ate and the more chip residue was left in my mouth for my salivary amylase to break down, the more the sweet potato character really came out.
I personally felt that these chips are the star of the Brad’s Raw chip’s company. All of these chips contain plenty of dietary fiber and from a glance at the nutrition sheets, a ton of vitamin A (lowest was 100% per serving.). The other flavors not sampled included hot red bell pepper (sounds great!) hot kale, beet (I gotta try this one), sun dried tomatoes and cheddar (not sure how they make vegan cheddar…). These chips are also a bit healthier for you than the kale, as a serving size is 14 chips, and that seems to be more than enough for a snack. They’re filling, tasty and good for you and quite possibly may actually live up to their slogan of ‘We make the world’s healthiest chip’. My only problem is, like above, they make a big push to be ‘local’, yet use Himalayan sea salt, but you can read about that above. Otherwise these chips definitely get my stamp of approval and are a welcome guest in my house. They hold up well in the bag (very few, if any, broke down into pieces that are too small to easily grab and eat). I did not sample these with any sort of dip, though I imagine some fresh salsa might go really nicely with the red pepper one.
So overall, I give the chips a big thumbs up, and the kale a big thumbs down. The chips are sturdy, tasty, nutritionally sound and versatile. Plus they come in a wide variety of flavors, each of which sounds pretty darn tasty. The kale could use a bit of work, it’s tasty, but I just don’t see the market being there for that product due to it’s low durability and low calorie:cost. As I mentioned above, you can easily find these chips at your local Wegman’s but you can also find them at Whole Foods (it makes me wonder what the cost difference is, if there is one)