OM NOM NOM The nutritious snack was created by Eden Berhe (left), Kate Alexander (right), and Paula Duenas and Marshall Bell (not pictured).
School projects don't often pave the way for future careers, but that's the case for four University of Alberta food science students who recently created Chickitos — a hot new chickpea snack — for a product development class.
After multiple attempts and failures, Kate Alexander, Eden Berhe, Paula Duenas, and Marshall Bell successfully developed a smoked chili-pepper-flavoured chip made predominately of chickpeas. While its satisfying crunch makes it similar to a regular chip, it's quite different due to high protein, low sodium, and double the amount of fibre.
"Smoked chili pepper is a bold taste, but it's not spicy because we want it to reach out to all markets," Berhe said. She also mentioned that if it was too spicy the chickpea taste wouldn't be as strong, which defeats the purpose of "Mission Im-pulse-able," a competition sponsored by Pulse Canada that challenges undergraduate students to develop a food product made mostly of edible seeds from the pod-bearing family of plants.
Since Alexander has celiac disease, Chickitos are gluten-free and more marketable to people with allergies who might otherwise have difficulty finding alternatives to salty snacks. Although gluten is a common binding element that gives elasticity and smooth consistency to foods, relentless experimenting done on campus led the team of students to find potato starch as a suitable substitute. In addition to the natural starch found in chickpeas, this key ingredient allows the chip to be both crumble-free and celiac-friendly.
Although the product started as a cracker that wasn't accepted among tasting panels due to a chunky texture and unpopular flavours such as lemon pepper and dill, it eventually became a success as a fried chip with a mix of secret spices.
"The first [cracker] was a train wreck, but for the second one everyone loved it," Alexander said. Chickitos thrived among family and friends as well, forcing Alexander to hide sample bags they keep at home because "they seem[ed] to disappear really fast."
After winning the top prize of $2,500 at a Western-Canadian competition in Vancouver earlier this month, getting Chickitos on the shelves and devising a patent is their next move.
"It's in the works, but it's so expensive," Alexander said. At $35,000 per country, the next step towards mass-producing and selling their product isn't going to be easy.
But that's not to say the hard work won't be worth it. Berhe and Alexander both majored in food science, and the experimentation and competitions have helped them gain experience in the industry and brought them closer to the market.
"I would have gone into food technology after graduation anyways, so this is a step in the very right direction," Berhe said.
In addition to the 300 sample bags made in a government-run product development plant in Leduc, recent media coverage has helped them and their product get exposure.
"It's a bit overwhelming. I honestly didn't expect this many people to be interested," Behre said.