Snack Critic: Regent’s Pumpkin Crackers Puts the Vegetable’s Flavor in the SpotlightAugust 14, 2017
There are a couple of flavors that saturate the local chip market—cheese, barbecue, and sour cream, among others. But step out of your comfort zone and try something different—something earthier, nuttier, more radically orange…. like pumpkin. Yup, pumpkin shines in Regent’s Pumpkin Crackers, a curiosity-inducing find at our neighborhood supermarket that we just had to try.
Here’s the thing: know how pumpkin-themed or flavored treats are viewed (and marketed) in a particular way in the US? They are often associated with Thanksgiving rather than as a standalone thing, hence the many pumpkin-flavored seasonal treats you find around the said time of the year (what is the season without the basic-girl staple Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes?), and more often than not come heavily spiced with the blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and/or cloves that form what we know as pumpkin spice. Here in Asia on the other hand—e.g., in Korea or Japan—pumpkin treats take on slightly different characteristics as far as we’ve observed. They tend to rely less on the said pumpkin-spice spice blend, instead taking on a more minimalist route that showcases the pumpkin’s natural flavor. They don’t necessarily associate the vegetable with Autumn or Christmas, either. All in all, pumpkins in these parts tend to be unapolegetically presented as vegetables—and the same can be said about how today’s snack bag chooses to present their pumpkin treat.
While we’re open-minded enough to know that vegetables—in all their veggie-ness and the flavors that define them—can and should be appreciated in their own right (the author especially loves squash in any form), we can see how a deliberately veggie-themed junk snack can be divisive. Not a lot of people go through their mid-meal breaks or movie marathons thinking, “man, I could really use some veggies!”.
But suspend your judgment. Opening the package, you get curved chips (we’d categorize these more as chips, not “crackers” as they claim) with a slight bubbly, mottled appearance. Each piece comes fairly thin, but with small air bubbles like you’d find in Asian prawn crackers (e.g. Chowking’s ever-reliable Chicharap). The likely culprit? Tapioca starch—a standard in prawn crackers which in this cames comes listed second in the ingredients next to cornstarch. We mean that in the most delicious way possible though; it contributes its signature crunch that announces its presence, but still feels light as it melts away.
Take a sniff and you get a remotely meat-y aroma that brings to mind beef broth, of all things. (This being labelled as being “vegetarian” though, I’ll chalk it up to the MSG.) But keep chomping and something else enters the picture: the sweet, earthy, vegetable-y flavor of pumpkin. It’s subtle, but it’s present and it works beautifully with the beefiness (notwithstanding the fact that you don’t find a lot of dishes in real life that actually combine the two). It might take a few chips for its vegetable-ness to come out, but these are light enough that you can jam a handful in your mouth without any oiliness or over-the-top seasoning to overwhelm your palate. That makes them perfect for casual, mindless munching, which is exactly what you’re going for during lazy afternoons.
All in all, these pumpkin crackers are definitely unique—but don’t let the relative weirdness put you off. How can you go wrong with a snack that fuses sweetness, umami, and maximum chompability? For what they’re worth, they are pretty damn good.