So far in my 22 years of life, I’ve encountered just two types of people — those who go straight to the candy aisle and those who run for the chip section. Just those two and no others. Sure, there’s a time and place for a sweet and salty snack, à la chocolate-dipped potato chips, bacon doughnuts, or chicken and waffles. In this beautiful, legalized-marijuana world of ours, you can certainly have your cake and your Flamin’ Hot Cheetos too. That said, when you’re realllllllly looking for something satisfying to munch on late at night, when you’re hungover, or, uh, perhaps this April 20, none of us can resist the magnetic pull toward our natural preference for a sugary or savory treat.
Eight times out of 10, I will go for the savory option when given the choice. Nine and a half times out of 10, I will choose a cheddar cheesy snack from the chip aisle. Maybe it was because my mom refused to buy Cheetos when we were kids or because my fourth-grade best friend always had Goldfish in her lunch and refused to share (still bitter), but I’m seriously infatuated by the salty, buttery taste of a good ol’ cheddar cheese snack. Especially when the munchies hit hard.
In honor of Berkeley’s favorite holiday, 4/20, I gathered my seven trusty and supportive roommates to run a taste test of nine of the best cheesy munchies we could get our orange cheese powder-dusted fingers on. You might remember these critical thinkers from the previous taste tests we’ve conducted in our UC Berkeley Food and Flavor Assessment Lab (our living room) this semester. As always, for the purposes of academic scholarship and the privacy of our research participants, the testers will not be referred to by name. As real scientists conducting real scientific research, we measured the different cheesy snacks using a number of scrupulous measures, such “Would you die of dehydration if you ate the entire box/bag in one sitting?” and “Do you think your insides are turning orange from all of the artificial chemicals?” Further, to ensure that the experiment settings were as similar to a hot-boxed Memorial Glade as possible, we might’ve indulged in a little 4/20 pregame. I know, we are very committed to our work. We rated on crunch factor, impact of cheesy flavor, color and overall snacking experience to come up with the following list.
To be sure, this is not the definitive ranking, but merely a definitive ranking. The variety of cheesy snacks in this capitalist world is overwhelming, so we had to be efficient in our measuring. Whether you call it a cracker, a chip, a crunchie or a munchie, puff-puff-pass ‘em over!
8. Pirate’s Booty Aged White Cheddar Snack Puffs
Coming in hot in last place, one tester immediately declared, “This is definitely white, mildly cheesy dust on Styrofoam.” While another pointed out how much this snack reminded her of “hanging out at Jamba Juice freshman year,” she ultimately felt extremely unsatisfied by the dry, light snack. The entire group felt that these would be a pain to eat if you were super high since they make your “mouth feel like the Sahara Desert in August.” Buy them with a Caribbean Passion, skip ’em this 4/20.
7. Goldfish Crackers
Our resident international student said that “this is the most American snack” she had ever seen. The crackers were too salty and not cheesy enough for her to give this snack high marks. While the snack received extra points for creativity, the group felt these were a lackluster snack and already “tasted stale” despite the fact that the bag had just been opened. Thanks for the childhood memories, but we’re over it.
6. Cheez-It crackers
Given the title of “the older, hotter brother of the Goldfish cracker,” the Cheez-It is a snack we all know and love. Our resident artist loved that you could see the sea salt flakes on top of the toasted orange cracker, but upon eating them, she felt that they were way too dry for her emerging cotton mouth. Another tester suggested putting three in her mouth at once, chewing and letting the mashed-up cracker flavor soak into her mouth for a minute. If it wasn’t clear, she was very high. Though the cheese flavor itself was lacking, “the saltiness lingers, making them so insanely addictive.” A different tester concurred, explaining that she “never thinks (she) wants more but always does.” Overall, the sample population preferred the white cheddar variety and suggested that these might be better to ration out for a college student “meal prep” rather than eating all at once.
5. Barbara’s Cheese Puffs Original
While everyone thought these would be a crowd favorite, mixing blue cheese and sharp cheddar into an elevated Cheeto was a concept most testers couldn’t get on board with. One tester declared that she HATED them and that they tasted like “bowling alley pizza.” Why she knew that is beyond our hazy understanding. Another participant explained that these tasted like the lovechild of a Pirate’s Booty and a Cheeto. Referred to as Cheeto-lite, these puffs were given points for originality and class, but ultimately, the group did not love the flavor enough to declare these the most munchable munchie out there. That said, I caught one roommate mindlessly eating these later on in the evening. She declared: “I’m not even hungry. I don’t even love these, but I just can’t stop.” Extra points given for addictive quality.
4. Trader Giotto’s Oven-Baked Cheese Bites
The Trader Joe’s Cheese Bites, which are made of 100 percent cheese, were the most controversial snack of all. While half of the group loved the “natural oiliness” and “stank” that reminded them of the “crisp top of an asiago bagel,” the other half could not handle the “overwhelming flavor.” The entire group, however, agreed that while the flavor and crunch would be fun if you were super baked, they felt too fancy and too cheesy to be able to eat an entire bag comfortably. Our lactose-intolerant and gluten-free participant explained that she “would not feel good if she ate the whole thing” and would be, for lack of a better word, “farting all day long.” Not something you want out of a snack. Though we don’t recommend these for Memorial Glade this afternoon, be sure to try these out on a salad, on a charcuterie board or, as our resident stoner suggested, “in a sandwich for an insane cheese explosion of a bite.”
3. Cheetos Crunchy Cheese Flavored Snacks
The classic. After one bite, one tester proclaimed that “this was the cheesy taste (she’d) been waiting for. They were “better than (she) remembered” and “holy shit good.” Another tester explained that they really hit you in the face with flavor, despite the “fake, chemically smell.” Our resident tree-hugger appreciated the organic shape of the snack, “almost like a twig!” Overall, the testers felt that the Cheeto is like Kraft mac and cheese; it’s a classic, but it isn’t always what you want — when you’re sober, anyway.
2. Smartfood White Cheddar Cheese Popcorn
Upon opening the bag of popcorn (we were only able to find the enormous party-size bag on our shopping trip), the entire group huddled around. One very observant taste tester commented on how amazing the popcorn smelled. Immediately after eating, she said the flavor was even better. The testers agreed that they “could eat more of this sh-t than anything else” and would “really get into these if (they) were also super high.” The popcorn was declared to be the better version of Pirate’s Booty; the cheese dust tasted “honestly about the same,” but “the underlying popcorn is far superior to the underlying cardboard” of competing snacks. With a “refined cheese taste,” a sharpness and no cheese dust residue on the testers’ fingertips, this snack was extremely popular. In fact, after the official experiment ended, a friend came over and consumed almost the entire bag without realizing it. Insanely munchable and insanely delicious.
1. Trader Joe’s Baked Cheese Crunchies
The sample population exhibited sincere excitement over these chips before the bag was even opened. Declared to be the answer to everything wrong with the Cheeto, all the participants loved how crunchy, cheesy and (relatively) light these felt. One participant explained that unlike the Cheeto, which feels like it is just coated with cheesy dust, this one “feels like there is cheese through and through.” A “no-brainer winner” according to a different taster, the entire sample population thoroughly enjoyed the “little cheesy nibbles” in addition to the bigger corn puffs. Further, unlike some of its peers, this snack, while far from “healthy,” did not feel as greasy or deep-fried. As they are “better than anything I have ever put into my mouth,” Trader Joe’s Crunchies take the win in this competition.