UPDATE: Chickpea chips win first place at national competition

(Edmonton) Hungry for success on a class project, a group of University of Alberta students has taken their recipe for chickpea chips and turned it into a winning snack that crunched its way to first place in a national competition July 12.

Chickitos, a gluten-free chip, took a bite out of provincial competitors this spring and competed against two other Canadian teams at the national Mission ImPULSEible competition in Vancouver.

What started out as a fourth-year food science project for students in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science soon turned into an all-consuming kitchen experiment and a quest for chip perfection.

“We just wanted to get a good grade, and it went from there,” said Eden Berhe, who toiled in the lab kitchen for more than 150 hours with her fellow classmates Kate Alexander, Marshall Bell and Paula Duenas, before they hit on a tasty formulation.

When the group found out about a contest being hosted by the Alberta Pulse Growers, it decided to develop a gluten-free snack food worthy of a competition.

“We thought, ‘why not do something we can enter into a contest?’” said Alexander, who just graduated with a degree in nutrition and food science.

From then on, it was a month’s worth of intense trial and error of about 20 recipes using chickpea flour, potato starch, canola oil and secret spices, with classmates giving taste and texture reviews. Early crash-and-burn efforts had the team ditch its original idea of developing a cracker and turn to creating a chip instead. “The cracker got horrible reviews, so we changed our formula completely. They fell apart too easily and had no crunch, so we did a lot of baking and testing,” said Alexander.

“Most people don’t like the taste of chickpeas. The challenge we took up was to make chickpeas taste good,” added Berhe, who just earned her degree in food science and technology.

The group tweaked its chip recipe after Berhe’s mom tasted it and was stirred by memories of food from her native Eritrea. The formula worked much better and after being spiced up, went to provincial competition last spring, where the smoky-flavored Chickito beat out other student-created goodies like noodles, gnocchi, cookies, perogies and power bars.

They didn’t expect their crunchy creation to win. “There were some really good products,” Alexander said.

Besides being gluten-free, Chickitos are low in sodium and a source of fibre; they’re also higher in protein and lower in calories than the average bag of potato chips.

The Chickitos team knew it had a good product, but was still stunned to win. “I’m pretty sure our mouths all dropped to the ground, and we were happy and surprised. It was awesome,” Alexander said. “It’s amazing to know that we’ve done something right.” With its $2,500 prize, the team now plans to explore its options for marketing Chickitos. “The sky’s the limit—this competition and conference opened our eyes to how big the pulse industry is and how I, for sure, really want to be in this industry, reinvesting in Chickitos—whether we sell it or make a company out of it.”