For a lot of American kids of the ’80s and ’90s, rice truffles — stacked in a column and stored in lengthy plastic baggage — have been an omnipresent function of house kitchens, preschools, and afterschool applications. I can’t bear in mind the primary time I held one, however I can also’t bear in mind a time earlier than I did. Palm-sized disks, they’re the identical weight as styrofoam with a scant sprinkle of taste crystals, salt or possibly cinnamon, dusting the highest and coating the crevices between every grain of puffy rice. Irrespective of the flavour, they lack marshmallow stickiness and cloying sweetness of Rice Krispies treats, in addition to the bake-sale attraction. There was no proper solution to chew right into a rice cake and positively no good solution to include the stream of crumbs that rained down from the corners of my mouth.
There was, nonetheless, that nice, satisfying crunch, like taking a piece out of a wonderfully crisp apple, and that miniscule little bit of toasted, generally candy, generally salty, taste combined in with a slurry of desiccated rice matter. It was fascinating sufficient to take down the entire cake, and possibly even dip into the tube bag for an additional, and one other. In spite of everything, I used to be a hungry child, and a type of suckers wasn’t going to fulfill my bottomless pit of an adolescent abdomen.
It’s that feeling of being simply on the border of satisfaction that made rice truffles such a staple in American households like mine through the late ’80s and ’90s. Throughout that time frame, many youngsters like me grew to become effectively acquainted with weight loss plan fads and meals, to the extent that we generally didn’t even understand we have been snacking on them. All of the adults round me appeared to be perpetually attempting to lose a number of kilos by happening the Atkins Eating regimen or re-enrolling in Weight Watchers. George Foreman Grills whisked away fats and taste from meat and chocolate cake-flavored Snackwell’s cookies and Slim Quick shake crammed pantries. Rice truffles, for some time, have been frequent in my family and one thing I turned to on the common for a straightforward afterschool snack whereas ready for my mother and father to get off work. I may polish off half a package deal in a single sitting, utterly defying any alleged dietary profit.
Loads of cultures have their very own model of rice truffles, however we will partially thank a botanist named Alexander Pierce Anderson for laying the groundwork for the American rice cake as we all know it. Anderson was working on the New York Botanical Backyard in 1901 learning the water content material of nuclei in starch crystals when, because the story goes, he “found” steam-puffed rice. Anderson marketed the product to Midwestern buyers who purchased into the thought, however finally offered their shares to Quaker, a Midwestern firm higher identified for its oats. He’d caught the corporate’s eye by demonstrating his rice “cannon” through the 1904 St. Louis World’s Truthful. Anderson crammed a cylinder with raw rice grains and sealed it off, heating the container whereas rotating it and rising the inside stress. When the time was proper, he used a sledgehammer to take away the top of the cylinder, sending puffed rice taking pictures out like a cannon. Anderson and his crew supplied baggage of the puffed rice to the gang for a nickel a bag; they offered 20,000 kilos of puffed rice, according to the Minnesota Historical Society archive. Quaker used Anderson’s methods to make a variety of cereals and marketed it as “Meals Shot From Weapons.”
The rice truffles in my childhood pantry got here from Quaker, however on the time there have been a number of completely different firms competing in what the Chicago Tribune referred to as a “rice cake revolution” in 1986. They included manufacturers like Lundberg Household Farms, Hain, and Chico-San. The latter was a macrobiotics firm established in 1961 that obtained its begin importing merchandise like soy sauce from Japan and that finally developed brown rice truffles within the 1970s — the prototype for the bigger snack development. Chico-San’s ads proposed trading bread for rice truffles and utilizing the low-calorie rice saucers as a floor to support jelly, cottage cheese, fruit, and other toppings. By 1984, Heinz swooped in to scoop up Chico-San’s market share. One rice cake lover advised to the Chicago Tribune that rice truffles topped with beans have been higher than tacos, an announcement that implies that particular person had by no means had a good taco.
Equally, representatives from Quaker inform Eater that rice truffles have been first launched as “a low-carb different to bread” within the mid-’80s. The commercials additionally appeared to focus on girls and dealing moms with fat-free snacks to be eaten at work, on the go, and while “kickin’ back.” Print commercials for Quaker Rice Muffins from that interval present skinny, grinning fashions mendacity on their flat leotard-covered stomachs to emphasise the lightness of rice truffles. The message was clear: Eat this and seem like these girls. In 1992, the rice cake and popcorn cake market was valued at $174 million and rising. The next 12 months, Quaker had purchased out Chico-San from Heinz, solidifying the model’s dominance as main purveyor of rice truffles with 63 p.c of the U.S. rice and popcorn market, according to the Associated Press.
As for the precise well being advantages of rice truffles, like so many different meals marketed as “higher for you,” they’re actually simply that — advertising. Rice truffles, whereas low in fats, are additionally low in most other nutrients and may have less fiber than similar snacking options like crackers. The refined sugars in rice truffles are additionally digested quickly in your body, doubtlessly leaving you hungry sooner. However none of that actually issues if sufficient individuals purchase into the fad.
However its recognition did wane. Because the low-carb trends declined within the mid-aughts, so too did client appetites for blandly seasoned grain truffles. Even so, manufacturers trafficking in rice truffles didn’t completely die out. Quaker stories that it nonetheless produces 500 million rice truffles yearly, and a consultant from Lundberg tells Eater that the corporate produced 15 million baggage of rice truffles (13 truffles per bag) final 12 months. Talking typically, the preferred flavors from each manufacturers are evenly salted, adopted by choices like caramel at Quaker and Lundberg’s cinnamon toast.
Rice truffles have even seen a resurgence of their fortunes in recent times due partly to a surging curiosity in gluten-free meals. Entire Meals, for instance, has a piece of its cracker aisle dedicated to natural puffed rice and popcorn snacks for the gluten-averse or -intolerant. Whereas barely spiffier, the promoting angle doesn’t appear to have modified a lot both. Firms like Rice Up nonetheless promote rice truffles as a whole-grain option for weight control. Lundberg stories that previously 12 months the corporate’s rice cake gross sales have elevated by 14 p.c. And, true to its weight loss plan snack roots, Lundberg rice truffles are likely to promote finest in January — proper across the time persons are engaged on their New Yr’s resolutions by renewing their fitness center memberships and cutting back on the sauce.
Rice truffles aren’t going away. They’re merely altering with the occasions. Following the All the pieces however the Bagel seasoning development sparked by Dealer Joe’s, Quaker launched “all the things”-flavored rice truffles in 2020. Lundberg additionally touted current improvements just like the chocolate-covered Chocolate Skinny Snackers and Natural Rice Cake Minis, a bite-sized model of the unique product geared towards adults and children crunching on the go.
Lately, I situated some rice truffles within the aisles of my very own grocery retailer to indulge the unusual nostalgia that I had for a meals that’s generally in comparison with dry cardboard. It was precisely as I remembered: a circle of ethereal rice grains smashed collectively right into a remarkably agency plate. It felt like constructing materials, however the sort that might disintegrate after a heavy rain. With every chew, my ears rang with that satisfying crunch and my mouth grew drier. All of the downsides of popcorn however not one of the good butter grease. And but I maintain consuming them — and that’s the great thing about a profitable snack, proper? Consuming it doesn’t essentially carry contentment. It’s in regards to the expertise of the feel and the chase after just a bit extra of that wisp of taste.