In a recent and very scientific study (aka about 60 of you commenting on my Facebook page last week), I determined the following guilty pleasure snack food preferences.

13 chips or crackers (potato chips win, but cheez-its and doritos are popular)
9 chips and dip (mostly salsa, some queso or guacamole)
10 cookies
8 fruity candy (gummies very popular)
5 chocolate candy
5 popcorn
5 cheese
4 general sweets (ice cream, etc.)
4 olives/pickles/sardines
Assorted other one-offs included mac ‘n cheese, soda, and fries

What makes something a guilty pleasure? It almost has to be unhealthy (though a couple of you did mention a fruit or vegetable or hummus—overachievers). If not, it just isn’t really guilty, right? Like, I don’t feel bad about the fact that I can eat a whole head of broccoli in one sitting. Based on the (as mentioned very scientific) research, I think texture also plays a role here. The thing has to be satisfying to chomp on. Like, if you’re going to pig out, you might as well work for it. Chips and popcorn made a strong showing, and even the more popular cookies (Oreos) or candies (gummy anything) have a particular texture. But how, then, to account for the no-texture of cheese? Maybe the final descriptor could be “strong or rich flavor,” which would make room for cheese and the briny items (olives, pickles, salt and vinegar chips), too.

I was inspired toward this research question by my most recent binge watching experience. I am not really an excessive watcher of anything and generally can’t sit through more than three episodes of anything, but I devoured this bite-sized YouTube show (who am I, Gen Z??) in about four days. It’s called Gourmet Makes and it stars Claire, the pastry chef in the Gourmet (used to be a magazine, how is a site called Epicurious) test kitchen, who attempts to recreate all your favorite guilty pleasure snacks.

Claire makes Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and they honestly look better than the original, but Trader Joe’s already won this battle with their dark chocolate version. Sorry Claire.

Claire makes Cheez-Its complete with the little hash marks on the side and I squeal about the tiny, pronged tool she uses. Girl is dedicated to her craft.

Claire makes Lucky Charms and it turns out cereal is extremely hard to make at home, which is maybe why General Mills can charge us $4 for a twelve-ounce box of air and sugar.

Claire makes Gushers and the dream of the 90s is alive in the Gourmet test kitchen. (P.S. was anyone else kind of scared of this commercial?)

I’d like to say that I’ve learned something valuable from this show, that the hours I’ve spent watching Claire use a KitchenAid pasta extruder attachment to make homemade Twizzlers were worth it. But I think I’ve got to chalk this one up to pure entertainment. Almost none of these recipes are reproducible by anyone who doesn’t own a dehydrator, and very few seem like they are better than the original (if over-processed) versions.

When it comes to comfort food and guilty pleasures, I don’t think many of us are reading the ingredient list (Claire’s favorite part of each episode). No, corn syrup and processed cheese and red lake 40 aren’t healthy. We’re not asking them to be. All we’re asking is for the queso (Tostitos medium, pictured above) to heat up to a dangerously bubbling temperature in less than thirty seconds. (My guilty pleasure, if you must know.)

So I guess… if you are what you eat, just don’t read the ingredients.

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