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Austinite invents chips based on healthful beans

Corn-free snacks could be good for you

Becca Hensley
Beanitos CEO Doug Foreman, who launched a line of baked tortilla chips in 1989, based his new chip on pinto and black beans.

Even in Austin, man does not live by chips alone. But maybe he could if they were Beanitos.

Taking the country by storm, these flash-fried rounds of 100 percent corn-free, legume-loaded goodness were envisioned and invented by Austin homeboy Doug Foreman.

"I needed to lose weight again," he explains, sighing and peeling a Cajun-boiled shrimp at Perla's Seafood and Oyster Bar over lunch one day recently. "I began researching diets and reading books by people like Michael Pollan — and what kept coming up over and over again was a corn-free, low-glycemic diet," he says. When Foreman looked into low-glycemic foods, he found that one of his favorite treats, beans, were luminaries on the list. But could they be made into a snack food? Foreman was determined to try.

No stranger to the health-oriented snack food industry, Foreman launched Guiltless Gourmet Baked Tortilla Chips in 1989 — the last time he says he needed to lose weight. When it became a household name in 1994, he sold the company to Barq's Root Beer. (The brand is now owned by the Manischewitz Co., better known for its kosher foods.)

Since then Foreman has moved out of the limelight, concentrating on raising his three sons. But motivated again by his waistline, Foreman was inspired to get cooking.

He resurrected his home test kitchen, and began experimenting with various beans and myriad recipes. He discovered chana dal (an oft-used Indian split pea) was the bean with the lowest glycemic rating, but settled on pinto and black beans because they were better known to Americans and nearly as low on the low-glycemic list. (Low-glycemic foods, like beans, break down slower than high-glycemic foods, like corn, when we eat them. They enter our bloodstream less quickly, which means less fluctuation in insulin levels and blood glucose. That translates into better heart health, less chance for diabetes and sustained, steady weight loss.)

His attempts at an edible bean chip were numerous — until at last he succeeded with the perfect concoction. What's the worst thing that happened in that home kitchen?

"Burning," he says. "Burning is bad."

But eventually, Foreman and his small team at Bean Brand Foods invented what they consider the perfect bean chip. Crispy, flying-saucer-shaped, they're ideal for dipping with something creamy or chunky, like salsa, guacamole or hummus. Light in texture, they nevertheless have a robust gravitas, a lingering-on-your-palate sort of complexity that makes you want to chew slowly and savor, rather than gobble and swallow in normal snack-food feeding frenzy mode.

Unlike some brands that advertise themselves as a bean snack, Foreman's are chock full of real beans. Others, including Corazon and Adzuki, are composed of primarily of corn, but have bean flavoring or spice. Accordingly, Beanitos boast a super-high fiber content and a bundle of omega-3 fatty acids. With more than two times the protein of a regular chips (4 grams in a serving), Beanitos' ingredients mean that protein is also a complete one, more comparable to the complete proteins found in meats. Full of taste, they are corn-free, wheat-free, soy-free and gluten-free. Two of the flavors, Black Bean, and Pinto Bean and Flax seed are also GMO-free — meaning the ingredients have not been genetically modified — and the others are expected to follow suit in a few months.

After just a year on the market, they can be found nationally in stores from Whole Foods to 7-11. There are even distributors overseas in Australia and Europe. The chips are currently made in California, although Foreman says he hopes to move it to Austin as it grows and as soon as it is economically feasible.

But now to answer the question on everybody's mind — admit it, you want to know: "Will Beanitos give us gas?" "No," says Foreman who explains that researchers at his company have developed a process that eliminates this common post-bean-eating side effect. Still, he warns: "They're fiber-rich, so show some control until you get used to them."