When you hear the word "soy," what's the first thing that comes to your mind? For me it was weird-tasting fat-free milk, flavorless diet shakes–stuff that's just a substitute for things you really want to eat. I never imagined that a Japanese company, let alone a pharmaceutical company, could change my mind so completely!
Otsuka Pharmaceuticals makes a lot of mouth-watering health and sports-related products, many of which just happen to involve soybeans. By far my favorite is SoyCarat, pronounced without the 't,' which according to this article on Otsuka's website, debuted in 2012. But it feels like it's been in my life much, much longer. So, just what do I love about this soy-based wonder?
Well, the playful shape got me right away. My wife, a graphic designer who notices these things, pointed out how each tiny ball of goodness looks exactly like a soybean! Taking one in hand, I heard a cute little rattling sound that made me want to crunch right through to the source! So I gnashed down greedily on the flaky shell, and…
What do you know? Inside the soybean-like shell is a soybean-like bean, snacks imitating life, if you will. But everything, shell, beans and all, is made of soy. Because "Cara" can mean "shell" in Japanese, at first I thought the name meant, "SoyShell," but apparently it's named for an ancient Greek unit used to measure gemstones! Clearly, Otsuka felt they had something pretty special on their hands. I'm inclined to agree. I confess I've gone through a whole bag in the course of writing this! But fear not, ladies and gents: You can go through a bag or two in one sitting if you're game. Because, as each 27 gram pack is made with the equivalent of 50 soybeans, SoyCarat is actually pretty darn healthy! But when I say healthy, what exactly am I talking about? I'm talking about the GI, baby.
To put it simply, foods high on the Glycemic Index, or GI scale, like doughnuts, and even midline foods like pancakes, tend to raise your glucose level (blood sugar) a whole lot. But like bananas, SoyCarat is pretty low on the scale—you can safely eat it without raising much of anything, except your hunger for more! And what's more, it's baked rather than fried. With a maximum of 125 calories depending on the variety of SoyCarat you crave, it seems impossible to go wrong.
Varieties, you say? Why yes, there are four. I prefer the good-ol' Cheese (123 cal), which tastes like a sophisticated version of those good-but-bad fish crackers that most of us had as kids. This is a cheese snack with a light touch and a pleasing crunch. In second place is Olive Oil & Garlic (121 cal), which would be completely at home in a fancy bowl next to a good bottle of wine. There's just a hint of garlic flavor and a dash of oil, which shows up as a magical aftertaste. Last place for me is Nori & Natto (119 cal). So what if it's the lowest-calorie option? I love nori, or pressed seaweed, and eat it all the time with rice. But natto beans–I cannot abide! In all seriousness, though, the Otsuka FAQ advises people with bean allergies not to eat this flavor, so be warned.
There's one flavor that I cannot rate, because I can't find it anywhere! It's the Chili Pepper Flavor (125 cal), described by Otsuka's web-scribes as having a "spicy flavor with a fiery kick." As a kid from New Mexico, you don't know how much I want to try that! Who knows? Maybe one of you will experience the crunchy goodness before me! If you do, tell me your impressions…and give me a map, so I can taste the treasure for myself.