The Endorsement: Toasted Corn

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There's really one true test for a snack food: Can you eat it while drinking beer? For that test, it needs to be salty, it needs to crunch, and it needs to be cheaper than the Schlitz that's in your left hand.

Toasted corn's got all of that. And best of all? It's fairly healthy. I think. But more on that later.

IYou've probably had them by the name of Corn Nuts, but the ones sold in local supermarkets are far less greasy. They taste a bit like Fritos and come just about crusted in salt. They have a slight sweet-corn flavor reminiscent of Sugar Pops. They're cheap: I bought these little toasted corn nuggets at Publix for two bucks. And best of all, they've got a crunch that'll just about make you think you've busted a filling. These are big words in the snack category, but I'd say there's not a crunchier beer food out there.

That crazy crunch, while great for eating by the handful, actually makes them fairly limited in recipes. I tried them in a salad, but there's something a bit disconcerting about biting down occasionally on something that feels like it could bust a tooth. About the best use I've found is sprinkled on top of chili. It's a bit like a Fritos pie -- but crunchier.

Just the other day, however, I tried something new. And damned if it isn't the best snack food I've found in years.

I started by sprinkling a bag of toasted corn with a tablespoon of cinnamon.

Next came about a quarter cup of maple syrup.

You could go with honey here,

which would make them glop together nicely, or molasses, which would

give them a slight bitterness. Corn syrup would be a natural fit, but

for me, too sweet.

Then I spread them out on a slightly oiled baking sheet.

It took about

five minutes at 400 degrees for the outside of the toasted corn to

caramelize. They were damned fine hot, but after they cooled for a few minutes on a

wood cutting board, that caramelized maple syrup created a great candy

crust. The result was salty-sweet and somewhere

between Fritos and kettle corn.

What to do with them from here? Well, I'd fear that nearly excessive

crunch would stop them from being much of, say, and ice cream topping.

But by the handful? Yeah, you should do that.

So, why the question about whether they're healthy? The package

actually makes them sound reasonable: 130 calories, 20 grams of carbs,

and 4 grams of fat for a 1/3-cup serving. Which made me think these bad

boys are truly toasted, as opposed to deep fried.

Just to be sure, I called the manufacturer, Barnard

Nut Co. of Miami. I spoke with Barnard President Jose Menendez. Asked if

they were fried, he said, "I believe so." He said he'd check and report back.

A day later, I got a call from Sheyla Reyes-Chang. She said she was filling in for the Barnard receptionist and was told by Menendez to call me back. "They're not fried; they're run through a conveyor belt and toasted," she said.

So there you go. They're toasted. I think.

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