The Best Crackers
Like Polly, people sometimes want a cracker. Sometimes we even need a cracker to serve ourselves or our guests some great dips.
Even people who control their diabetes on a very low carb diet sometimes want a cracker. But almost all the crackers you can find either have too many carbs or taste terrible.
Until recently the only low-carb crackers we could buy were largely made with fiber. Dr. Richard K. Bernstein wrote in the third edition of Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution, published just two years ago, that, "I have found only three brands that are truly low-carb."
They are GG Scandinavian Bran Crisp Bread, Bran-a-Crisp (no longer available here), and Wasa Fiber Rye, available in most supermarkets in the U.S. But he also says -- and I certainly agree -- that, "To me they taste like cardboard."
Now, however, we have much better choices -- crackers that are even lower in carb content, have even healthier ingredients, and at the same time are much better tasting. Instead of using bran, the first ingredient of these crackers is flax seeds.
These flax crackers are considerably lower in net carbs than Wasa Fiber Rye and even lower than GG Scandinavian Bran Crisp Bread. They are also healthier because flax seeds have the best ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 oils of any oil or seed (chia seeds are close). To my taste test they are delicious, and different products are out there for different taste buds.
I found two brands of flax crackers in my local Whole Foods Market one day when I carefully went all around the store. They were stashed away in a raw foods section that I hadn't visited before. Both of these brands are raw food and organic.
It makes sense not to heat up flax, because of its low smoke point, 225 degrees Fahrenheit. No oil has a lower smoke point.
The two brands of flax crackers are Two Moms in the Raw and Matter of Flax. The three different varieties of the Two Moms "sea crackers" have 0 to 5 grams of net carb per ounce. The five different varieties of Matter of Flax crackers have from 2 to 4 grams of net carb per ounce.
Matter of Flax says that you can find its crackers in a long list of stores in 35 states. So far, the Two Moms crackers are available in only five states. However, both brands are available on the Internet.
You can even make your own flax crackers if you happen to have better cooking skills than I have. My friend Barry, the "Low-Carb Vegetarian," tells me how he does it.
You start with either golden or brown organic flax seeds or both, he says. He prefers the golden ones.
Soak the flax seeds over night or longer in the fridge, one part seeds to two parts water. Alternately you can grind the flax seeds into a flour in a food processor or coffee grinder without soaking them. But since flax oil spoils quickly, it's best to grind only enough for what you need and refrigerate or freeze the leftovers so the oil stays as fresh as possible to avoid it going rancid in the short term.
Flax crackers are best baked on a low heat using a food dehydrator, but they can also be made with cookie sheets in the oven or small batches in a toaster oven with pastry parchment paper. Excalibur makes the dehydrator that Barry uses.
"It's one of the best designs to use for crackers," he says, "because they use slide-out trays that circulate the heat evenly across the trays, instead of round trays that draw the heat from the bottom up as most of the other competitors. I also use their Teflon sheets on their plastic mesh trays, so the cracker mix does not fall through."
After soaking the seeds overnight, the seeds and water turn into a gooey gel. Barry pours this into a mixing bowl, adds spices and other ingredients, and then spreads them onto the dehydrator trays. He typically bakes them overnight in the dehydrator on a low heat around 110 degrees Fahrenheit. In the morning he flips the crackers over and removes the Teflon sheets, so the underside also has a chance to dry and bake.
Additional ingredients that he likes to use include chia seeds, raw organic pumpkin seeds, and sesame. For spices he uses salt, pepper, onion and/or garlic powder, curry, or Mexican spices, or sweet versions with stevia power. He mixes them with ground cacao nibs, vanilla, cinnamon, sun dried tomatoes, kelp, dried veggies like peppers and onion flakes, and/or a little nut butter, like almond or peanut, and/or low carb protein powers.
"I prefer using the soaked seeds over grinding the flax seeds, as they make pretty multi-colorful crackers," Barry says. "It's possible to also make crackers with a mixture of soaked seeds and ground seeds or only ground seed flour. When you add water, the gooeyness of the mix makes it ideal to stir in other additions and flavorings without the need to add additional carbs as thickening agents. You can also use soy milk instead of some of the water to add addition protein."
After he spreads the mix onto the trays, he likes to score the sheets with a knife, spatula, or plastic scraper to make cracker shapes that will help them to break apart more easily when they're done.
You can store these healthy crackers in plastic bags. They are great with avocado slices or almond butter on top.
"The only down side that I have found with flax crackers is that the seeds stick between my teeth," Barry says. "So I've learned to keep plenty of toothpicks around."
Maybe I'm just an incurable optimist. But I disagree with Barry on this last point. I don't use toothpicks. One of the advantages of eating flax seeds (or chia seeds) is that I feel the need to floss afterwards. That's another good thing about flax crackers.
Update November 8, 2009:
The flax crackers that I wrote about here just a couple of weeks ago aren't the best crackers any more. I discovered my new favorite just this afternoon while I was shopping at my local Whole Foods Market.
Better tasting and just as health are "Skinny Crisps." They come in several flavors, and the one I bought and have on my desk now as I write are "White Sesame." The ingredients are almonds, chickpea flour, golden flax seeds, psyllium husk, sesame seeds, olive oil, sea salt, and turbinado. Four of these crackers have 4 grams of total carbohydrate of which 2 grams are fiber. They are gluten free, dairy free, soy free, vegan, casein free, baked in a gluten free environment, egg free, and contain no hydogenated oils (trans fats).
Made right in my home town of Boulder, Colorado, I wondered if they would be available only here. But the company's website, http://skinnycrisps.com/ , lists many stores around the country that sell these Skinny Crisps crackers. And you can also buy them directly from the site.