Seven scrumptious salad senbei, one wonderful winner.

“Salad rice crackers” sound like the sort of strict diet someone might go on after a stern warning from their doctor for indulging in too many high-calorie foods. In Japan, though, salad senbei (senbei meaning “rice crackers”) are a much-loved snack food, and a bit of an indulgence in themselves.

In Japanese snack food terminology, “salad” (or sarada, to use its in-Japanese pronunciation) doesn’t refer to a bowl of mixed vegetables, but to vegetable oil. Salad senbei, therefore, are rice crackers made with vegetable oil, setting them apart from more old-school rice crackers made with recipes that predate the introduction of vegetable cooking oil to Japanese cuisine.

That makes salad senbei more flavorful and heavy than other senbei, and also makes them a go-to-snack for our ace reporter Mr. Sato. So great is Mr. Sato’s love of salad senbei that he recently came back from a shopping trip with seven different kinds for a huge comparison taste test.

▼ Top row, left to right: Soft Salad Salt Delicious, Soft Salad Addictive Garlic, Salad Sen, Salad Sen Sesame Oil and Salt
Bottom row: Star Select Salad Senbei, Junmai Senbei, Kameda’s Light Salt Salad

Once all the bag crinkling and cracker crunching was done, here were Mr. Sato’s taste test notes.

● Soft Salad, 139 yen (US$0.95)
Made by Kameda Seika

“When it comes to Salad Senbei, I think I’ve eaten Kameda’s Soft Salad more than any other kind in my life. They’re crisp but airy, with a delicious bonito-extract flavor, and once I have one, it’s really easy to just keep going and scarf down a whole bunch.”

● Soft Salad Addictive Garlic (Yamitsuki Garlic in Japanese), 198 yen
Made by Kameda Seika

“These are exclusive to the Life chain of supermarkets, and are a variation on the regular Soft Salad. They look pretty much exactly the same as the regular ones, and if you mixed them together, I don’t think anyone would be able to tell which is which just by looking. The garlic flavor is super strong! It comes on all in a rush. It’s so powerful that I think instead of calling them “soft” or “salad,” you could just as accurately rename these “Strong Garlic Senbei.”

● Salad Sen, 108 yen
Made by Sanko Seika

“Like I said above, I’ve spent most of my life eating Kameda’s Soft Salad, so this taste test was the first time I’ve ever tried Sanko’s salad senbei. These are lighter and softer than even Soft Salad. The salt is a 20-percent mix of the premium Aka no Amashio brand of salt from Hyogo Prefecture, which tastes really good, even if overall this isn’t as salty as Soft Salad.”

● Salad Sen Sesame Oil and Salt (Salad Sen Gomaabura Kaoru Shioaji), 108 yen
Made by Sanko Seika

“These are also from Sanko, but their diagonal stripes makes them easy to tell apart from the regular Salad Sen. When you pop one in your mouth, you get a gentle sensation of sesame oil, but it doesn’t insist on taking over the show. It’s like a delicate aroma of sesame. It seems like these would be a great snack to pair with beer or other alcoholic beverages.”

● Star Select Salad Senbei, 99 yen
Made by Sanko Seika

“These are made by Sanko for Star Select, a private brand for the supermarket chains Life and Yaoko. They’re an awesome value, since you get 18 rice crackers for less than 100 yen. Compared to Sanko’s Salad Sen, these have a crunchier texture. There’s a rustic feel to them, but in a good way. The salt notes are really strong, so you get a big flavor for a small price.”

● Junmai Senbei Salad, 300 yen
Made by Risshodo

“The expensive dark horse in this taste test. These expensive salad senbei come from Risshodo, a company in Ibaraki Prefecture, who’s been making them for over 50 years. They’re thick and really crunchy, almost like they shatter when you bite into them. It’s a very satisfying feeling, and the lightly salty flavor makes them great for repeated bites. Overall, they have a nice, elegant quality.”

● Light Salt Salad (Usujio Salad), 138 yen
Made by Kameda Seika

“I went back and forth about whether to include these or not, but they’ve got ‘salad’ in the name, so I couldn’t leave them out. They have a different texture from the others, uniquely crispy because they’re the thinnest of the bunch. They’re also the smallest in diameter, so you don’t get as big a punch of favor per senbei. I’d say they’re the kind of snack that’s satisfying if you want to eat a lot of something.”

▼ That’s Kameda’s Light Salt Salad in the center

So when all is said, done, and eaten, which was the best of this bunch? Mr. Sato says it’s Junmai Senbei Salad. They have an overwhelmingly delicious and strong flavor, but avoid having any unpleasantly lingering aftertaste, and the quality and texture of the cracker itself is fantastic too. Really, the only drawback is that they’re also the most expensive salad senbei in the group, but when the most expensive is still just 300 yen, it’s a luxury that Mr. Sato is happy to splurge on.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]