Water Lily Seeds Are the Ayurvedic Popcorn Alternative Taking Over the Snacks Aisle

Photo: Getty Images/Arundhati Sathe

Protein bars are the secret weapon for on-the-go healthy eaters, but anyone who eats them regularly knows that protein bar fatigue is real. That's why you should explore the chip aisle next time you're at the grocery store. (Yes, seriously.) It's where you'll find your next surprising protein fix: popped water lily seeds.

A traditional snack in India, water lily seeds are the pea-sized kernels that are collected when water lilies shed their seeds once a year. When popped like popcorn, they just happen to be a satisfying, nutrient-rich, crunchy snack.

Even though water lily seeds have long been a mainstay in India, it's only in the past two years that they've become more widely available in the U.S. in the form of healthy popcorn-esque snacks. Nadine Habayeb, the co-founder of Bohana Life says she thinks the trend is hitting in the U.S. now for a few reasons. "With the rise of a few trends such as grain-, corn-, and gluten-free, Americans' favorite snack, popcorn, is not feeling the love it once used to," she says.

Habayeb adds that more people in the States are learning about Ayurveda and open to trying more Eastern practices and foods—thus making them more open to trying foods like water lily seeds. "Water lily seeds are one of the most prescribed seeds in Ayurveda because of their nutrient profile, making them beneficial for all body types," she says. They're also tridosic, she says, meaning that they can balance and benefit all three doshas.

Water lily seeds: a nutrient-dense popcorn alternative

This is one snacking trend that gets registered dietitian Vandana Sheth, RD's seal of approval. "I have fond childhood memories of enjoying water lily seeds—called makhana—as a snack in India," she says. "It's fun to see it becoming popular in the U.S." One of the major nutritional benefits of water lily seeds, she says, is their protein content. A one-ounce serving size has about three to four grams of protein, depending on the brand. That's comparable to an ounce of air-popped popcorn, which has three grams of protein.

Sheth also says the little popped kernels are a good source of magnesium (hello, new pre-bedtime snack) as well as potassium, an electrolyte that counterbalances sodium, boosts cardiovascular health, and helps the body digest carbs. The high magnesium content is why AshaPops co-founder Asha Farswani became so passionate about the snack. "In the summer of 2017, I started having trouble sleeping and my doctor prescribed me magnesium pills," she says. She wanted to try getting magnesium from food first, so she decided to eat more popped water lily seeds instead.

It's also technically grain-free, making it a good alternative snack for people who are gluten-free or Paleo but still want the satisfying salty crunch of chips or popcorn.

For more delicious, energizing snack ideas that will give you energy, check out this video:

Meet the brands behind the trend

Habayeb, the Bohana Life co-founder, says she first encountered water lily seeds about two years ago after her friend (and now co-founder) Priyal Bhartiya returned from visiting family in India. "She grew up eating [water lily seeds] and completely forgot about the snack as an adult," Habayeb says. "Knowing how much I liked popcorn, she brought them back for me as a snack and not only did I love them, but I liked that I didn't have to worry about the kernels getting stuck in my teeth!" The friends launched their brand shortly after and their popped water lily seeds come in three flavors: Himalayan pink sea salt, white cheddar, and soulful spice (which has red pepper, chili pepper, paprika, and garlic).

AshaPops, which launched this year, has both savory and sweet flavors, including dark chocolate-covered popped water lily seeds. "Our flavors were originally created by Asha in her home kitchen to satisfy her own snack cravings," her son and co-founder Jai Farswani says. "She loved alternating between [a spicy blend] and the dark chocolate." (Insider taste tip: mix them together!) Farswani says they also wanted to season one with turmeric for both the taste and the anti-inflammatory benefits.

Lotus Pops and Taali are two other recent popped water lily seed brands (Taali launched in 2018 and Lotus Pops in 2016). "I am an avid snacker. It usually used to be something fried and unhealthy because what I used to crave was the crunch and savoriness," Lotus Pops co-founder Sruti Jilla says. "On one of my trips to India, I ate [water lily seeds] and just fell in love with them. I could not stop eating them," Jilla says. "They had the perfect crunch, like cheese puffs, but healthier."

Taali co-founder Aarti Kochhar Kaji grew up eating popped water lily seeds and decided to launch her brand after living in the States and seeing that most of the snacks here weren't as healthy as her childhood fave. "Water lily seeds were something always available to me [growing up], so I wanted to share that wi the world," she says. Kaji decided to name her company Taali because it means "high five" in Hindi. "We want our snacks to be a celebration of finding a snack that is healthy and tastes amazing, something that you can share and is worthy of a high five," she says.

Five years ago, there weren't any popped water lily seed brands at all in the U.S., but as you can see, that's definitely changed. And your snack stash is about to get a lot healthier because of it.

Other food trends invading the grocery store: collagen-infused everything and blended meat.

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