Gray, Amelia. “World’s Healthiest Junk Foods”. 2021.
The World’s Most Crave-able Treats
Vegan Black Pudding (Ireland/UK)
Traditionally, the Irish and British black pudding is prepared by mixing pig’s, sheep’s, or cow’s blood with oatmeal, with the proportion of oatmeal being much higher than seen in the black pudding from other countries. While it is considered a core part of a Full English and Full Irish breakfast, that doesn’t mean it cannot be made vegan! Serve with tomatoes, mushrooms, fried bread, baked beans, and fried eggs if vegetarian for a 3/4 Full Breakfast.
Vegetarian Poutine (Canada)
With just three main ingredients of French fries, cheese curds and gravy, Poutine is certifiably NOT one of the healthiest junk foods. It arguably originated from the mid 20th century in the Quebecian region of Canada. While normally associated with unhealthy dining, this reimagining uses creamy, vegetarian gravy, and sweet potato strips that are baked instead of fried.
Australians swear by Lamingtons: a delicate, sweet masterpiece made by coating raspberry cake with chocolate ganache and a liberal dusting of coconut flakes. They even have a holiday—National Lamington Day—that miraculously coincides with the US’s National Junk Food Day on July 21st! All the more reason to give these delectable cake bites a go.
Vegan Biltong Jerky (South Africa)
Biltong, similar to beef jerky, has an interesting history. Dutch travelers visiting South Africa often preserved their meat for the long sea voyages. When they introduced spices like cloves, pepper and coriander, Biltong was adopted by the locals and became a popular snack for the next several centuries, and is still going strong! This version, while keeping the same spirit of vinegar-soaked meat intact, suggests eggplant as an excellent plant-based alternative.
Wasabi & Seaweed Popcorn (Japan)
A multi-ethnic fusion food snack, and one of the healthiest junk foods on this list, this recipe features light and airy, naturally healthy popped corn kernels with a host of Japanese-inspired ingredients. You can replace the wasabi almonds with roasted soybeans if you prefer!
Another of the world’s healthiest junk foods are these dark chocolate walnut butter cups. To say that I’ve been a fan of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for most of my childhood is an understatement. At the grocery checkout, my eyes always gravitated toward Reese’s line of products. They are one of the simpler candies with just two main ingredients, which is part of their charm. But while milk chocolate and peanut butter may taste great together, they are the least healthy versions of those food categories. You can swap the milk for dark, and the peanuts for walnuts, to turn a sugar-fueled road trip snack into a regular midmorning pick-me-up while still basking in the nostalgia of pleasant childhood memories.
Dark Chocolate Walnut Butter Cups
- 2 cups walnuts
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Sea salt for garnish
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 10 oz package dark chocolate chips (70% or higher)
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C, then line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and next the walnuts. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven.
- Add your toasted walnuts to a food processor and pulse with the salt, 2 tablespoons of oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract, scraping down the sides occasionally. You have walnut butter!
- Melt the chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon of the oil in the microwave. While waiting, line a mini muffin tin with mini liners.
- Spoon the melted chocolate 1 teaspoon at a time into each liner. Fully coat the sides, then harden the chocolate in the fridge for 15 minutes.
- Now, add a tablespoon of the walnut butter to each liner and flatten with the back of the spoon. Add the last teaspoon of chocolate to each liner, and garnish with sea salt.
- Cool in your fridge for at least 2 hours. Serve and enjoy!
The Plant-Based Movement: Restaurant Edition
- Vegetable-focused, locally sourced, seasonal menus
- Desire to resolve personal health epidemics
- Desire to mitigate environmental issues
- Well-chosen partnerships, such as with Beyond Meat and local farmers
Plant Power Fast Food
Of the restaurants serving the healthiest junk foods, this one takes the cake as the junkiest (and I mean that in a good way, considering their approach). From chicken tendies, fries, and milkshakes to more vegetable-focused offerings like wraps and salads, Plant Power Fast Food sticks to its roots while emphasizing how meat substitutes can be simply sublime. Their drive stems from the desire to cut down on the unfathomable amount of greenhouse gases emitted, and land and water used with the more traditional means of production.
They have recognized the trend of carnivorous fast food eaters opting for plant-based options, and have successfully adapted, considering how for average unit volume it is “one of the top 10 fast food restaurants in the US”, says founder Jeffrey Harris.
Founded in 2006, Veggie Grill has risen to become the most influential and largest vegan restaurant chain in the US. The chain emphasizes indulgent, flavorful foods with its Beyond Meat partnership but uses sustainable business practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make some of the healthiest junk foods out there.
Founder T.K. Pillan recognized a disconnect between vegan food, which is good for us, and fast food, which is obviously delicious but a cause of heart disease, diabetes and high healthcare costs. But since Veggie Grill’s inception, he contends that the vegan restaurant scene has experienced remarkable growth. “We’re at a point where almost 50% of people now want to eat more plant-based foods”, Pillan says. Pretty stellar, if you ask me.
The aptly named Dig, formerly Dig Inn, is a fast-casual restaurant founded in 2011 that works closely with small-scale farmers and knows each of them personally (larger distributors are a no go). They stress on mindful sourcing of food, in the sense that the food locally and seasonally available to them—including bottom-of-the-bin produce nobody else wants—gets considered first before new recipes are invented by staff.
Indeed, at its core, CEO and founder Adam Eskin reveals that Dig’s mission is to embody a farm-to-table identity as a restaurant and brand. As he claims in an interview, “the most important and the most difficult thing that has needed to be done…is creating demand for this type of food”.
They also endeavor to transition to a better future for all by reducing food waste through repurposing, for example by shaving uglier root vegetables collected from nearby farms into salads. The same is true with their use of less than perfect, but fully functional cuts of meat.
As I navigated their website, I especially loved going through their blog because I discovered a few ingenious recipes that became instant favorites. During my next shopping trip, I loaded up on all the ingredients to surprise my family. I started off with red beet chips for happy hour, then transitioned to sweet potato and ricotta gnocchi, and capped off the night by serving an unusually rich lemon-glazed zucchini cake. I find that the greatest beauty in their blog, or recipe catalogue if you want to call it that, is how easy it is to mix and match these healthiest junk foods to make your National Junk Food Day as fresh, different, and unique as possible.
“Health-conscious Brooklynites dig new concept.” REW, March 28, 2018, https://rew-online.com/health-conscious-brooklynites-dig-new-concept/. Accessed June 2021.