And then the invention of Chex Mix, which was an equally impressive advancement in human civilization.
In fact, we would argue the inventor of the snack deserves more praise, given the nightmare TV has become; more commercials, crappier cable boxes that never work right, longer phone calls to Comcast/Time Warner/Frontier.
Screw TV, we would rather just have our homemade original Chex Mix recipe from the 1950’s… but adapted for today’s allergens and dietary preferences. And if low carb isn’t feasible, then at least high protein so it’s more balanced.
The true original recipe came from an ad that ran in the June 1952 edition of Life Magazine. Yes, back then people actually read physical magazines, so all it took was one ad like that to spur a revolution which has now lasted six decades and counting. Not to mention, spawning sweet versions like puppy chow and more recently, spicy versions with cayenne pepper and sriracha.
Rumor has it that the inventor of the first recipe was the wife of a Ralston Purina executive (the company who made the cereal, before General Mills bought it). She brought the mix to a holiday function in St. Louis, or so the story goes.
But not even the company itself seems to know the history of Chex Mix and when it was invented. Here’s the boilerplate they have used in press releases of recent years (1):
“The Original Chex Party Mix has been a tradition since 1955 when the wife of a Ralston Purina executive brought the treat to a holiday gathering.”
Hmm… 1955 is clearly after the 1952 published Life Magazine recipe.
But wait it gets worse, because on the official Chex cereal website, they give yet another date in this quote (2):
“…The 1953 Original Chex™ Party Mix, and as snack lore has it, the wife of a Ralston executive (pre-General Mills) thought of stirring together Wheat Chex and Corn Chex along with melted butter, Worcestershire sauce, salt, garlic powder and mixed nuts.”
’52, ’53 or ’55… take your pick. And as you see in the ’52 ad, it was wheat + rice. Not corn!
The original 1952 recipe
Straight from the advertisement on page 95 of the June 1952 Life Magazine (pictured above), here it is unedited…
Melt ½ cup butter in shallow baking pan. Stir in 1 T. Worcestershire sauce. Add 2 c. Wheat Chex, 2 c. Rice Chex, and ½ c. nuts. Sprinkle with 1/4 t. salt and 1/4 t. garlic salt, mix well. Heat 30 minutes in 300 degree F. oven, stirring every 10 minutes. Cool.
Nor is it vegetarian, let alone vegan.
To make gluten free, you can simply skip the Wheat Chex and either double the amount of Rice Chex or do a 50/50 mix of Rice and Corn Chex.
To make vegan – and still hold true to the traditional recipe – is not as simple as you would think.
Sure, there are plenty of dairy free options for butter. But almost every brand of Worcestershire sauce on the market contains fish (anchovies).
You would think you could just walk into a more specialized grocer to buy one that doesn’t, but it’s not that easy.
Not even a single Whole Foods location in SoCal carries a fish-free sauce. In fact, their selection is so pathetic, at every LA store we’ve been to they only have two Worcestershire sauce options; Lea & Perrins and their brand, both of which contain anchovies.
Though have no fear, we have everything you need to know about which Worcestershire sauces are vegan and GF, as well as where you can buy them.
But let’s be honest… the 1952 version is kind of boring.
Ignoring the artery-busting 1/2 cup of butter for a moment, the rest was a low fat recipe since there were no peanuts, cashews, or almonds. However what you ate at Christmastime growing may have been called nuts and bolts by your grandma, because it was far more than just spiced cereal.
If you want the pseudo-original or the 2nd iteration, then you will probably want to go for the recipe published on Christmas Eve of the following year.
Daily Journal-Gazette and Commercial-Star (Mattoon, IL) ran this in their newspaper on December 24, 1953, page 10.
1 package Wheat Chex
1 package Rice Chex
1 package Cheerios
1 package Pretzel sticks
1 lb peanuts
Place in large dishpan.
Mix 3 sticks margarine, 2 tablespoons garlic salt, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce. Pour over above mixture. Stir thoroughly. Place in oven (250 degrees F.) for 1 ½ hours. You can use 1/2 of the recipe if the above is too large. Or you can ‘can’ it in jars-place in ice box-and reheat. This is easily done by placing over pilot light place on your gas range. Pretzel sticks are not recommended where there are children-lable to get stuck in their throats.
Three sticks of margarine! We don’t even want to know how many calories that was.
A decade later, the Ralston Purina Company ran a very similar recipe in an advertisement. It was published in the December 1963 edition of Better Homes & Gardens, on page 76.
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon seasoned salt or 3/8 teaspoon salt
6 cups Chex (mix Wheat, Corn and Rice Chex equally or in any way you like!)
3/4 cup salted nuts.
Heat oven to 250 degrees F. 2. Slowly melt butter in shallow pan. Stir in Worcestershire sauce and salt. 3. Add Chex and nuts. Mix until all pieces are coated. 4. Heat in oven 45 minutes. Stir every 15 minutes. Spread on absorbent paper to cool. Yield: 6 3/4 cups.
Here the ingredients call for the 3 different flavors of cereal rather than Wheat Chex and Corn Chex Rice Chex. They also use “nuts” rather than peanuts. Noticeably absent are the Cheerios, probably because they didn’t want to promote a competitor’s product! Remember, that was before General Mills owned all of these.
The nuts and bolts you remember from your childhood may not be the original Chex Mix recipe from the 1950’s (any of them). It probably was more along the lines of the subsequent variations which continued to get more elaborate. Why settle for standard mixed nuts when you could jazz it up with Brazil nuts? Why stop at pretzels when you could add bagel chips?
Those variations came about through the 1960’s and 1970’s. Sure, they’re technically not the Chex Mix traditional recipe, but for most of us, they are what we historically ate during the holidays.
Superfoodly’s 2017 recipe
Rather than try to re-invent the wheel, the best thing to do is use the ingredients listed in the “The Original Chex Party Mix” recipe published on Chex’s website. Technically it isn’t the original, but it is the closest to what you had in your childhood. Then working off that ingredient list, do minimal modifications to make them fit your dietary needs.
Here’s the “official” ingredients they list and which you should change, based on your allergies and preferences.
3 cups Corn Chex cereal – Safe for vegans and Celiacs.
3 cups Rice Chex cereal – Safe for vegans and Celiacs.
3 cups Wheat Chex cereal – Skip for gluten free diets. Instead, do 4.5 cups of corn and 4.5 cups of rice.
1 cup bite-size pretzels – We prefer the taste of Snyder’s of Hanover gluten free pretzel sticks, though Glutino is another good option. Both are vegan.
1 cup mixed nuts – Catered to your tastes and allergies. Here’s a list of the healthiest nuts, organized by total antioxidant content, grams of protein, calories, and fat.
1 cup garlic-flavor bite-size bagel chips or regular-size bagel chips, broken into 1-inch pieces – Literally every gluten free bagel chip brand sold in America contains eggs, so leave these out if you’re vegan. As an alternative, we like Cheerios or something similar.
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce – This is the trickiest ingredient. Even here in Los Angeles, neither the grocery stores or the health food stores carry a vegan version. We highly recommend ordering The Wizard’s Organic Vegan Worcestershire Sauce on Amazon.
6 tablespoons butter or margarine – Use Earth Balance Original. They also have other versions including soy free, organic whipped, olive oil, omega 3, and organic coconut spread. All are vegan and none contain added gluten. At least one version will be available at just about any grocery store, including at Trader Joe’s where outside brands are rarely sold.
1 ½ teaspoons seasoned salt – Lawry’s seasoned salt does contain “natural flavor” which may be derived from plants or animals, though it reportedly does not contain gluten. To be safe, those on plant-based diets may wish to choose a different brand where all ingredients are disclosed.
¾ teaspoon garlic powder – Preferably non-irradiated
½ teaspoon onion powder – Preferably non-irradiated
We’re not covering GF or vegan puppy chow here, but as you see many of these switch-outs could be implemented for those recipes, too.
Healthier, while respecting the original
This is how the Chex website tell you to make it…
2. Microwave uncovered on High 5 to 6 minutes, thoroughly stirring every 2 minutes. Spread on paper towels to cool. Store in airtight container.
What the &$#@? The first residential microwave didn’t even hit the market ’til 1967, so we don’t know why they claim this is how to make The Original Chex Party Mix.
Maybe they just assume people are too lazy to bake these days so they’re dumbing down.
Low calorie Chex Mix would be a bit like making sugar free cotton candy… it’s just not going to work. However using these tricks, you can make it a lot better. Some would even say our mix without butter is good for you, but we will refrain from that label.
We’re not here to shove dietary preferences down your throat, pick and choose which of the following modifications work best for your diet, so you can make it as nice or as naughty as you want.
Step 1: How to bake it
The recipe from 1952 says to bake at 300° F for 30 minutes.
The problem is that when you heat carbohydrate-rich foods – particularly at temperatures above 250 degrees and in drying conditions like baking – they produce acrylamide, which the IARC classifies as a Group 2A carcinogen (3). We have already covered everything you may want to know about suspected cancer from acrylamide.
There’s no avoiding the substance altogether. In fact, there’s already a fair amount in many of these foods, especially the pretzels. What you can do though is minimize further production with your cooking technique.
For our homemade healthy Chex Mix recipe, bake at 200° (best) or 225° (good) to reduce acrylamide formation.
But be warned, it’s not a fast process. At 225° you may need up to 60 minutes or even longer, depending on how much butter/moisture you have in the mix. At 200° it typically takes 90 to 120 minutes. Either way, check every 15 to 20 minutes and when doing so, shuffle the pieces around to ensure consistency.
The good news? At these low temps, it makes it pretty hard for you to mess up by leaving it in too long!
But given how long it’s in the oven – as well as the mess in your kitchen that’s made during production – doing a double-batch is more efficient.
It’s not as much food as you would think. Doubling up the recipe for vegan Chex Mix produces this much…
Given its addictive taste, that might not even last you a week! Here is what it looks like in your oven…
Yes, you will need 3 sheets. We recommend the Nordic Ware natural aluminum commercial baker’s sheet (pictured above) which are made in the USA.
Step 2: How to flavor it
For optimal health, the American Heart Association recommends that you limit your total sodium to no more than 1,500 mg per day (4). The first step to making healthy Chex Mix is to cut out added salts at every opportunity:
- using unsalted nuts
- skipping the seasoned salt
- going with the lowest sodium version of an item when possible (e.g. if not GF, there are unsalted wheat pretzels)
If you think that will ruin the flavor, it won’t. There is already so much salt in all the other processed items:
- 105 mg per Tbsp of Earth Balance (regular dairy butter is similar)
- 220 mg per cup of Rice and Corn Chex
- 270 mg per cup of Wheat Chex
- 140 mg per cup of Cheerios
- 250 mg per 7 chips (1 ounce) using Original Glutino bagel chips (remember these contain eggs)
- 130 mg per tsp of The Wizard’s organic GF and corn free vegan Worcestershire. The standard recipes call for 2 Tbsp, not tsp.
And if you think the organic Chex cereal knock-offs are healthier, think again. In fact, many are worse!
Cascadian Farms organic multigrain squares have 190 mg sodium per cup and 7 grams of sugar (Chex brand has 2 grams in the rice flavor and 3 grams for the corn). Plus, Cascadian is wheat based. There aren’t even good organic alternative brands on the market for this product.
On that note, is organic food healthier? Read that analysis. Given the short half-lives for most herbicides, it’s probably not worth it for cereal unless you insist on non GMO. But consider the trade-off, because as you will see in the aforementioned analysis, ironically many of the “healthy” and expensive brands often have more sugar and more sodium than their conventional counterparts.
Now here is one thing we do that really deviates from the original; use 400% to 800% more garlic powder, onion powder, and Worcestershire sauce.
That’s right, just multiply those quantities by 4 to 8x.
We have even done 10 and 12x before. Sometimes, the whole bottles are just dumped in without measuring!
Yes, multiplying the Worcestershire sauce is adding a lot of sodium, but it still calculates out to be less sodium overall, so long as you follow the salt reduction tips listed above. Sadly, there is no such thing as a low sodium Worcestershire sauce, otherwise that would be the way to go.
Here are the 4 reasons why spices on steroids are recommended…
1. Spices have been expensive throughout history, now they’re not
During the days of Christopher Columbus, the spice trade is what primarily drove those expeditions, not exploring for other reasons.
Even in the 1950’s and 1960’s they were more expensive than today, on an inflation-adjusted basis. Is that the reason the original recipe may have only called for so little garlic powder and only 2 Tbsp of Worcestershire? Following that amount, the entire double batch you saw pictured above would only contain 4 Tbsp… not enough flavor!
Given their affordability (at least relative to 60 years ago), there’s no reason not to pile on more spice if you like lots of taste.
2. Americans’ palates have changed
In many households, sriracha is more used than ketchup. Since 2013, salsa – not ketchup – has been the #1 most popular condiment in America. Sales of hot sauce are through the roof.
In short, this isn’t the roast beef and mashed potatoes generation of the 50’s and 60’s. Thanks to more multicultural influences, we crave more flavor than our grandparents.
Many people now even do a spicy Chex with cayenne powder. As much as we love super hot spicy food, in keeping with tradition, we hold off on that for this one thing. Amping up the original spices at least holds true to the traditional flavor, albeit intensified.
3. More spice = less butter
You can actually make butter free Chex Mix and we will discuss that recipe in a moment. Though a happy medium is doing 50% less butter/margarine/Earth Balance.
But in order to not miss the butter, you really need to ratchet up the spices.
4. More antioxidants
The ORAC scale measures the amount of antioxidants in 100 grams of food (about 3.5 ounces worth). Consider the measurements for the following:
- 372 ORAC value for extra virgin olive oil (884 calories)
- 730 for butter (717 calories)
- 1,070 for coconut oil (862 calories)
No one has ran the tests on Earth Balance specifically, but given that it – as well as similar vegan butters – are simply a blend of plant-based oils, one can assume its ORAC is something similar to butter, probably around 500 to 1,000. Since they’re pure fat, it’s a lot of calories with very little room for antioxidant content.
Now consider these spices…
It’s impossible to know the exact concentration of each spice in Worcestershire sauce since it contains so many ingredients. Even though each spice represents only a fractional amount, consider how much exponentially higher amounts of antioxidants the spices have versus butter. This is how much is in 100 grams of each spice:
- 1,225 for lemon juice
- 3,500 for tamarind
- 19,671 for cayenne pepper
- 39,041 for ginger
- 100,400 for allspice
- 290,283 for cloves
Obviously you’re not using 3.5 ounces of cloves and hence, aren’t getting the full 290,283 ORAC.
But even if the Worcestershire sauce was only 1% cloves mixed with 99% water, with no other spices added, it would still have over 3x more antioxidants than butter and plant-based alternatives, when comparing equal weights of each. In 100 grams, it would be 2,903 vs. 739 for butter.
Step 3: How to butter it up… or not!
To be blunt, you’re getting absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever from the butters and dairy free alternatives. Sure, they taste good because they’re pure fat. Aside from that, you’re not getting much antioxidant value, protein, or really anything else worthwhile.
Really, all it’s doing is adding a high amount of calories. And at Christmastime especially, none of us need that.
You can reduce the amount of butter by using more Worcestershire and water.
Water? Yes, that’s right. When you’re mixing everything together, it will make the cereal and pretzels soggy, but don’t worry. After you bake it, you won’t be able to tell the difference because the water will have evaporated (and it is important to make sure it is all evaporated, since moisture = bacterial growth during storage).
To use 50% less butter
- Use 3 tablespoons of butter per batch instead of 6
- Add 3 tablespoons of water
- Add more Worcestershire, the extra amount depends on your taste preference. Though as a rule of thumb, too much is almost enough.
Recipe without butter
- Begin with 6 tablespoons of water. Don’t be scared to add more if needed, but it’s best to do so after you mix in the spices and Worcestershire, so you can better gauge how much you need.
- Add more Worcestershire according to your taste preference.
The reason you need the excess liquid with both is to absorb the garlic and onion powders. If you have too little (whether it’s butter-free or not) you won’t be able to spread it evenly throughout the mixture… leaving you with inconsistent flavoring. Especially with the cereals, which really soak up whatever sauce you’re putting on them.
The more water you use, the longer the bake times will be. When making the best and healthiest Chex Mix recipe using no butter, it may take up to 2.5 hours for all of the water to evaporate if baking at 200 degrees. Upping the temperature will decrease the time.
You can’t call the butter free version a low fat recipe since you still have the nuts, but it is a huge improvement.
Step 4: How to amp up the protein
There’s certainly no shortage of carbohydrates in Chex Mix and a low carb recipe is literally impossible given the starring ingredient.
But what there is shortage of is protein. At least, if you want to be able to justifiably pig out on it as a semi-balanced meal. Yeah a meal, because this stuff is so good, it’s rarely consumed in snack-sized portions!
If you use Cheerios, they contain 3 grams of protein per 100 calories. Instead, you can get 6 grams of protein per serving by using Love Grown Power O’s cereal, which are made with navy, lentil, and garbanzo beans. They are GF, corn free, and non GMO.
Power O’s can’t be labeled soy free because they’re not made in a soy free facility, but the ingredients don’t list any intentionally added soy products.
For the vegetarians and vegans who don’t also need GF, there are wheat-based high protein pretzels on the market:
- Newman’s Own organic high protein pretzels contain 5 grams of protein per 120 calorie serving. Compare that to the 0 grams per 110 calorie serving of Snyder’s gluten free pretzel sticks. Glutino is 0 grams per 120 calorie serving.
There is a vegan and gluten free high protein pretzel option, though you will almost certainly have to buy it online. Very few stores in the Los Angeles area even carry this brand and none carry this specific product, to the best of our knowledge.
- Kay’s Naturals gluten free protein pretzels contain 12 grams of protein per 125 calorie serving. The ingredients do list “butter flavoring” but it is not animal-derived.
There’s really no such thing as a low fat nut.
Even pistachios which are cleverly marketed as low fat nuts are only “low” on a relative basis; 72% fat content for pistachios versus say, 76% for peanuts or 78% for almonds.
So all nuts are loaded with fat, but some also have high amounts of protein. Bodybuilders and fitness buffs will like these, which are rich in BCAAs…
|Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) content per 100 grams of nuts|
|Leucine||1535 mg||1600 mg||1170 mg||1461 mg||1285 mg|
|Isoleucine||833 mg||932 mg||625 mg||745 mg||731 mg|
|Valine||993 mg||1262 mg||753 mg||848 mg||1040 mg|
These 5 are also the highest protein nuts. In terms of caloric differences among them, know that almonds, pistachios, cashews, and peanuts differ by less than 4%. Cashews are lowest at 553 calories per 100 grams while almonds are 575.
If you want a truly low fat mix, then skip all of the nuts and make it without butter.
If you just want to reduce some fat content and calories, skip or minimize walnuts, pine nuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and macadamia. Because they’re higher fat, they also contain less protein.
Though a few pecans are recommended regardless. Why? Because their ORAC value is by far the highest at 17,940. Walnuts are next at 13,541, followed by hazelnuts at 9,645 and pistachios at 7,675.
Soy nuts are not even real nuts, but they do offer another protein source. For those with peanut allergies that want a peanut-free Chex Mix, soy nuts give your mix a similar aesthetic.
100 grams of dry roasted soy nuts packs 40 grams of protein for 451 calories. The phytoestrogens in soy are great for women going through menopause, but only use in moderation for men. Obviously, those wanting a soy free recipe should skip these.
Brazil nuts were more popular in the 70’s and 80’s, and hence, they’re a fond memory for many. Though you may want to reduce or even leave them out entirely, considering that their radium 226 content is up to 1,000 higher than most other foods. Radiation aside, selenium poisoning from Brazil nuts is a risk to consider.
Last but certainly not least, we recommend sacha inchi seeds. These definitely don’t qualify as traditional and for some, they are more of an acquired taste. Considering their nutrition facts, they can be a healthier way to get your crunch on:
- Nut free. They’re commonly called seeds, but they’re actually a legume native to the South American rainforests. For those aiming to do an allergy free Chex Mix recipe, they’re a good choice. According to a Q&A on the website of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, an answer says “not aware of reports of Sacha Inchi seed allergy from ingestion” when asked about it as a food allergen (5).
- Highest in omega 3. Nuts and most other seeds are almost entirely omega 6. An exception is walnuts, but sacha inchi are significantly higher at 45% omega 3 and 35% omega 6 (1.3 to 1 ratio). That’s comparable to flax and chia seeds.
- Highest in protein. They’re 1/3 protein content by weight. 100 grams of the sacha inchi seeds have about 32 grams of protein. The highest protein nut, peanuts, are 26 grams in comparison.
Step 5: How to eat it
Any time, all the time, and lots of it each time!
Now you have a homemade gluten free Chex Mix that can also be made vegetarian and vegan. With a few modifications, it’s something everyone can enjoy, regardless of food allergies and diets.
While they’re not marked as soy free for legal reasons, not all but many of the foods discussed so far do not list soy products on their ingredient lists. If you’re willing to accept the risk of cross-contamination, you can also have a soy free mix. Ditto for doing corn free and nut free (seeds can be used as an alternative).
Inherently, traditional nuts ‘n bolts can never be low calorie, but by reducing butter and packing in the protein, now you have a healthier snack (or meal) to munch on all holiday season, with a bit less guilt attached to it. Enjoy!