When we first wrote about Cherkees—the beef jerky potato chip hybrid—we called it "the pinnacle of human innovation." Granted, we may have gotten slightly carried away, but the concept of getting our required daily dose of jerky and chip simultaneously? What an amazing time-saver! Unfortunately, delays plagued these intrepid pioneers of snack, but now, three years later they're real, they're purchasable, and we just ate a ton of them.
Cherkees, in case you're unclear, are not jerky-flavored chips, they are an actual combination of real beef jerky and potato chips. High protein, high crunch. Almost three years after I wrote our original article on Cherkees I received an email saying they were finally shipping these things and they also had a new product called Chollives—that's potato chips combined with real olives. Did we want a sample? You're damn right we did.
And so last month I invited my friends Jim and Paul over (guys well-versed in food and beer) and we did some highly scientific testing. By which I mean we sat around eating chips, talking shit, and maxing-out our monthly sodium intake in about an hour. I also fed a couple bags to some extremely drunk people at a party. Here's what we learned.
Paul contemplates the other half of his chip.
My friends Jim, Paul, and I sat at my dining room table with plenty of water at the ready, and we decided to methodically go through one flavor at a time. Before diving into the testing, we discussed some of the larger implications of these things.
Jim: I will say that when I saw its name was Cherkees I thought it might be some sort of Native American treat. Like maybe this is what they ate on the Trail of Tears.
Brent: It sounds like how a Texan might mispronounce the plural of "Cherokee."
Jim: Right, then I'm not sure exactly what Chollives is.
Paul: It's a derogatory term for cholos and olives.
So, at least we've got that settled.
1. Teriyaki Cherkees
The first thing we all noticed is the texture. The discs are light and airy, but once you bite into them they don't just instantly disintegrate and melt like standard potato chips do. They have some inner heft. Your jaw has to do a bit of work to get through these. I guess that's to be expected, since, y'know, there's jerky in there, but we were definitely a little thrown by the unconventional texture. There's a good, satisfying crunch, though, which I'd say is an absolute must in pulling off a jerky-chip.
Paul: I've had worse! It's got that weird sweet finish.
Brent: Yeah, the sweetness definitely sneaks in at the end.
Paul: It's more like a tortilla chip, texturally.
Jim: Yeah, it definitely feels more like a corn chip. If you could fry these things you might be onto something.
Paul: It's a bit like a cardboard coaster. But they're not bad. I mean, would I be eating these by the handful? I don't know. How much beer?
Jim: There's no film-like residue left in your mouth afterwards, so that's good. It's not like Olestra.
Paul: Yeah, nowhere on the bag does it say, "May cause anal leakage."
Brent: So it's got that going for it.
2. Cracked Pepper Cherkees
Immediately upon pouring these into a bowl you can smell the black pepper. It's intense. You can look at the chip and see it's positively loaded with the stuff. If black pepper is your thing, you're in for a treat.
Jim: I get more jerky flavors with this one.
Paul: This one's more rustic. It's like chewing unprocessed wheat.
Brent: The pepper is nice. It still has that sweet aftertaste, but the pepper heat makes it less cloying.
Jim: On a road trip recently I got some gas station jerky that was super thin and brittle. This reminds me a bit of that.
Brent: I prefer these to the teriyaki.
Paul: Agreed. I prefer the savory to the sweet.
Brent: Also, these have 7 grams of protein, versus 6 on the last one.
Jim: The first one was more potato chip, and this one is more fried beef jerky. Or baked beef jerky discs.
3. Italian Herb Chollives
Jim: So, there's no beef in these, right?
Brent: Yeah, that's one of my chief complaints about olives in general. The general dearth of beef.
Paul: These are labeled "crisps" whereas the the Cherkees are "chips." Interesting delineation.
Jim: Really smells like olives.
Paul: I'm really smelling the Italian herbs. It smells like a panko crust, or Italian herb bread crumbs.
Brent: Lighter. Much crispier.
Paul: These actually, I don't hate. But I get more of the herbs than the olives.
Brent: I feel like the olive really comes in at the end. It really hits you with that bitter saltiness.
Jim: I don't know. I get the feeling if I ate too many of these I'd get a stomach ache.
Paul: What is too many?
Jim: Four? I love olives, and it's got a big olive taste, but I dunno.
Let's take a little break from the taste test to learn more about these suckers.
Packaging and Presentation
Cherkees come in these heavy-duty, sealed, silver bags. This is likely because Snack Innovators is a young company and it was cheaper to just get these silver bags and slap a big sticker on the front. A lot of camp-friendly food comes this way, but they'd definitely look like the odd man out on a supermarket shelf filled with the big brands. Something about the packaging conjures the image of space-food. We joked that this is "the snack the astronauts took to…" but we didn't know where they would take these. Probably an asteroid. This seems like solid asteroid grub.
All four Cherkees flavors come in 2.15-ounce bags, and there's two servings per bag, for what that's worth. After all, does anyone pay attention to serving size when they're in snack-mode? Each chip is a disc, and they're very consistent in size. On the back side is this texture that looks very much like the tread of a conveyor belt, and when you combine that with the grey-brown color they kind of look like little discs of cardboard. Not so visually appealing. The front side is more appealing because you can actually see the whole ingredients that are in it, like little flecks of beef and pepper, which is more than I can say for most chips.
Chollives come in the exact same shape, but they're green instead of brown.
Health and Wellness
For every one-ounce serving of Cherkees you get 110 calories, 2.5 to 3 grams of fat (depending on the flavor), 14-17 grams of carbs, 6-7 grams of protein, and a whopping 520-650 milligrams of sodium. Compared to your typical bag o' chips (say, Kettle potato chips) that's lower fat and lower calories, but higher protein and way higher sodium. For all four flavors the first ingredient is potato, followed by beef, then onion. In fact, virtually every ingredient is a whole food you've heard of before and can pronounce without dislocating your jaw. The chips are baked, so they don't feel oily or heavy, despite being full of meat.
Nutritionally speaking it's pretty much all good news except for the salt. 650 milligrams is 27 percent of your RDA for sodium. By comparison, the same portion size (1 ounce) of Cool Ranch Doritos has 180 milligrams. I consider those to be pretty damn salty, and Cherkees has more than three times as much. Other than that, though, Cherkees are almost certainly better for you. For reference, one ounce of Jack Links original flavor beef jerky has just one gram of fat, 13 grams of protein, and 590 milligrams of sodium, which is high, but still not as high as Cherkees. Basically, this makes Cherkees unreasonably salty. It seems well beyond what would be required for use as a preservative.
A one-ounce serving of Chollives will net you 120 calories, 4.5 grams of fat (though only 0.5 is saturated), 18g of carbs, 2g of protein, and 470mg of sodium. Still a hell of a lot of salt, but at least it's 20 percent of your RDA, not 27 percent.
Okay, back to the Test.
4. Garlic and Black Pepper Chollives
Brent: Wow I can smell the garlic all the way across the table.
Paul: These are a lot easier than the Italian Herb.
Jim: Yeah, it's not too much of anything. The olive isn't overwhelming like on the last one.
Brent: I actually could eat these by the handful, probably.
Jim: With the right beer...
Brent: Yeah, it's got a nice balance.
Jim: If someone put a bowl of these down at a restaurant at a bar, I think people would totally get down on these.
Paul: So far that's the winner.
Brent: I agree.
Jim: I'm still a bit underwhelmed by all of these.
Paul: Yeah, but this one was better. I'm not overwhelmed, but I'm whelmed.
5. BBQ Cherkees
Brent: Whoa, these are dark.
Jim: These actually look like beef jerky.
Paul: I don't really taste any barbecue.
Brent: I got barbecue right at the beginning.
Jim: I feel like this is way over on the jerky side of the street. This is just crispy beef jerky.
Brent: You can really see the chunks o' beef in this one.
Paul: I like these more than the teriyaki.
Brent: I like them more than the teriyaki, but less than the cracked pepper.
Jim: I mean, I would just call these "plain" or "original." But yeah, these look like they're beef jerky.
Paul: Or a scab.
Brent: It does look like a scab! Oh man, you're right. It looks like a few days after you had some road rash.
Jim: Oh man, totally.
Paul: I wonder how you fit that into your marketing.
Brent: I will say that, despite all this, I am continuing to eat these.
Jim: Yeah, but my stomach is starting to hurt.
The salt was beginning to get to us.
6. Cayenne Pepper Cherkees
These things were positively caked in cayenne pepper, so you know what you're getting into before you take the plunge.
Jim: Definitely got plenty of spice kick.
Paul: It's still cardboardy.
Jim: If you get canker sores, don't eat these, because they will stab the fuck out of your mouth.
Brent: Woo, yeah! Spicy! After a few that red pepper really builds up.
Jim: You know how when you get a frozen pizza and you accidentally burn it in the oven a little? This is what the pepperonis end up looking like. And tasting like.
Paul: Not so scabby.
Brent: Yeah, slightly less scabby!
Jim: Again, beef jerky, and it's good, but...
Paul: The BBQ was better. This is just hot.
Brent: Yeah, and I like heat, but there's no art behind the heat. It's just bludgeoning your tongue with red pepper.
Paul: Not so much nuance.
Jim: But at least it tastes more like beef jerky than the teriyaki did.
After my controlled, regulated, ultra-scientific testing with Jim and Paul, I took them to the woods with some friends for a weekend camping trip. By the time I busted these out at base camp it was well into the evening and everybody was extremely drunk and/or stoned.
The Cherkees were a massive hit. People tore through two bags within just a few minutes. There were howls of "It's so good!" and "These are two things I love, in one thing!" I asked everybody if they would actually pay money for these and they all said hell yes. Again, these people were wasted, but y'know, that's a pretty important test for a snack-food, and Cherkees passed.
Sad Sack Test
The other important test for a snack-food such as these: You've had a lousy day and you're in a foul mood; Can you sit on your couch and mow through a whole bag of these? I tested this myself, at the end of a particularly shitty day, with only a bag of Cayenne Cherkees left.
Honestly, I only planned on eating a few. I just wanted to remind myself of the flavor before writing this article. But handful after handful, into my mouth they went. You'd think the cayenne would be a limiting factor, but tastebuds be damned! I was going to eat every last crumb of those crunchy
Again, it was a jaw workout, but I managed to go through the entire bag in maybe eight minutes. Regret quickly swooped in. Having just consumed 54 percent of my daily sodium intake in a sprint, I felt like there was a salt mine in my mouth and in my gut. I downed a quart of water as fast as I could and sipped another half-quart over the next hour. It wasn't a great feeling, but again, I'd say it passed this test.
[Jim considers the geopolitical ramifications of jerky-chips]
These are an interesting novelty. Are they my new favorite snack, like I hoped they be? No. But if you like jerky and chips, should you try them once in your life? Definitely. It's a unique gastronomic experience, if nothing else. Some final thoughts from the boys:
Paul: I wonder why they're mixing it with potato instead of corn. Especially because you can't really tell that it's potato mixed in there. You can't really feel the potato influence.
Jim: The Chollives are just weird. I think my favorite was the BBQ Cherkees, because they were just beef jerky chips. It was the most basic. For the Chollives, I just don't know that I really agree with it.
Jim: Yeah, philosophically. It seems like they shouldn't really exist. If you want to make an olive-flavored potato chip, then sure! But olive mash and potato mash put together and then baked? Nope.
Paul: Someone was drunk when they came up with it. They were drinking a martini and eating some potato chips and they said, "Y'know... if only..."
Brent: Texturally, I think the Chollives are the winner. They need to work on the consistency for the Cherkees. Maybe if they dried out the jerky more and then powdered it? Because right now those little chunks of jerky make it feel cardboardy.
Paul: They're a bit like whole-wheat Triscuits.
Brent: Yeah, you've got to use your jaw muscles for these.
Paul: It's not a lazy man's chip.
Indeed. You can (and probably should) buy Cherkees and Chollives directly from Snack Innovators' website. They're about six bucks a bag, with discounts given for larger orders. If you go for it, let us know what you think. [Cherkees]