The traditional South Asian snack is gaining traction in the West.
water lily seeds
Credit: Bohana

We all love snacking, and no amount of self-control or commitment to a New Year’s resolution is going to change that. With more of us concerned about the nutritional content of potato chips (or lack thereof), there’s a bigger market than ever for healthier alternatives. As it turns out, a traditional South Asian snack is starting to emerge as a new favorite.

That’s right: 2019 is shaping up to be the year of the water lily seed when it comes to smart snacking, at least if Whole Foods is any indication. They see the water lily seed as part of a larger movement towards more marine-oriented eating in the year ahead.

Known as makhana in India, where they’ve been cultivated for centuries, water lily seeds are a light, crunchy snack that’s functionally something of a hybrid between popcorn and cheese puffs. Traditionally, the seeds are harvested sometime after they form in August and then dried in the sun and roasted until the black seeds turn into a white puff. They don’t have much in the way of flavor in their natural state, making them an excellent canvas for spices like cumin, turmeric, and others.

The overwhelming majority of water lily seeds are currently made and consumed in India. But now, brands like Bohana are making a push to get makhan in front of consumers to scoop up some revenue of the lucrative healthy snack market.

“We both agreed that the U.S. market needed a healthier alternative to the traditional salty snacks. And [we] believed popped lily seeds would be a hit,” Bohana co-founder Priyal Bhartia told Newsweek. “U.S. consumers were starting to experiment with alternative ingredients, exotic flavors, Ayurveda, and gluten-free diets, so we decided it was the right time to introduce Bohana to the world.”

WATCH: How to Make Butternut Cauliflower Coconut Curry

As Bhartia suggests, part of the water lily seed’s appeal is its ability to offer nutritional value while fitting into even the most restrictive dietary frameworks. They offer a decent amount of fiber and potassium relative to their calorie count, and work in vegan, gluten-free, and paleo diets. Simultaneously, they have more essential amino acids than soybeans and a greater concentration of protein than nuts like almonds and cashews.

Even better, cultivating water lily seeds could be a boon for environmental sustainability as well. In the Indian state of Bihar where most of the supply is cultivated, it’s possible that a bigger market for makhana would incentivize the protection of the the threatened wetlands where water lilies grow.

The fact that water lily seeds are sourced halfway around the world means that they’re not necessarily the most affordable snack. But they certainly present a welcome alternative for people who are sick of forcing down kale chips in search of a healthier crunch.

So move over, seaweed, there’s a new aquatic snack in town that people might actually like.