In Japan, eating chicken skin on its own — grilled over charcoal and called kawa — is a common bar snack. Fried chicken skins that come in bags are as popular as American Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, too. Indonesia’s KFC has fried chicken skins that sell as well as, if not better, than French fries. In the US, however, eating chicken skin on its own hasn’t reached the same popularity. That might be changing.

A new crop of snack brands are delving into other edible animal skins, injecting new blood into a space thoroughly dominated by the humble pork rind. These brands are banking on the public becoming more conscious of the health factors of their food and where the ingredients come from. And while we’re in the thicket of the coronavirus pandemic, capitalizing on shoppers avoiding extra time spent in grocery stores.

“Launching at the beginning of the pandemic definitely changed the way we were having conversations around direct-to-consumer snacks and how we can introduce more people to healthy snacking at an accessible price,” Justin Guilbert, co-founder of Goodfish, says.

Goodfish sells fried wild Alaska sockeye salmon skins at $3 for a 1/2-ounce pack. The skins come in flavors such as chili lime, spicy bbq and sea salt — common potato chip flavors. Unlike their potato counterparts, the “chips” contain seven grams of protein, marine collagen, omega-3 fatty acids and zero carbs. The brand sources its skins from scraps that would have otherwise been thrown away, adding a touch of sustainability to the snack.

Like Goodfish, Flock, a fried chicken skin snack from The Naked Market, markets itself as a healthy snack alternative. It’s keto-friendly, high-protein and low-carb, which may come as a surprise to those familiar with fried chicken’s rap sheet.

“Anytime you introduce a non-commercial food to the market it will go through an education period but if it tastes good, and has a strong nutritional profile, it should be well-positioned to succeed, as is the case with animal skins.” Harrison Fugman, CEO and co-founder of The Naked Market, explains. “We were in a very fortunate situation where in the first few days [of coronavirus panic] we saw orders increase drastically as consumers stocked up on online groceries.”

But, considering their low-carb, low-fat, high-protein nutritional foundation, these snacks are, by-design, desirable to those following keto diets. That’s no accident. In 2018, pork rinds saw a 49 percent change increase in dollar sales, according to the Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based data analytics company. This jump in sales correlates to a surge in searches for “keto diet” on Google.

The quality of America’s snack game has lagged behind those in southeast Asia for decades. This may be a case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

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Tyler Chin

Tyler Chin is Gear Patrol’s home writer. He’s from Queens, where tempers are short and commutes are long. But nothing can get in the way of his love of coffee, beer and random home goods.

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