We love snacks! Discover 24 American snacks that never disappoint us when we have a snack attack.
We consider popular American snacks to be among the best snacks in the world. It doesn’t matter if they’re savory or sweet – we love them all. And we’re not alone with our affinity to snacking between meals.
Dominated by mega-companies, the American snack industry is huge. According to CNN, “The US snack market grew from about $116.6 billion in 2017 to an estimated $150.6 billion in 2022…”
The best American snacks are difficult to miss. They’re sold everywhere in the US from convenience stores to movie theaters. Heck, even hospitals and gas stations have vending machines filled with chips, crackers and miniature cakes.
Buy a snack sampler from Amazon if you’re curious to try a selection of popular American snacks.
Our Favorite American Snacks
Our mutual love for snacks harkens back to our childhoods when we’d eat snack foods after school. Those snacks would abate our mid-meal hunger while making our taste buds happy. We rarely eat those snack now, or at least we didn’t until we took a trip down memory lane.
The purpose of our trip was to rediscover our favorite American snacks and involved buying dozens of items and tasting them all. It was a mission of love that didn’t involve any planes or trains, though we did have to drive in automobiles to various drugstores, convenience marts and supermarkets along the way.
To be clear, we’re not talking about fresh fruit, baby carrots or ice cream cones. We’re talking about the stuff advertised on Saturday morning commercials and during the Super Bowl.
Based on this on-the-ground and in-the-mouth research, these are our picks for the best American snacks:
Who doesn’t love chips? The addictive snack is fun to eat whether they’re baked or fried (though everybody knows that fried chips usually taste better). And the best part? They’re not all the same.
American chips are made with potatoes, corn and even pita bread. Some chips are perfectly round while others come in various shapes and sizes including triangles, ripples and scoops. And the flavors! American chips can be salty, vinegary, smoky or spicy. The days of just three flavors (plain, BBQ and Sour Cream & Onion) are way in the rearview mirror.
Popular chip brands include Cape Cod, Cheetos (crunchy and puff), Doritos, Fritos, Funyons, Herr’s, Lay’s, Pringles, Ruffles, Sun Chips, Stacy’s, Takis, Tostitos, Utz and Zapps. We love them all.
American chips are different from British chips. What Americans call chips are called crisps in the UK. Be warned that if you order chips in London, you’ll get the equivalent of large french fries.
2. Hard Pretzels
We can’t give America credit for inventing the pretzel – after all, people were eating the knot-shaped snack centuries before the new world was ‘discovered’ by European explorers. However, the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery bakery in Lititz, Pennsylvania, was a pretzel pioneer when it started baking hard pretzels in 1861.
Sturgis’ location was no coincidence. The keystone state became ‘pretzelvania’ when German immigrants, often referred to today as Pennsylvania Dutch, introduced traditional pretzels to America when they arrived in the 18th century. Today, Snyder’s of Hanover, another Pennsylvania company founded just about 50 miles from Lititz, is America’s largest pretzel manufacturer.
Modern hard pretzels come in various sizes as well as shapes that include braids, loops and sticks. Thick Dutch style pretzels have a cult following, especially among Pennsylvanians. Some hard pretzels are coated with dark, milk and white chocolate – a practice that we fully support.
People in Pennsylvania don’t just eat hard pretzels. They eat soft pretzels too. This is especially the case in our home city of Philadelphia (the largest ‘Pretzelvania’ city).
While popcorn wasn’t invented in the United States, its ancient roots are in the Americas in countries like Mexico and Peru. Regardless of those roots, popcorn is one of the most popular American snacks to eat at movie theaters and carnivals as well as at home.
Popcorn’s popularity is nothing new; however its accessibility grew exponentially in the 1980s when Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn became all the rage. Frito Lay joined the popcorn party that same decade when it purchased the Smartfood popcorn brand.
Beyond butter and salt, popular popcorn toppings include caramel, cheese and chili peppers.
Crackers are one of the most versatile American snacks. They can be eaten one at a time or by the handful and they’re sold in a range of shapes, sizes and flavors.
While most crackers are savory, animal crackers and graham crackers are sweet. We typically go the savory route and pair crackers with another food like a dip or peanut butter. But our favorite cracker pairing is cheese, eaten either individually or on a cheese plate.
Popular American cracker brands include Ritz Crackers, Saltines, Triscuits and Wheat Thins. Since they all serve a different purpose, we can’t choose a favorite.
Oysters aren’t an ingredient in oyster crackers.
5. Cracker Sandwiches
Cracker sandwiches are exactly like they sound – a filling surrounded by two crackers. Cheese spread and peanut butter are the most typical fillings when it comes to American cracker sandwiches.
The concept of transforming crackers into cracker sandwiches is more than a century old. Philip Lance created a whole business around the concept in 1915. His company, Lance, merged with Hanover’s of Hanover and the combined company was later bought by Campbell Soup Company. Despite all the corporate shenanigans, Lance’s cracker sandwiches still rule the cracker sandwich roost.
Not all cracker sandwiches are savory. Lance’s Nekot sandwich crackers come with fudge, lemon cream and vanilla cream fillings in addition to the more traditional peanut butter filling.
Goldfish are technically crackers but they deserve their own category since the goldfish-shaped crackers have smiles. Well, not all of them. According to the Campbell’s website, approximately 40% have smiles. That’s almost half and enough to make us smile 100% of the time when we munch on them.
We’re not alone. Kids and adults have smiled while munching on goldfish since 1962. That’s when Margaret Rudkin discovered the Swiss snack. It wasn’t long before her American company, Pepperidge Farm, started producing goldfish-shaped crackers in Ohio.
Back then, according to the company’s website, the only goldfish flavors offered were Lightly Salted, Cheese, Barbecue, Pizza and Smoky. The current goldfish flavor list is much longer now, with Cheddar Cheese as well as flavors like Parmesan, Sour Cream, Onion and Frank’s RedHot. There are even pretzel goldfish and goldfish that come in a rainbow of colors.
You can watch the iconic “snack that smiles back” commercial on YouTube.
The concept of combining two foods into one is nothing new. Hello peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! However, the folks behind Combos ran with the concept to create an American snack food for the ages.
We can’t over-emphasize our appreciation for the handy-dandy snack food in which hollow, tube-shaped crackers and pretzels are filled with savory fillings. Combos were one of our primary food groups when we were in college before they fueled us on various road trips in later years. If there’s an American gas station that doesn’t sell Combos, we have yet to find it.
Original flavors included Buffalo Blue Cheese Pretzel, Cheddar Cheese Cracker, Cheddar Cheese Pretzel, Nacho Cheese Pretzel, Pepperoni Pizza Cracker and Pizzeria Pretzel when Combos hit the market in the late 1970s. Other flavors have come and gone but none have hit our savory sweet spot more than Pepperoni Pizza.
Combos is owned by Mars, the same company that produces M&Ms and Snickers.
Cheez-Its are crackers but they’re so popular that we were compelled to give the cheesy crackers their own listing. Plus, there’s the fact that the bite-sized, square-shaped crackers have been an American snack food favorite since Green & Green produced the first cheesy batch in Ohio back in 1921. And, in case you missed the memo, Cheez-Its are made with real cheese and flakes of salt.
Many things have changed in the past century but not so much when it comes to Cheez-Its. They’re still small, square and cheesy. Sure, there are more Cheez-It flavors now, including one made with hot sauce as well as others that span the cheese spectrum. However, the original flavor, with its mystery cheese or cheeses, is still the one that we buy when we crave that familiar crunchy snack called Cheez-Its.
Although Cheez-Its are most appropriate for a mid-day snack, current owner, Kellogg’s, is best known for manufacturing cereals like Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops.
We blame Mr. Peanut. The Planters mascot is so effective that salted peanuts have been the go-to nut snack in America for decades. And why not? It’s hard to beat an anthropomorphic legume that wears a top hat and carries a cane. Yes, peanuts are technically beans as opposed to nuts.
It’s not that cashews, pistachios and walnuts aren’t as good, if not better, than peanuts. Rather, they don’t have the right mascot. Until that situation changes, peanuts will likely lead the nut pack in America when it comes to snacking.
Planters is owned by Hormel Foods, a company better known for its pepperoni and ham than its peanuts.
Sometimes we want to snack on pretzels and sometimes we want to snack on chips. Then there are times when we want to snack on both pretzels and chips. That’s when we grab a bag of Munchies.
Produced by Frito Lay, Munchies is a snack mix that combines Rold Gold pretzels with three different chips – Sunchips, Doritos and Cheetos. If you think that this combination is too good to be true, you clearly need to expand your American snack food horizons. In other words, go to your local 7-11 or WaWa and grab a bag for yourself.
Frito Lay produces Flamin’ Hot Munchies for munchers who like their tongues to tingle.
11. Corn Nuts
Crispy corn kernels called corn nuts in America aren’t unique to America. People in Ecuador, Peru and Spain eat similar snacks called cancha, chulpi and maíz frito respectively. We’ve even encountered a version of corn nuts in Portugal.
This global presence doesn’t diminish the fact that corn nuts have been popular in America for almost a century. This popularity started when Albert Holloway first sold soaked and fried corn kernels to California bars during the 1930s. Although his company was later bought by Nabisco and is now owned by Hormel, corn nuts remain practically impossible to resist.
Corn Nuts have three ingredients. While one of these ingredients is corn, none of the others are nuts. The other two ingredients are corn oil and salt.
12. Chex Mix
The Ralston-Purina Company was literally late to the party when it started selling Chex Mix in 1985. Americans had been eating homemade versions of ‘Chex Party Mix’ ever since the company printed the recipe on its Chex cereal boxes in the 1950s. That crunchy mix, with its savory seasonings, proceeded to span generations.
We’re glad that they were better late than never. Unless we’re throwing a party, we’d just as soon buy bags of Traditional Chex Mix made with Corn Chex, Wheat Chex, pretzels, rye chips, bagel chips and miniature breadsticks. For non-traditionalists, other Chex Mix flavors include Bold, Cheddar, Honey BBQ, Honey Nut, Max’d Buffalo Ranch, Max’d Spicy Dill, Sour Cream & Onion, Turtle and White Cheddar.
Now owned by General Mills, Chex shares a party mix recipe on its website.
13. Cracker Jack
Cracker Jack isn’t the only snack made with caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts. (Crunch ‘n Munch and Fiddle Faddle are two other examples.) However, no other similar snack’s history approaches that of the legendary caramel corn and peanut blend sold in red and white packages.
Although Cracker Jack’s history goes back to the 19th century, it was the next century when the snack got its mascots (Sailor Jack and Bingo) and became inexorably linked to America’s greatest pastime (baseball). That’s when kids of all ages started singing about buying Cracker Jack at baseball games while eating the snack at the same baseball games. The synergy is palpable.
The inclusion of a prize in each package is part of the Cracker Jack allure. Current Cracker Jack owner, Frito Lay, continues the tradition to this day.
14. Trail Mix
Trail mix is another name for gorp which may or may not be derived from the phrase ‘good ol’ raisins and peanuts’. And, while gorp is typically eaten by hikers on a trail, trail mix can be eaten by anybody looking for a relatively healthy snack regardless of the location.
Calling trail mix relatively healthy is legit. The energy boosting snack typically combines healthy ingredients like nuts, raisins and dried fruits with chocolate. You could hypothetically ignore the chocolate but most people, including us, eat the candy bits first.
The animated short Trail Mix-Up featuring Roger Rabbit isn’t about trail mix. Go figure.
Willy Wonka wasn’t the first to say that “candy is dandy but liquor is quicker” – that honor goes to Ogden Nash. Both Wonka and Nash made a good point. Candy is indeed dandy. It’s also a great snack to eat on the go. But which American candy is best for snacking?
You could argue that M&Ms which famously melt “in your mouth, not in your hands” are ideal for snacking and we wouldn’t disagree. But, then again, there are dozens of other American candies that double as American snacks and vice versa. The peanut butter cup is a prime example. And let’s not forget about candy bars. We say eat them all!
We ate and reviewed dozens and dozens of the best American candies. It was a tough task but somebody had to do it.
Using sales as a barometer, the Oreo cookie is the most popular cookie in the world. Oreo sales have reportedly exceeded half a trillion (with a t) dollars since Nabisco sold the first Oreos in New York City in 1912. Ka-Ching.
Those original chocolate sandwich cookies with sweet cream in the middle generated a decision – to dunk in milk or not to dunk in milk. Today’s Oreos create even more decisions regarding sizes like ‘double stuf’ and ‘mega stuf’ as well as fillings like lemon, peanut butter and mint.
We also ate dozens of cookies to find the best American cookies. It was another tough task.
17. Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets
Baked in Philadelphia since 1927, Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets pre-date America’s most famous individually wrapped cake (i.e Twinkies – see below) by three years. But history isn’t the reason why this sweet snack is one of our favorites. Obviously, taste and texture are the main reasons that we can’t resist eating the sponge cake snack topped with butterscotch icing.
We appreciate that Krimpets have retained their Philly roots after all these these years though some things have changed. While Tastykake started in Germantown, the bakery is now located in South Philly’s Navy Yard. And, as of 2011, it’s part of Flower Foods which owns various other brands including Wonder Bread.
Popular Tastykake products include Kandy Kakes, Honey Buns, Donuts and Juniors.
18. Rice Krispies Treats
Similar to Chex Mix (see above), Rice Krispies Treats had a long life before they became a commercial product. But, in this case, the gap was even longer – 1939 to 1995 to be exact.
1939 is the year when Kellogg’s employees developed the iconic recipe with just three ingredients – rice krispies cereal, butter and marshmallows. It took 56 years but the company finally decided to produce and sell packaged bars. That decision made snack time a happy time for the masses.
Snap, Crackle and Pop were not the employees who invented Rice Krispie Treats. Those busy bakers were named Mildred Day and Malitta Jensen.
19. Chips Ahoy! Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chips Ahoy! chocolate chip cookies are popular chocolate chip cookies but they’re not the country’s best chocolate chip cookies. That honor goes to TollHouse chocolate chip cookies. They’re also not named after pirates which makes us feel a wee bit sad.
However, there’s nothing sad about munching on these cookies loaded with chocolate chips. Nabisco produces original, chewy, and chunky Chips Ahoy! cookies as well as cookies filled with candy bits and rainbow sprinkles.
As members of Generation X, we have fond memories of eating Pop-Tarts for breakfast when we were kids. Topped with icing and decorated with sprinkles, these rectangular breakfast items were a treat best eaten when toasted.
Pop-Tarts are more popular now than ever with brown sugar cinnamon and strawberry topping the flavor charts. Are they healthy? Not really. Do they make us smile when we eat them as snacks today? Absolutely.
While three original flavors (blueberry, brown sugar cinnamon and strawberry flavors) have passed the test of time, a fourth (apple-currant) has bitten the proverbial Pop Tart dust. Other current Pop-Tart flavors include cherry, chocolate chip, chocolate fudge, grape and raspberry.
21. Hostess CupCakes
Americans love cupcakes. The personal cakes reached peak popularity during the past two decades at bakeries like Magnolia and Crumbs in New York City as well as around the country but this is nothing new. Americans have been eating and loving cupcakes since at least 1919. That’s the year that Hostess started selling their iconic CupCakes.
Not your everyday cupcakes, Hostess CupCakes are miniature chocolate cakes filled with vanilla cream and topped with chocolate icing. A white squiggle on top completes the ensemble.
True Confession – We’re not huge fan of these cupcakes and their waxy icing. However, eating them takes us back to our childhoods which, at the end of the day, is priceless.
The original Hostess CupCakes were baked without vanilla cream or squiggles. Those features were added three decades later.
22. Sara Lee Pound Cake
Back in the middle of the 20th century, housewives across America were happy to defrost frozen pound cakes and serve them at the end of family meals. It certainly was a lot easier than baking cakes from scratch. It’s not hyperbole to opine that those frozen cakes put Sara Lee (the company, not the person) on the map.
Times have changed. Not only do most women have careers outside the home, but family meals and defrosted frozen cakes are no longer a big deal. However, grabbing a slice of ready-to-eat pound cake at a convenience store is, for lack of a better word, convenient. Sara Lee calls its individually wrapped pound cake slices ‘moist and tender’ and we don’t disagree.
Sara Lee, the daughter of original owner Charles Lubin, was a real person.
We didn’t appreciate Fig Newtons when we were kids – we simply weren’t sophisticated enough to appreciate soft cookies filled with fig paste. Somehow, Fig Newtons, which were invented by employees at Boston’s F. A. Kennedy Steam Bakery in 1891, survived without our support.
Nabisco renamed the cookies in 2012 and they’re just called Newtons now. Despite this name change, Newtons will always be Fig Newtons to us – even the ones filled with strawberry paste.
The Newton’s name isn’t the only thing that changed over time. The figgy cookies were originally marketed as fig-filled cakes and not cookies.
Twinkies would be at the top of this guide if the cream-filled sponge cakes had a never-ending shelf-life. But, alas, that urban legend is a fantasy. Instead, Twinkies stay fresh for a month (give or take) and rank as our least favorite popular American snack.
On paper, we should like Twinkies more but we’d much rather eat a Krimpet instead. Perhaps it’s our Philly connection or maybe Twinkies just aren’t that great. Either way, after almost a century, it’s fair that Twinkies are here to stay.
Deep frying Twinkies has become a thing in the 21st century which should keep cardiologists busy for a while.
Frequently Asked Questions
American snacks are foods eaten between meals. They can be savory or sweet.
The most popular snacks in America include cookies, chips, crackers, pretzels and candy.
American snacks range from healthy to unhealthy depending on their ingredients and whether they’re baked or fried.
American snacks are some of the best snacks in the world. The best way to find your personal favorite is to taste them all.
About The Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers their unique taste of the world.
Original Publication Date: July 18, 2023