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Look What I Found: More Sunflower Seeds

When I set out to write about Zotes Sunflower Seeds, an edgy, ironic and delicious snack line I discovered in Utah, I had no idea I was actually eulogizing a new, yet dear, friend. As I completed my article and checked my links, I noticed that the Zotes website, which I had just ordered from an indeterminate amount of time ago, was completely dead. We’d had some close calls before - despite genuine snack innovations and a snazzy website, Zotes seemed a little behind the times. The site was infrequently updated and the online store poorly maintained even when it was operational. Frustrating, but not cause for concern yet.

As comments from curious readers piled up, and as friends and coworkers asked me how they could get some Zotes, and as days turned to weeks turned to months, I simply had to accept the fact that I’d popped open my last ludicrously packaged bottle of Zotes Sunflower Seeds. But our official confirmation of this grim fact came with a silver lining of seasoned salt. As the dopey, trailblazing creature that was Zotes curled up into an infirmed ball and welcomed the warm release of dissolution, a leaner, less flamboyant and craftier beast was wriggling free of the carcass that once held it captive, much like an alien chestburster. Interstate Bait was alive… and coming for me.

The New Batch

Founded by one of the men behind Zotes, Interstate Bait is, at the very least, the spiritual successor to Zotes’ imaginatively flavored sunflower seeds sold in plastic flip top bottles. At the most, it’s a continuation of the same company, just with some rebranding. While I had trouble getting in touch with the Zotes people, Interstate Bait took the initiative and sought me out in my little corner of the internet that is Culture Blues. The customer service purist in me thinks that progress requires change.

So what did I do after a look-alike attempted to console me after the loss of a great love? I got my hands on all the Interstate Bait Seeds and Corn Nuts (yeah, they’ve expanded to corn nuts) possible and sat down to find out how well Interstate Bait carried on the Zotes tradition.

I’m not going to sugarcoat things for you. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that can make up for the loss of Zotes’ unique and endlessly amusing packaging. It’s what elevated them from gas station curiosity to a must own. Interstate Bait’s packaging is considerably less fun (although I think there is some hitchhiker/jailbait joke going on here) and there’s just one measly picture for all the flavors? All of them?!? What a disappointment.

But if there’s one thing that takes the bitter taste of disappointment out of my mouth, it’s the sweet yet salty taste of Kettle Corn flavored Corn Nuts. Oh, you’ve never heard of Kettle Corn flavored Corn Nuts? That’s because they don’t exist… unless you order them from Interstate Bait! And guess what? They’re fantastic. The nuts have a more corn-y and natural taste than the Dorito dust covered name brand ones, and the flavor combination is simply genius. With the most noteworthy addition to their lineup, Interstate Bait has proven they’re capable of the same sort of imagination as their predecessor.

Much of the Interstate Bait seed lineup consists of old Zotes flavors. Garlic is back and delicious as ever, although now I like to combine them with some Bloody Mary seeds. Jamaican Jerk is back, complimented by a very appropriately named Curry Spice flavor. It’s not one of my favorites, but the “curry” flavor really comes through. Interstate Bait is doing for sunflower seeds what Jelly Belly did for jellybeans. Jalapeno, Dill Pickle and Hot Wing, all former Zotes standards, are the next Interstate Bait flavors set to be released (Jalapeno was one of my favorites).

Not surprisingly given the Kettle Corn Nut breakthrough, Interstate Bait’s most inspired ideas come in the “salty meets sweet” field of study. This phenomenon has been on the national radar since chocolate covered pretzels made a splash back in the 90s, and is currently all the rage with fancy pants chocolatiers who put sea salt on their cacao (I class up workplace lunches by putting it on Milky Ways). The "Churr-oh" flavored seeds are a good idea but a little bit of a missed opportunity. The doughy, cinnamon flavor is there, it’s just not pronounced enough. It’s a formula that needs some tweaking, which is exactly what the brain trust at Interstate Bait has informed me they’re doing.

The other revolutionary product takes salty and sweet a step further, Sweet Cheeks mixes sunflower seeds with generic M&M-esque candies. It’s bold. It’s a little insane. But it works. The candies are sparse enough that they never overpower the seeds (you really only want one in a small handful), but this is really whole new snack territory here. These work for me because I eat the whole shell, but I’m not sure how people who crack the shells open and just eat the seed will manage. Then again, if you’re spitting out these shells, you’re really missing the point. That’s where all the flavor is.

All in all, the Interstate Bait seeds and seasoning seem to be a bit higher quality than Zotes. The seeds themselves taste better, the added flavors seem more natural. And there’s nothing as grotesque and repulsive as the Tequila Lime Zotes flavor (please let that one stay dead, guys). With new flavors on the horizon as well as tweaks to existing ones, Interstate Bait’s seed business seems destined for growth.

As incentive for former Zotes fans and people wholly new to the world of gourmet gas station sunflower seeds (and corn nuts! Currently out of stock cause they’re awesome – but seriously, buy the corn nuts), Interstate Bait is offering a special 10% discount to all Culture Blues readers. Just enter “cultureblues” in the coupon code field when you check out. Enjoy!

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5 Responses »

  1. i too eat the shells...and while i have gone overboard and experienced a raking of the anus, if you will, clearly, moderation is key.

  2. Interstate Bait: May rake your anus.

    You're welcome for the press, guys.

  3. i do what i can

    anyways, thanks to this article i checked out their site and i will almost assuredly purchase some of their products. jamaican jerk sunflower seeds? yes please.

  4. Hey guys,

    If you ever order online, use the coupon code "tprince" for 10% off your order, you can use it as many times you want and it will last forever. Get crackin'!

    Also, there'll be two new flavors coming out very soon - Sea Salt & Vinegar and Loaded Baked Potato. These two new flavors will be delicious.

    Thanks,
    Hammer.

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