Most of you know that my one of my guilty pleasures is fries, but chips aren’t all that far behind. They are salty, crispy and made with potatoes…most of them anyways. The one great thing with chips though is that they can be seasoned with ANYTHING! There are a bazillion varieties of flavors and styles to choose from. Well, in the last few years, Lay’s started to introduce some spectacularly weird flavors of potato chips to create a huge marketing buzz and involve their consumers. For a limited time, 4 new flavors would be introduced in the market and as consumers, we got to vote on our favorite and that flavor would become a fixed variety in their repertoire. As a complete marketer’s dream consumer, I have always been about this! Not only do I get to eat chips, I can justify it as my duty as a chef to give my professional feedback! LOL!!! I missed the last few rounds, but this time around, I am totally on it. Inspired by the 2016 Olympics, Lay’s new flavors are worldly and exotic as the locales they are from. The new flavors are: Brazilian Picanha, Greek Tzatziki, Chinese Szechuan Chicken, and Indian Tikka Masala. Along with these four, I added Biscuits and Gravy to the mix to round out the variables in this experiment, with the control being the Original Lay’s Potato Chip. I judged each flavor on look, smell and of course taste and ultimately decided my favorite. Let’s see how this panned out, shall we?
THE CONTROL: Lay’s Original Potato Chip
Look: Golden, pale color, no specks of seasoning, perfectly portioned tiny granules of salt
Smell: Nice potato smell, fresh bag, no overly greasy notes
Taste: Crispy, salty and the perfect potato characteristics
Final Notes: Lay’s has always made the best plain potato chip and they continue to do so. It’s a perfect vessel for any kind of dip and is neutral to the majority of taste buds unless they have an aversion to salt.
VARIABLE ONE: Brazilian Picanha – inspired by skewered-grilled steak with chimichurri sauce (an herb and olive oil based sauce)
Look: Golden, pale color, abundant specks of green and light brown
Smell: Slightly smoky, faint herbal notes
Taste: Good smoky taste, parsley on the finish
Final Notes: So, this is supposed to be steak and herb sauce, it is just that. I don’t think it’s as strong as they could have made it. The light brown granules must be the “steak” in a beef flavored salt and the “chimichurri” is definitely present in the dried parsley flakes. If you have the perfect chip, it comes together well, but when that salt isn’t present, it’s just a chip with dried parsley on it, not that great. The more I ate, the taste went away all together and no longer lingered in my mouth and when it did, I kinda felt like I smoked a beef flavored cigar…yuck. I didn’t desire to eat more of them, but only because I had to for this taste test. Nope, not my favorite.
VARIABLE TWO: Greek Tzatziki – inspired by a yogurt sauce with cucumber, dill and garlic
Look: Wavy, golden color, specks of green and salt
Smell: Nothing distinct, similar to sour cream and onion flavor chips
Taste: Tangy, strong cucumber and salt
Final Notes: First of all, this sauce is one of my favorites, so my standards were already high. At first taste, I thought they were just a variant on sour cream and onion chips, which they are. However, I love the tang and the strong cucumber and salt at the end. I craved eating this more and more. I think the crevices from the waves makes this a much better seasoned chip than its flat relative. But on the other side of that, it makes for a thicker chip which is what lingers in my mouth and not the seasoning itself, that ratio didn’t work for me. It’s not the chip that makes me come back for more, it’s the seasoning and salt that tickles my palate. The more I ate, the more irritated I got with the fact that I was just eating a plain Wavy Lay…which I don’t think was their intention. I would love to see this flavor on a small condensed kettle chip or a normal potato chip.
VARIABLE THREE: Chinese Szechuan Chicken – inspired by Sichuan peppers
Look: Darker golden, multi-color specks of salt and seasoning
Smell: Strong on the soy, oriental spice notes, chicken bouillon
Taste: Strong soy flavor, good spice at the end
Final Notes: At first try, I did not like this at all. It did nothing for me, I couldn’t taste anything great about it, just some useless weird spice on a chip. When I went back to it, the nuances came out and I did actually appreciate its unique flavor profile. It tastes and smells a lot like that Asian snack mix with wasabi peas and those boomerang looking rice pieces glazed with soy and whatever else…see pic for reminder. The taste is really similar too, it’s salty, sweet and has that hint of pepper at the end that lingers on your tongue in a good way, all with this instant chicken ramen seasoning thing going on. I kept wanting to go back to them to see what else I could taste. What I love about this chip is that the uneven distribution of the seasonings works in my favor! Some chips have more spice, others have more salt and chicken flavor, but you can’t pick them out just by looking at them. My only gripe, I wanted a little more spiciness on my tongue, after all, it’s a chip inspired by a pepper.
VARIABLE FOUR: Indian Tikka Masala – inspired by a tomato-based curried dish spiced with cumin and turmeric
Look: Vibrant orange color, numerous specks of reds and greens
Smell: Smoky, heavily spiced, definitely Indian spice profiles
Taste: Lots of tomato, smoke, spice, tangy
Final Notes: OK, I am biased, end of story. As much as that could sway me to vote for it, I am also that much more critical. The color is a result of the tomato powder and turmeric, so it looks like it’s an over-spiced chip, which for some, it may be. The cumin is strong in the smokiness of the smell and the taste in flavor. The tang from the tomato is great and the cumin lingers far after the chip is gone. I keep going back to that combination of flavors because it actually is well balanced. It reminds me a lot of when I used to go to India as a kid and eat their local version of Lay’s known as Uncle Chipps. As much as these flavors are newer to the US, I’ve been eating tomato and cumin on chips for years as it’s a staple in India, so I was stupidly happy. I am a huge proponent of bold flavors, I don’t want to have to look for the seasoning, it should be obvious. I love that this is also in kettle chip form, because the chip stands up to the flavors, otherwise, on a normal chip it would be overkill. I think they definitely accomplished what they set out to do, but it’s not for everyone. Side note: The lingering flavors lasts too long; the burps are gross.
VARIABLE FIVE: Southern Biscuits and Gravy – needs no explanation
Look: Golden pale, large black specks
Smell: Strong sage and thyme
Taste: Strong on the herbs, salt is tempered
Final Notes: OK, remember when you were a kid and looked for the strawberries in the corn flakes box because they were on the cover? Ok, maybe it was just me, but I wanted to dig for pieces of sausage in the bag after I ate this chip. The flavors are so distinct and so accurate, it’s scary. I loved how the herbs were highlighted and salt wasn’t. The biscuit was more of the dried buttermilk, kinda like you see on sour cream and onion chips, same purpose. The flavors are tangy and the sage is so pronounced, I LOVED IT! It makes me want to eat the actual dish, which is so unlike me as I don’t gravitate towards biscuits and gravy much. Even though this chip isn’t a part of the new series, I had to put this one in there just for you guys to know that it’s totally worth a try!
Ok, as much I as I want to tell you that this was a great experiment about chips and chips alone, it wasn’t. Yes, as you all know, I always have a whole underlying reason for gorging on chips a week before I start my marathon training eating program for the next 6 weeks. Food isn’t about what you taste at that moment, it’s about memories it may bring back. Certain smells and tastes can trigger a moment in time, good or bad. A single herb or spice can remind you of an entire meal, not just a potato chip. Lay’s does a good job in taking the most common and distinctive elements of a dish and building the seasoning profiles around it. The smoky beef salt, cucumber, soy and peppers, cumin and turmeric and the sage and thyme all were meant to be triggers to remind you of eating those cuisines from those locales. The soy wasn’t just about the chip itself, it was about East Asian cooking as a whole, as the cumin and turmeric brought me back to my childhood in India. The cucumber took me to Greektown in Chicago. Do I have a favorite? Yes, my favorite is the Southern Biscuits and Gravy because as subtle as the chip is, the flavors that stood out had me wanting something I normally don’t eat. As for the global flavors collection, my vote is for the Chinese Szechuan Chicken, mainly for its palatable balance of spices, and for the pure fact that when I was done with this taste test, that’s the one I went back to first. Lessons learned from this? One, don’t judge a chip by its cover…and two, take more pee breaks! Pick up your own samples and decide what you like! I’d love to hear which flavors triggered memories and which ones were better off never conceived! 😉 With that said, my raw tongue and full bladder bid you farewell!! Gotta Go!