The Great Chip-Off
Twelve chippers, seven chips, two dips. That was the scene yesterday morning at the offices of washingtonpost.com, where the "Mighty Appetite Chip-Off" took place.
It was early for chips -- 10 a.m. -- but that didn't stop these connoisseurs. There was important business to cover, and as one chipper argued, a bagel-and-cream cheese breakfast is likely to be nutrionally comparable to this chip-n'-dip buffet.
The objective: To identify the "best in show" supermarket brand of plain potato chip, just in time for Super Bowl Sunday.
The methodology: A blind taste test, taking several criteria into consideration, including: salt quotient, crunch, mouth feel, dip-ability, freshness and authentic potato flavor. Chips were divided into two categories -- ridged and regular.
Panelists evaluated each chip individually, then rated them, in numerical order -- #1 representing "first place" and so on.
For the purposes of this taste test, plain, unflavored chips were evaluated. This was a discussion strictly for potato chip purists, so flavored varieties, reduced fat, fat-free and any other chip bells and whistles were excluded from this exercise.
In addition, chips were selected for their accessibility and availability in either regional supermarkets or national chains. I perused the chip offerings in the following stores: Harris Teeter, Giant Food, Target, CVS and Eckerd Drug Store. Of course, one person's Eckerd may be another's Walgreens, but you get the idea. The list below represents plain chip availability here in the Washington area. Had I done this test in my hometown of Philadelphia, just 130-some miles north, I would have had brands such as Herr's and Wise to choose from, for example.
I'm a big fan of chip brands that I can only find in different parts of the country, including Tim's Cascade Style, Pacific Northwest label (but strangely, owned by Bird's Eye Foods) and Zapp's, a Louisiana specialty. But the topic of local chips has enough crunch for its very own blog post, perhaps later down the road.
To rate the chips' dip-ability, two dips were provided: A Velveeta-free queso and an onion dip, minus the soup mix, as detailed in yesterday's blog. (I know, a queso is meant to be served with tortilla or corn chips, but it worked admirably and the panel didn't seem to mind.)
Read on for names and ingredients of the chip contestants and the Chip-Off winners:
Ruffles ("rRRRuffles Have Ridges"), a Frito-Lay brand (potatoes, vegetable oil (corn, cottonseed or sunflower, salt)
Lay's Wavy, also a Frito-Lay brand (potatoes, sunflower oil, salt)
Utz Ripples, made by Utz of Hanover (potatoes, cottonseed oil, salt)
Utz "Crisp, all natural potato chips" (potatoes, cottonseed oil, salt)
Cape Cod Potato Chips, "old fashioned kettle-cooked" (potatoes, canola oil and salt)
Lays Classic (potatoes, sunflower oil, salt)
Terra Golds original potato chips (Yukon gold potatoes, canola oil and/or safflower, and/or sunflower oil, salt)
The results were fascinating. First, let me give a whopping high-five to the chippers, who took their job seriously and expressed enthusiasm as well as passion for the subject.
Based on their evaluations, there is no clear-cut stand-alone "best in show" chip. However, there are a few brands that the chippers advise staying clear of. The losers, in the panel's assessment, include both Utz varieties, considered "very generic, run of the mill, greasy and rancid."
I believe the words from one panelist were: "Utz is getting its butt kicked." It might behoove Utz to join the trans fat-free brigade with their competitors and stop using cottonseed oil, a hydrogenated oil used in snack foods, and yes, a dreaded trans fat.
The other big loser was the Terra Gold, made from Yukon gold potatoes. Although most were intrigued by its golden color and larger size, the vote was nearly unanimous that this chip tasted awful. "This chip is suspect," one panelist wrote. "I don't know what it would go well with." I overheard one panelist say, "This chip is wack."
As a whole, this group is partial to ridged chips, and of the three on the list, the chip pendulum swayed more in the direction of the Lays Wavy.
"This is the blue collar worker chip," one panelist wrote. "Its primary job is dip transportation," which I interpreted as function over form, or in this case, flavor. Others praised its thick ridges, which were described by one panelist as "wide-wale corduroys." However, many wished that the Lays Wavy was a bit saltier, like its cousin Ruffles.
Of the flat-surfaced chips, the clear forerunner was the Cape Cod kettle chip. However, many said that this chip was suited more for a sandwich than in a dip, and everyone seemed to love its crunch and mouthfeel.
Now, it's your turn. Vote for your 'best in show" or "worst in mouth" chip, ridged or plain. And for now, hold off on those flavored varieties as well as corn and tortilla chips. We'll tackle that universe later in the season.
Have a great weekend!
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