The Great Chip Battle of 2013

As you’ve probably heard by now, potato chip giant Lay’s is having a contest to introduce a new flavor of potato chips. They’ve narrowed the field to three flavors and released limited quantities of the chips. We consumers are being asked to vote on which flavor we like best: Sriracha, Chicken & Waffles or Cheesy Garlic Bread. I went to several stores over the past couple of weeks and finally tracked them down this past Thursday at my local CVS:

Chips

Which chip will reign supreme… at least in my book? Read on, folks, for the Great Chip Battle of 2013!

Chairman Kaga

“Allez cuisine!”

SRIRACHA

SMELL: Like potato chips, with a faint whiff of Sriracha-like vinegar.

APPEARANCE: Mostly golden brown, with a few chips coated in a faint pink dust. They’re not nearly as red as Lay’s “Flamin’ Hot” chips, but that’s not a bad thing if you don’t want to stain your fingers!

TASTE: The chips do taste faintly of Sriracha, although it’s kind of subtle. Like the buzz from cheap macrobrew, the heat doesn’t come on until you’ve had a few. In my book, the Sriracha flavor isn’t nearly strong enough, and is crippled by an annoyingly sweet flavor. The ingredients list says that sugar is part of the “Sriracha seasoning”, and I’ll be damned if I can taste that much sugar in genuine Huy Fong Sriracha!. Of course, I may be biased here. I put Sriracha on damn near anything humans can consume: pizza, soup, hot dogs, eggs, tacos, chili, burgers, pork rinds, fried okra, blackeyed peas, mac and cheese… almost everything. If it’s not cake, cookies or ice cream, I’m probably putting Sriracha on it. And these chips, while good, were a bit of a let down. I need to dip them in actual Sriracha sauce to get the flavor I need want, and that just defeats the purpose of having a Sriracha chip.

CHICKEN & WAFFLES

SMELL: After an initial explosion of some kind of “maple syrup-like” aroma, the chips began smelling like old potatoes. There was a strange musty, dirt-like smell that was just kind of… odd.

APPEARANCE: Mostly golden brown, with a few specks of spice here and there.

TASTE: Totally bizarre. At first I mostly tasted some kind of artificial syrup flavor. I hate to sound like a food snob here, but I only eat real maple syrup, and preferably Grade B syrup at that. But as I continued through the bag, I noticed another taste… was that.. sage? I never really tasted anything that reminded me of chicken, which is odd, given that Nabisco conquered that problem with Chicken in a Biskit crackers all the way back in 1964. So it seems as if the chips have the taste of the seasoning that comes on fried chicken, but not the chicken itself. And as I went through the bag I’d get the occasional burst of flavor the reminded me exactly of a breakfast cereal my sister and I ate as kids. But for the life of me, I can’t place it. Golden Grahams? Cinnamon Toast Crunch? Did they make French Toast Crunch back in 1983? All in all, the chips aren’t unpleasant, and I can see where they were really aiming for the “chicken and waffles” flavor. I’m just not sure they hit the mark.

CHEESY GARLIC BREAD

SMELL: A vague, artificial “cheese and garlic” aroma. It’s not unpleasant, but it smells like “letdown”.

APPEARANCE: Golden brown, with a golden powder on them and a few specks of spice.

TASTE: Wow! I can’t taste any “bread” flavor, but the cheesy garlic taste is really there! Flavors of Parmesan cheese dominate, but the amazing thing is that it somehow has that slightly nutty taste that Parmesan gets after it’s toasted. And then the cheese mellows out to a kind of bulky, mellow, mozzarella kind of taste. It lingers in your mouth like an “Italian style” macaroni and cheese dish with lots of garlic and mozzarella.

Find out which flavor wins… after the jump!

WINNER!

So… which chip is my favorite? Which one do I hope ends up on store shelves in the coming months? Believe it or not, the winner is:

Lays Chips

Yep, Cheesy Garlic Bread was my favorite! It actually tastes a fair amount like garlic bread (although it’s more “cheesy” than “garlicy”). On balance, these were the best tasting chips of the lot, and a unique flavor at that. I’ve read some reviews online which say that these chips taste too much like “sour cream and onion” chips… and I think those people are nuts! I thoroughly enjoyed the bag, and will gleefully eat the second bag very soon. I hope this one wins, although I don’t have my hopes up. The only downside to these chips is that I’m not sure I’d want to eat an entire 7oz bag of them. Which isn’t that big a deal – I probably shouldn’t eat an entire bag of chips in one sitting anyway. But the nearly 3oz bag seemed like a perfect serving size – enjoy to really enjoy, but not too much to get that “cheese in my veins” feeling I get at the movie theatre from eating too much popcorn (although that’s obviously “artificial butter flavor in my veins”). You know what I mean?

Finishing in second place are the Sriracha chips. As I said, I love Sriracha sauce, so you’d think this one would be a no-brainer.Unfortunately, Lay’s seemed to have wimped out and gone for a “vague sense of Sriracha” rather than “full-blown Sriracha”. Which is a shame, because there are plenty of other spicy chips out there. If I were just going for the spicy factor, Lay’s own Flamin’ Hot chips are hotter than these, as are Herr’s Red Hot Potato Chips and Kettle’s jalapeno chips. And if spicy’s out, that just leaves Sriracha flavor, and there isn’t enough of that to hold my interest. I think that this would be a better “everyday” chip than the others, but I’m afraid the only flavor I can really taste here is disappointment.

In last place you have the Chicken & Waffle chips. I’ve gotta give Lay’s credit for trying something as wacky as this, and the flavors of the chips were surprisingly complex. I’d expected “maple syrup chips”, but what I got combined the syrup taste with sage and black pepper to make something actually kind of interesting. But nothing about these chips stands out. If you blindfolded me and made me eat all three flavors of these chips, I could readily pick out the garlic bread and Sriracha flavors. This one? Not so much. I don’t think these were “awful” by any means. But even if they were to somehow win, I would expect Lay’s to have them on the shelves for a couple of months before discontinuing them.

 

A NOTE ON METHODOLOGY: I ate the chips. Just kidding: I ate most of each bag of chips several hours after eating anything else, and several minutes after smoking. I had sweet iced tea with all chips. I made sure to save a little bit of each bag to eat 12 hours later to verify my opinions from the night before.

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