Who hasn't sat down and devoured a bag of potato chips in one sitting? No, not those tiny bags with one full chip and 22 crumbs of assorted sizes. A real bag of chips. Say, at least an 8-ouncer. Most of us have. It is not difficult. They're addictive. And that's just the plain chips. But in the competitive industry of snack foods, where potato chips amass sales of over $16.4 billion a year (according to 2005 figures from PotatoPro.com), coming up with an edge demands flavor. And not just any flavor -- outlandishly unique flavor. And now every company is trying to come up with a runaway winner in a wide-open, for want of a better term, flavor war.
In fact, on National Potato Chip Day, the largest international chips manufacturer, Frito Lay, invites you to their website/Facebook page to vote for three new flavors of potato chips -- Chicken & Waffles, Sriracha, and Cheesy Garlic Bread. Two sound wacky and the other most will only recognize if they're familiar with the Thai chili pepper condiment, sriracha sauce.
That's just the latest in the ever-increasing push to find the "next big thing" in flavored chips.
But why the push? If that $16.4 billion pie wasn't a big enough clue, how about the fact that in America alone, 1.2 billion pounds of potato chips are consumed annually (via Punchbowl.com). Or how about this: Potato chip sales make up one-third of all savory food sales around the world (via Fooducate.com). Those are some powerful incentives for snack companies to pursue new customers and convince old customers to buy additional amounts along with their regular purchases.
And it isn't as if flavored potato chips are a novelty. They've been around since the 1950s when a small Irish chip company, Tayto, created the concept (their first seasonings were Cheese & Onion and Salt & Vinegar, then sold it to the major chip manufacturers. The flavor wars would soon follow...
Potato chips themselves have been around since 1853. Legend has it that Andrew Carnegie was at a restaurant in Saratoga Springs, New York, and kept sending his fried potatoes back and complaining they were soggy. The chef, George Crum, was so incensed, he cut the potatoes extremely thin and fried them so that they couldn't be eaten with a fork. However, the joke backfired, because Carnegie enjoyed the crispy new food. Potato chips became a regular menu item at the New York restaurant and soon spread throughout the country.
Bagged chips didn't catch on until the 20th century, though. But when they did, it wasn't long before potato chips were America's favorite snack food, a prominence they enjoy today.
As for all the flavors, take a walk down a grocery store aisle. Not only will there be plenty of regular or "plain" chips (and racks of dips and sauces to go with them), there will be numerous varieties of thicknesses and flavorings. The most popular are sour cream and onion, salt and vinegar, and barbecue. However, flavors range from Cajun Crab to Chesapeake Bay Crab, from Chipotle to Jalapeno to Habanero, from Buffalo Wings to Cheddar Cheese.
Fast food giant Burger King presented a Flame-broiled Hamburger-flavored chip in 2008.
Some are quite exotic. USA Today reported on 15 "crazy" flavor varieties last May, finding Worcester Sauce, Bloody Mary, and Roast Chicken in the UK. There was Seaweed Pringles being sold throughout Asia. The Japanese had Hot Chili Squid (a Lay's product) and Korea has octopus. And there was Roast Beef & Peppercorn Sauce and Beef & Onion from the Irish guys that started it all, Tayto.
Still, the Brits probably market the most eclectic flavors through Walker's (par of the Lay's empire). In recent years, they've unveiled Cajun Squirrel , Lamb & Mint, and King Prawn Cocktail.
But Lay's' move to dominate the world market has brought with it some real strange combinations. They introduced Pepsi-flavored Chicken potato chips to China, because there is actually a popular culinary dish of chicken made with Pepsi Cola.
MomLogic and BlissTree both have lists of some very odd potato chip flavors: Seafood Mayonnaise, Cajun Crawtator, Wasabi Ranch, Scottish Haggis, and English Roast Beef & Yorkshire Pudding (and yes, the latter two are from Walker's).
So, with a tip of the hat to Walker's, here's the Top 10 craziest flavored potato chip ideas:
10. Bloody Mary
9. King Prawn Cocktail
8. Scottish Haggis
7. Pepsi-flavored Chicken
6. Seafood Mayonnaise
5. Chicken & Waffles
4. Lamb & Mint
3. English Roast Beef & Yorkshire Pudding
2. Cajun Squirrel
1. Hot Chili Squid
But, hey, variety is the spice of life, no? So go out and get yourself a bag of flavored chips and become part of the flavor wars. Or, if you're like this writer, you'll just grab a bag of regular chips -- no dip -- and chow down. (Hey, does anyone else miss the old greasy potato chips from yesteryear? They seemed to have a bit more "flavor" in all their plain potato chip glory, didn't they?)
Have a crunchy National Potato Chip Day, no matter what kind of chip you enjoy.
(photo credit: Evan-Amos, Wikimedia Commons)