Rant: What Happened to Potato Chips?

by The Editor

Niche marketing.  It’s everywhere from the BMW X6 oddity to the 400 types of Colgate you can find on a supermarket shelf.  Where, O where will the madness stop?  The Canberran recently encountered one of the more extreme examples when looking for some chips to accompany an afternoon drink just recently.  It came in the form of a packet of chips purchased from a display behind the bar.

Now, please don’t get me wrong:  Some of the most interesting and flavoursome flavours of chips ever known have been released over the last five years or so.  Of particular note are the Red Rock Deli range, with wonderful combinations (Dijon Mustard and Honey, Lime and Black Pepper) far beyond the traditional Salt and Vinegar or Chicken of which many of us grew up with.

That said, there is a limit.  Some flavours available are baffling; some simply illogical.  Intrigued by what might actually be out there, The Canberran spent a few days trawling the city’s supermarkets before sitting down for one of the more unusual taste tests.

Smith’s Thins BBQ Ribs

Purchased from: IGA

Don’t get me wrong:  I love pig.  Give me pork, bacon, ham, sausage or whatever porcine product you can create from the magical beast and I’m happy.  I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever been more thrilled than on the weekend trip to the markets when I discovered this:

It stands to reason then that the flavour of pig in the convenience of a chip would be something to behold.

Well, it was sadly disappointing, especially since I couldn’t imagine failure was possible.  On the first taste, the barbeque flavour was there, but certainly not pronounced.  The pork flavour was almost entirely lacking. Nothing.  Zilch. Nada,. Even Little Spoon, eating a couple of chips under the misapprehension I was simply being generous looked at me and said. “Barbeque?  Why Barbeque?”

This was gravely disappointing.  As I chewed on glumly, hoping somehow my palate might open itself to a subtle hint of porky goodness quite the opposite happened:  It felt as though I was chewing on a mouthful of cardboard.

Sigh.

Black and Gold Cheese Rings

Purchased from: SupaBarn

I know, I know, I could have just gone and bought a bag of Cheezels, but that would remove any sense of adventure.  Everyone knows what a Cheezel tastes like.  I mean, we all have fond memories of wearing them as (five? ten?) rings, eating a whole packet and slurping on our bright orange fingers.  Fabulous.  Well, it was with those memories I set down to the low-budget version.

I had always been under the impression home brands were essentially the same as the branded product, but made cheaper through more limited distribution and the lack of marketing.  After my second Cheese Ring, that idea had been completely shattered.

They were no where near as cheesy as Cheezels, and by the time I had wedged the fourth on the end of my finger and eaten it, all I could taste was air and grease.  The only satisfaction to come from the Cheese Rings was the nostalgic feeling of my back teeth filling with soggy cornflour and starch.  It’s not much, but it least it was something.

Smith’s Heinz Big Red.

Purchased From:  Supabarn

This one could start an argument.  They’ve been around for ages, so clearly people out there buy them.  I’ve always passed these by on the shelf, slightly bemused as to what may be their point.  As I sat down with my bowl of slightly reddish crinkle cuts, the flavour wafting upwards, I finally got it.

You see, I’ve always been a fan of hot chips with vinegar, notw with tomato sauce. I am probably the only person in Australia who hadn’t made the connection, however after a couple of tries I was very much reminded of the rare occasions someone had squeezed a sachet of sauce on my chips at the beach/festival/sporting event.

Sadly, it also reminded me why I prefer vinegar.  Although I may be in the minority, these chips did little to convince me of the benefits tomato and potato may present.

Smith’s Thins Sunday Roast.

Purchased from:  Over the Bar

I have to admit, this is where the whole idea of investigating the madness of current chip variety started.  When I got these from the bar; the bartender was so embarrassed as to refuse to take any money.  As far as he was concerned the sooner they disappeared the sooner he could stop apologising for them.

So, what did they taste like?  Well, I’d have to say the initial aroma gave off generous notes of confusion and repulsion.  It smelt simply burnt.  Eating them meant dealing with an all out assault on the palate with so many different flavours hitting at one time it was impossible to pick them apart.  Eventually, once the aftertaste kicked in, the burnt flavour returned.  However, this time it was much easier to define – all I could taste was the grit on the bottom of a roasting pan.  I guess that suggests some kind of success on Smith’s part.

Offering Little Spoon a blind tasting, all I got in return was a scrunched up face and the question, “What are you doing?  Trying to make me eat the most disgusting chips ever?”  Well no, but kind of yes.

The packet loudly proclaims LIMITED EDITION.  Thank Christ for that.

Twisties Cheeseburger

Purchased from:  IGA

For the love of God, this is simply unnecessary.  Twisties were already a bizarre ezample of what happens when you put leftovers from a bakery in a deep-fryer.  The addition of Cheeseburger flavour (whatever that constitutes) took wrongness to a whole other level.

The last time I ate something as gastronomically confusing it was in the form of meat pie pizza from Dominos.  I managed about half a slice before offering the remainder to a horrified flatmate.  I mean, there were peas on it.  Peas!  I certainly didn’t expect such a range of extras as you might on a pizza, but still, I was apprehensive as the Cheeseburger Twisties were tipped into the bowl.

Initially the flavour was sweet, and, as the flavour mellowed out on the palate revealed itself to be a tomato flavour.  Cheese was also present, but any flavour of meat was utterly absent.  It was simply as though I was eating a combination of a traditional cheese twistie and a Heinz Big Red chip.  Horrid.

Summary.

Let’s face it, you’d have to be fairly desperate to conider any of these a remotely decent ‘snack’.   I mean, culinary curoisities are fine when in the hands of Heston Blumenthal or Ferran Adrià, but not available for $2.50 from a lower shelf in a service station.  If you need to grab a snack, avoid any of the items tested above and perhap buy some fruit.  If absolutely necessary, stick with some plain Smiths or some Red Rock Deli chips. Should you choose to to wander down any of the paths I have journeyed, your life is in your own hands.  Be strong.

Download 2011 1101 Chip Chart

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