Potato Chips

Potato Chips!

Potato chips, or Crisps as the British like to call them, are the very lowest rung on the ladder of potato hierarchy. There are chip flavors that I do enjoy, but as far as picking a respectable high-quality potato product, one can't really do worse than potato chips. They are cheap, overly processed, and hardly true to the spirit of a proud potato, and that's why they came in last. They have a pretty rich history though, and I have a lot to say about them. (So don't expect a novel about potato salad now.)


Allegedly potato chips were invented in 1853 by George Crum, a chef working at the Moon Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs, New York.2 Some asshole kept sending back his fried potatoes because they were "too thick" so crafty old Crum sliced them as thin as he could and fried them until they were brittle. But his zany plan backfired—as zany plans so often do—and the customer loved the potato chips. Crum ended up with the last laugh after all, as his "Saratoga Chips" were soon added to the menu of the Moon Lake Lodge and later faded away into obscurity.2

Just kidding, obviously the popularity of potato chips spread across New England and, once the mechanical potato peeler was invented in 1920, eventually the world.8 This is kind of unfortunate for the potatoes since no vegetable wants to be made into junk food, but as one might imagine, some types of potato (predominantly the Atlantic variety in North America) are grown specifically for chipping.3


An old potato chip bag!

Since their unflavored New English inception, potato chips have been sold with a vast array of flavorings, ranging from the original cheese & onion and salt & vinegar (both invented by Irish crisp manufacturer "Tayto" in the late 1950s10), to the more familiar barbecue or sour cream & chives. In recent years some chip manufacturers have apparently had success with more unusual flavors Chocolate potato chips! like dill, ketchup, or even roast beef or wasabi & shrimp. I have never tried or even actually seen those last two but I heard about them on the Internet so they must be real.

One flavor gimmick that I happen to like is the "loaded" potato chip, which is advertised as featuring all the flavors of cheddar, sour cream, chives, bacon, onion, ranch dressing, barbecue sauce, salt, pepperoni pizza, other potato chips, caviar, a different kind of salt, cotton candy, leather, sunshine dust, Tasty Wheat, soy sauce, tequila, plutonium, mustard, and probably some other stuff I am forgetting. I am pretty sure all these flavors are just MSG and food dye anyway.


As one might expect, it's true that chips are one of the least healthy ways to prepare potatoes, but probably not nearly as unhealthy as commonly believed. A single ounce serving of potato chips (which is about 15 unsmashed chips) has 10 grams of fat, which isn't very good unless you're on the Atkins diet, but 1.4 grams of carbohydrates4 which isn't very good if you are on Atkins, but I think that is still okay as long as you just wash it down with a glass of bacon grease. Come to think of it, if you're on Atkins, why the hell are you even reading about potatoes anyway? Get off my website, fatty!

Anyway, potatoes in chip form are still as rich in potassium and vitamins C and B6 as ever.3,4 Most regular salted potato chips contain about 175mg of sodium in a serving, which is only about a tenth of a teaspoon of salt. Most surprisingly of all: a serving of potato chips is only 150 calories and completely cholesterol free!4 (Of course if you like to dip them in french onion lard, that is a different story.)

Flavored potato chips often have a generous helping of monosodium glutamate2 which might sound scary but ever since 1959 the FDA has classified MSG as "generally recognized as safe" (that is, the safest possible designation).9 It has been subject to repeated extensive heath and safety reviews since then due in part to persistent urban legends, myths, and conspiracy theories alleging the deadliness or mind-control properties of MSG, and its safety has been repeatedly confirmed by independent international health organizations. This is really outside the scope of this document, but please read the following sentence a few times, out loud if you wish:

Other Varieties

Disregarding the various flavors, there are different varieties of chips available in addition to the common thin fried style (a la Lay's or Better Made), most notably kettle chips, baked chips, and "stackables" (henceforth referred to in general as Pringles becuse everyone knows what Pringles are). Kettle chips are sliced significantly thicker than standard chips (making them a lot better for dipping if that's your thing). Kettle chips are evidently fried in a kettle. I don't really know what the kettle has to do with it, but I'm not about to suggest that it plays anything less than an integral role in making something called kettle chips. Kettle Chips! They are more crunchy than crispy (which I don't really care for) and are probably very similar to George Crum's original Saratoga Chips.

Not to be confused with baked potatoes proper, baked potato chips are—believe it or not—baked rather than fried. The upside of this is that baked potato chips have only 15% as much fat as their counterparts,11 but as is so often the case with healthy versions of junk foods, they just don't taste as good. Baked chips don't have nearly as much vitamin C as fried chips do,11 but come on, who chooses potato chips based on health concerns? Oh wait, that's right: people who eat baked chips.

Instead of thinly sliced potatoes, Pringles are made from dehydrated potatoes ground up into a potato flour slurry which is then reconstituted with wheat starch and molded into a saddle shape and fried.6,7 DELICIOUS, HUH!! Actually as artificial and unappetizing as that may sound, most flavors of Pringles don't taste too bad, as long as one avoids the "reduced salt" variety. Nevertheless, I think it is evident from this manufacturing process that if chips are the lowest form of potato (and they are), then Pringles are the lowest of the low, the very bottom of the barrel.


Potato Hierarchy:
Extremely low.
Probably hard, but nobody makes their own chips. Just go buy some, jerkchef.
Ralp's Choice:
I don't really like potato chips. There are some good flavors, but there are a lot of other salty snack foods I'd rather have, despite their non-potatoiness.

Text copyright ©2004 by Ralp

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