Salty, crunchy, savory, and crisp—potato chips encapsulate all that is perfect in a snack. They’re effortless and void of nutrition, a true indulgence. Yet despite their recipe for success, not all potato chips are created equal. Some can be overly salty, or worse, not salty enough; others lack a finessed crunch and some suffer from over ambition. We decided to try eight national brands, sticking to plain, salted chips available at major stores on the West Coast, to determine where we should spend our dollars next time a salty-spud hankering hits.
Kettle Chips Lightly Salted
These were hands down the overall winner, with most of our judges enjoying the both the look—like an actual homemade potato slice—and the slightly smoky, complex flavor. These chips had a perfect balance of salt and a crunchy texture.
Almost translucent with oil, these easily identifiable chips are reminiscent of most people’s childhoods. Some found them too greasy compared to other chips in the tasting. They are quite salty, though some, perhaps due to nostalgia, liked this. Lays are a good standby chip when there’s nothing else to buy and if nothing else, remind you what a chip tasted like when you were ten.
We’re not sure how these “healthy” chips snuck into the tasting, but we’re glad they did—some tasters liked these chips the best out of all the brands we tried. With a tagline of “All the flavor. Where’s the fat?” they don’t disappoint. We thought the shape would be good with dips and their salty flavor made them a good substitute (or addition) to regular potato chips. While they’re certainly not health food, they only have four grams of fat per serving (compared to around nine in regular chips).
Good Health Natural Food Potato Chip with Sea Salt
Fried in olive oil, these chips definitely had a distinctive flavor. They were crunchy, not too salty, and you could really taste the potatoes, unlike some of the other brands. Most of our tasters, perhaps due to the overwhelming saltiness of some of the other brands, thought these could use more salt and found them somewhat bland.
When eaten on their own, Ruffles taste pretty good. When eaten in comparison to better quality chips, Ruffles chips lose some of their allure. They’re extremely salty and the texture is less like potato and more like a foam synthesized from essence of spud. Hardly anyone thought they were as good as they remembered, but many still found them easy to eat.
Poore Brothers Original
These popular chips had a nice flavor, but our tasters weren’t crazy about the texture—crunchy to the point of being sharp. Description ranged from “stale-tasting” to “cardboard,” perhaps more due to texture than taste. Others found them lacking the complexity of flavors a good chip should have.
Terra Kettles with Sea Salt
These looked the best, but looks can be deceiving. While most of our tasters had and liked other flavors of Terra brand chips, the potato chips didn’t fair so well. Someone described them as having a “dirty” flavor; others thought they tasted less like potato and more like sweet potato chips. Others wished they had more salt.
Are Pringles real potato chips? Tough call. They seem more like a potato-like product, with a uniform appearance and shape and a flavor that’s not quite natural, not quite bad. (Plus they contain things that most chips don’t, like rice flour and wheat starch.) Sweet, with an almost grainy texture, some tasters liked these. Pringles are one of those products that people either love or hate and should almost be in their own category … but what that category would be is questionable.
Of course, this is just the tip of the potato when it comes to types of chips on the market. Regional chips usually make the list for most chip eaters, as do flavored chips. We’ll have to save those for another tasting.
Updated July 28, 2010