Getting Lay'd: Lessons in potato chip diplomacy | Food & Drink Feature | Chicago Reader

Getting Lay'd: Lessons in potato chip diplomacy 

Notes from a Thai and Chinese crisp tasting

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click to enlarge Of the seven out of 18 flavors the panel accepted as edible, five of them were Thai. - MIKE SULA
  • Of the seven out of 18 flavors the panel accepted as edible, five of them were Thai.
  • Mike Sula

It's 2020, and weed is legal, and the world is ending, and there's nothing else to do but eat potato chips. We at the Reader have a long tradition of feeding the trolls of the Frito-Lay company, particularly when it comes to things like cappuccino chips.



But the worldview of Lay’s is broad and inclusive and bigger than the snack aisle at Park to Shop in Bridgeport, which is huge. The selection of Lay’s is dazzling and confounding. Not long ago I swept up a dozen varieties of Lay’s, formulated from a chemistry set of flavoring agents (disodium inosinate, L-alanine, sugar) to appeal to the Chinese palate.

They sat in a pile until I picked up a dozen more Thai flavors at Talard Thai Asian Market a few weeks later. I’m not in the habit of playing favorites but the results were pretty clear to the distinguished panel of tasters I assembled, who—with the exception of one miscreant who claimed to love every single flavor he shoved into his gob—preferred the Thai flavors to the Chinese.

In general the Chinese chips suffered from an overabundance of sugar (or aspartame) and a discombobulating lack of salt. The Thai crisps are more of a mystery, with vague and relatively little information in their listed ingredients. Maybe that lends to their appeal, but they are definitely more complex, and closer to what they’re billed as. Of the seven out of 18 flavors the panel accepted as edible, five of them were Thai.

We tried Mexican Tomato Chicken Flavor Lay’s so you don’t have to. What follows is summary of our work. Evaluators are identified by their code names, based on their admitted eating habits and preferences:

JFW, aka Jaded Food Writer
BMP, aka Bland Midwestern Palate
LLE, aka Learned to Like Eggs
LSC, aka Loves a Shrimp Chip
SDP, aka Shameless Dog Palate

click to enlarge MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula

Chip: Cucumber
Origin: China
Key ingredients: Cucumber powder, aspartame
Tasting notes:
BMP: I don’t like the smell of this. Reminds me of spa water.
LSC: Smells like fake cucumber. More like a melon. We can eat one of these with the yogurt flavor.
LLE: It has a sweetness cucumbers don’t have, sort of a sugar cookie thing going on.
Consensus: No

Chip: Wasabi
Origin: China
Key ingredients: Mislabeled with cucumber ingredients
Tasting notes:
JFW: It doesn’t have the sinus-scouring signature of wasabi, or even horseradish. There’s more sugar than salt.
BMP: It’s not very hot—just a hint of wasabi.
LLE: It doesn’t fulfill its promise.
LSC: I’d eat that in an airport.
Consensus: No

Chip: Texas Grilled BBQ
click to enlarge MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula

Origin: China
Key ingredients: Mislabeled with cucumber ingredients
Tasting notes:
JFW: There’s a picture of a rare New York Strip on the bag so before you even open it there’s a fundamental disconnect about what Texas barbecue is.
LSC: In China it's salted cardboard.
Consensus: No



Chip
: Roasted Chicken Wing
Origin: China
Key ingredients: Roasted artificial chicken wings seasoning
Tasting notes:
BMP: It’s not just a ruffle situation but a waffle situation.
JFW: This is powdered chicken soup mix. Lipton’s.
Consensus: No

Chip: Hot Chili Squid 
click to enlarge img_6998.jpg

Origin
: Thailand
Key ingredients: Milk, squid
Tasting notes:
JFW: This is a ruffled situation. Our first Thai flavor.
LLE: Smells like a pile of seafood.
LSC: Still on the sweet side, but I'd definitely eat this bag.
LLE: It tastes like how I’d imagine those words would taste: some deep-fried squid with dipping sauce.
Consensus: Yes

Chip: Grilled Eel
Origin: China
Key ingredients: Fish, shrimp, soy, dairy
Tasting notes:
LSC: This smells like—SNIFFS—smells like your sweaty running socks after two days.
JFW: I like it already.
LSC: It tastes like super old ginger. Ohhhh! Grocery store sushi!
LLE: A step up from gas station sushi.
Consensus: No.

Chip: Italian Red Meat Flavor
click to enlarge MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula

Origin: China
Key ingredients: Artificial Red Meat Flavor, Edible Chili Flavor Essence
Tasting notes:
JFW: Judging by the bag, Italian Red Meat Flavor is Mandarin for Bolognese.
LSC: This just smells like shrimp chips.
BMP: You love a shrimp chip.
LSC: This is what I imagine the bottom of a can of tomato sauce would taste like.
BMP: None of these are salty enough. A Lay’s is salty as a motherfucker. This would be better with more salt.
Consensus: No

Chip: Salted Egg
Origin: Thailand
Key ingredients: Ribotides
Tasting notes:
JFW: I was told this sells out at Talard as soon as they get it.
LLE: That might be the saltiest one we’ve had.
BMP: They have a hot moment at the end, which I appreciate.
Consensus: Yes

Chip: Mexican Chicken Tomato
click to enlarge MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula

Origin: China
Key ingredient: Edible essence
Tasting notes:
SDP: Is this supposed to be a tinga?
JFW: These are sickly sweet. Ketchup.
LSC: Tomato paste. I need palate cleanser.
BMP: It tastes like artificial tomato perfume.
Consensus: Hard no




Chip: Yogurt
Origin: China
Key ingredients: Mislabeled cucumber again
Tasting notes:
BMP: It’s sweet again, like a creamsicle.
LSC: This might work paired with the cucumber.
LLE: Am I crazy to say dulce de leche?
Consensus: Tie

click to enlarge MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
Chip: Lime
Origin: China
Key ingredients: Cucumber label again
Tasting notes:
JFW: Lime with no citrus kick to it. A very muted lime flavor. Like key lime pie.
LSC: The LaCroix of potato chips.
LLE: You could sell this to someone who drinks that bullshit.
SDP: This is a yes for me. You’re out of your fucking minds, guys.
Consensus: No



Chip: Fried Crab
Origin: China
Key ingredients: Flounder powder, mactra powder
Tasting notes:
BMP: Bad seafood.
SDP: If this was Old Bay-flavored I’d say yes. Needs more salt. It does taste like crab-flavored seafood ramen.
Consensus: No

Chip: Numb & Spicy Hot Pot 
click to enlarge MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula

Origin
: China
Key ingredients: sesame, Sichuan pepper, fennel Disoium-5' ribonucleotide
Tasting notes:
BMP: I’m gonna need another Coors Light.
LSC: Hardcore Italian seasoning. I don’t know if it's numbing or hot but I am pro that one. It tastes nothing like it’s supposed to taste like. Like margherita pizza.
LLE: Almost a bruschetta with a shit-ton of basil on it.
Consensus: Yes.



click to enlarge MIKE SULA
  • Mike SUla
Chip: Green Curry
Origin: Thailand
Key ingredient: Packaging gas
Tasting notes:
JFW: This tastes like exactly what it says it is.
BMP: It tastes like grass.
Consensus: Yes





Chip
: Miengkam Krobos (aka one-bite salad)
Origin: Thailand
Key ingredients: Shrimp, soybeans
Tasting notes:
SDP: It tastes like Crunchberries. . .
BMP: . . with lime.
Consensus: Yes

Chip: River Prawn and Spicy Sauce
click to enlarge MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
Origin: Thailand
Key ingredient: Natural Identical Flavor
Tasting notes:
JFW: This is a game changer in chip innovation. Two flavors in one bag: freshwater prawn and a spicy dipping sauce.
LSC: I do not ever want that again.
SDP: That’s good!
Consensus: No.



Chip
: Spicy Crayfish
Origin: China
Key ingredient: Crayfish
Tasting notes:
BMP: Ugh. Ughh, No! It smells like a dirty restaurant.
LSC: That just tastes like handful of dried shrimp. . . in mop water.
Consensus: No

Chip: Shrimp Tom Yum 
Origin
:
Thailand
Key ingredients:
Fish, shrimp
Tasting notes:
LSC: Nailed it.
Consensus: Yes

click to enlarge The rejects were collected in a bowl that is now a superfund site. - MIKE SULA
  • The rejects were collected in a bowl that is now a superfund site.
  • Mike Sula

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