Chipping Away

Photographs by Adam Kuban

With artisan potato chips showing the same detailed preparation and ingredient experimentation as micro-brews and independent wineries, it was only natural that Serious Eats would hold a tasting. While eating 11 varieties of chips is not something we’d recommend (two of our five tasters bowed out after the ninth round), the chance to examine what makes a potato chip great is worth the sodium intake.

The chips were graded on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most desirable) in nine categories that encompassed taste, texture, and smell. The five types of Kettle Chips were part of the third-annual People’s Choice Passport to Flavor campaign (all limited-edition releases). Island Jerk was selected by the public in 2007 as a permanent addition to the Kettle line-up. The other six flavors were from Anchor O’Reilly’s Chip of the Month Club, which ships its customers six bags monthly from three or four independent chip producers.

The chips are reviewed in the order they were tasted. Water and Diet Coke were applied liberally between rounds.

Kettle Chips Island Jerk |
Chipping Away: Kettle Chips Island Jerk (by Slice)Tagline: "An Authentic Jerk Experience"
With high marks for crunch (the only 10), these ridged chips flavored with cinnamon and cumin were received favorably. One taster thought there was “a solid aftertaste,” but another “didn’t get the chicken flavor.”
Verdict: Try these out at a party.

Seyfert’s Curlie Potato Chips |
Chipping Away: Seyfert's Curlie Potato Chips (by Slice)Tagline: "Lip Smacking"
These almost translucent, ridged chips never stood a chance. One taster noted that the chips “had a bad oil taste that I smelled before I even put it in my mouth.” The only chip to receive a zero for saltiness, these chips left a light, oily sheen on your fingertips.
Verdict: Smack on something else.

Kettle Chips Aztec Chocolate |
Chipping Away: Kettle Chips Aztec Chocolate (by Slice)Tagline: "Chocolate is Good on Everything"
Suspicion greeted these ridged chips because of the even, dark dusting of chocolate which left one taster to remark, “brown stuff on my hands is not cool.” The chips, flavored with cacao powder and organic cinnamon, were simply “kinda weird.”
Verdict: Chocolate is not good on potato chips.

Kettle Classics Salt & Vinegar |
Chipping Away: Kettle Classics Salt & Vinegar (by Slice)Tagline: "You’ll never eat a regular chip again"
With greasy fingers and empty plates, the crunch of these chips was well-received. Respectable marks and solid tanginess left one taster to say he “would buy these chips on his own.”
Verdict: Solid flavor, solid chip.

Kettle Chips Royal Indian Curry |
Chipping Away: Kettle Chips Royal Indian Curry (by Slice)Tagline: "Come on a curry excursion"
With dried coconut and cardamom among the ingredients, the bag opened with a smooth and warm bouquet and a peek at rust-colored chips. “Good initial flavor, intriguing; but odd aftertaste leaves me wondering if I’d every eat these,” said one taster.
Verdict: Indian food lovers, rejoice—this is your chip.

Route 11 Sour Cream & Chive |
Chipping Away: Route 11 Sour Cream & Chive (by Slice)Tagline: "Made in limited quantities, but in unlimited quality"
The mild flavor of these chips cooked in peanut oil evoked surprisingly strong reactions in both directions. While “these are definitely not the Lays you grew up with,” the chips, which have a hint of parsley, ended up as a middle-of-the-road option.
Verdict: A turkey sandwich’s best friend.

Kettle Chips Dragon Five Spice |
Chipping Away: Kettle Chips Dragon Five Spice (by Slice)Tagline: "Great Wall of Flavor"
These chips are billed as exotic, but are instead slightly sweet with sea salt overpowered by celery seed and anise. “This dragon’s pilot light has gone out. Not spicy at all,” remarks one taster.
Verdict: Don’t unleash the dragon.

Sylvia’s Honey Barbecue |
Chipping Away: Sylvia's Honey Barbecue (by Slice)Tagline: N/A
Sometimes sweetness can work (especially with a hint of horseradish), and it does in these chips that are more honey than barbecue. Some thought they “tasted like candy,” while others liked the “sweet and smoky balance.”
Verdict: Summer picnic treat.

Poore Brothers Desert Mesquite Barbeque |
Chipping Away: Poore Brothers Desert Mesquite Barbecue (by Slice)Tagline: "Intensely Different Taste"
Our only publicly traded snack, (SNAK), was not well received by the public. “Like I’d imagine a saddle tasted,” “not BBQ-y,” and “burnt,” were the comments for these chips flavored with molasses powder and paprika.
Verdict: Leave them behind on the trail.

Sylvia’s Lemon Pepper |
Chipping Away: Sylvia's Lemon Pepper (by Slice)Tagline: N/A
With the same flavorful bite as the Harlem soul food restaurant’s spice mix found in grocery stores, these chips with lemon juice concentrate and garlic powder need ‘a creamy dip to counteract the lemon.”
Verdict: Could be onion dip’s new pal.

Kettle Chips Twisted Chili Lime |
Tagline: "A rare archipelago of tastes"
These chips evoked taste comparisons to the curry chips, and ultimately, “some were chili and some were lime.” Jalapeno, tomato, and cumin flavors were hiding underneath these crunchy chips.
Verdict: Mild people’s spicy chips.

For more on potato chips at Serious Eats ...
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