Taste Tests

We taste the leading brands to find the distinct differences and rate them with tasting scores.

Taste Test: Salt and Vinegar Chips

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[Photographs: Shell Tu, Jessica Leibowitz, and Robyn Lee]

The Winners!

#1: Kettle Brand
#2: Miss Vickie's
#3: Cape Cod

If you're a Salt and Vinegar chip fan, you probably really like them. You probably like them to make your eyes water a few tears, your nostrils flare a few flickers, your lips turn white from all the seasonings, and your tongue to be coated in all that sour, salty tang.

You want to open a bag that explodes with vinegar-scented air so strong that you go, whoa there. After eating a whole bag, you sometimes wonder if your tongue will just fall off right then and there—and it'd probably be worth it if it did.

What genius first decided that salt and vinegar should go on a chip? The Irish snack brand Tayto was allegedly the first to put the flavored chips on the market. They pioneered a technology back in the 1950s to add seasoning directly to the chip (actually called "crisp"), starting first with Cheese and Onion and moving on to Salt and Vinegar.

But even before that, plenty of places in England were serving fish and chips with salt shakers and malt vinegar on all the tables, which was also a key force in this flavor combo.

SEHQ is home to many S&V chips fans. It was a given that this taste test needed to happen. So we tried 15 different brands to find our favorites.

The Contenders

Most of the major potato chip players have a Salt and Vinegar variety. We grabbed all of the widely distributed brands we could find.

  1. Kettle Brand (kettlebrand.com)
  2. Kettle Brand, Reduced-Fat
  3. Lay's (website)
  4. Lay's Kettle-Cooked (website)
  5. Whole Foods 365 (website)
  6. Route 11 (website)
  7. Wise (website)
  8. Dirty's (website)
  9. Trader Joe's (website)
  10. Cape Cod (website)
  11. Cape Cod, Reduced-Fat
  12. Deep River (website)
  13. Utz (website)
  14. Boulder Canyon (website)
  15. Miss Vickie's (website)

The Criteria

A true Salt and Vinegar chip gets your attention. It has a kick. It's not for the faint-hearted chip eater (stick to tortilla chips). Your taste buds immediately wake up—hello there, vinegar. The chips should be tangy, salty, and like any good potato chip, have a nice crunch and not be too greasy.

The Results

Most of us at SEHQ are serious S&V chip fans. That is, we want our chips to punch us in the mouth with vinegar. Those who weren't fans opted out of the tasting; a few swore they'd have gag reflexes if force-fed. So we didn't go there.

The flavors ranged from weak (are you sure there's vinegar in there?) to mouth-burny. We tended to like the stronger, punchier, mouth-burnier flavors.

As for chip texture, some of us prefer the thicker kettle style of chip; others favor the thinner, crispier kind like the classic Lay's. Winners of both varieties are included in the tasting results.

#1. Kettle Brand Chips (7.11)

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This had all the merits of a pleasing salt and vinegar chip, especially if you're serious about your vinegar. "Vinegar hits you after and hits hard!" said one taster. It's tangy, acidic, and stays interesting with each handful. The chips are crunchy, not greasy, and have a real strong potato-y flavor. This is the quintessential salt and vinegar chip right here.

#2. Miss Vickie's (7.05)

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"Now these are what I think of when I think of salt and vinegar chips," said Ed as he dove into a bag. We actually had these sitting out before the tasting started and realized Ed had already grabbed them unaware and downed the bag. "Hey, where'd that bag of Miss Vickie's go?...[*Looking over to Ed, caught with empty bag*]... Ed!!!" When tasted side by side against the winning Kettle brand, they were just a touch less vinegar-intense. The sourness is slightly muted, but not so much that it throws off the flavor balance. It's a solid bag of S&Vs.

#3. Cape Cod (6.33)

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This is the classic one you want to be eating with a packed sandwich on the beach. Very vinegary but nicely balanced with salt. There's a tinge of heat and an ever so slight sweetness. And reminiscent of pickles? Yes. In a good way. "Good crunch, good bang," said one taster. An all-around pleasant mouth-zing of a chip.

#4. Wise (6.18)

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While many of the other brands were on the kettle-chip-thick end of the spectrum, these are thin. "Dissolves on your tongue like a communion wafer," said one taster, to give you some idea. Quite the aggressive vinegar punch here, and it tastes like real vinegar, too. Like someone just let these bathe in the stuff from the Heinz bottle. "WOAH vinegar. How could someone eat more than one of these?!" Many tasters appreciated the sour zing, but consider yourself warned: It's a vinegarbomb.

#5. Utz (6.05)

Thin and crisp, these have a similar body to the Wise chips. They're really salty. Really salty. Not as much vinegar as the Wise's, and we wish there was to balance out the salt. But we'd still be happy munching up a bag of these.

#6. Lay's Kettle-Cooked (5.89)

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Salt and vinegar chip wimps, we haven't forgotten about you. These are really more for the classic potato chip people posing as S&V eaters. The real-deal S&V enthusiasts might laugh. "Ha, really? You call these salt and vinegar?" The chip itself is crunchy and potato-y, but there's something sweet happening at the end that obscures the tangy experience. They're not as intense as many of the others, but some tasters appreciated their gentle personality and scored them higher.

#7. Dirty's (5.55)

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A case of salt > vinegar. We wanted there to be more vinegar here. In the end, they mostly just taste salty. If you're more into salt than vinegar, maybe you'll dig Dirty's. They are ridiculously crunchy. Roof-of-mouth-scraping crunchy.

#8. Trader Joe's (5.22)

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A more rare case of of vinegar > salt. "All vinegar, barely any salt," said one taster. Hard and thick with an effort-required chew. A few found them to have stale texture.

#9. Cape Cod, Reduced Fat (5.06)

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We tried a few Reduced Fat versions just to see if the difference was significant. And it usually was. But as far as reduced-fat chips go, these aren't so bad. Good salt, good vinegar, good crunch. If you've got a calorie calculator in your pocket, these don't compromise on taste too much.

#10. Whole Foods 365 (5.0)

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Ka-runch. These are loud. You couldn't eat these in a library, let's put it that way. If crunch factor is high on your list, these have that covered. But flavor-wise, it was another unfortunate case of too much salt, not enough vinegar.

Salt and Malt Vinegar?

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Of the 15 brands we tried, only the Boulder Canyon specified that they were made with malt vinegar, not the generic white distilled vinegar. (Though the Lay's bag features a malt vinegar bottle image, but just goes by "Salt and Vinegar.") They tasted sweeter, maltier, and to many tasters, not enough like a true S&V. If you opened a bag of these and were expecting classic S&V chips, you might be disappointed. At least at first. Maybe the taste would grow on you as it did for Ed and Robyn.

They just don't provide the same sour hit. It's like, if you were to buy something chocolate and were all amped for that chocolatey-ness, then got caramel.

Why the Others Scored Lower

As you can see, not all of the chip brands made it into the above results. What was wrong with those absentees? They were typically too bland and boring. "More vinegar please" was a common complaint. Or, there was a vinegar flavor but no pucker. And you want a little pucker, right? They shouldn't be flat. Texture was also important. Some chips had a tough, stale chew. You don't want to pull out any fillings when eating chips.


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