A Hamburger Today
Chip-Faced: The (Faulty) Geometry of Pringles
Editor's note: Welcome to a new column called Chip-Faced! (Shout out to the estimable Liz Bomze for coining the column name!) Our buddy Dan Souza has always been fascinated with the world of chips. We want the man to nerd out about chips here, and explain to us why they taste so damn good. He'll investigate various chip styles, flavorings, and discontinued varieties. Take it away, Dan! —The Mgmt.
Eating Pringles as a kid was the best. What's not to love about a never-ending tube of stackable potato chips (er...crisps) that demand to be eaten in fun and interesting ways? Heck, they even came with a slew of ad campaigns demonstrating proper snacking technique (here's an excellent one where a young Brad Pitt shows us that stealing Pringles and a car from a few hot chicks is a California-fun way to spend an afternoon).
But many years ago something changed. It wasn't a dreaded recipe adjustment or that my own tastes matured (lord knows they didn't), but rather that I simply outgrew Pringles...literally. For decades now I've been unable to fit my hand inside the tube. And I know I'm not the only one with this problem given that the diameter of the opening is a piddly 2 ¾ inches.
It's not a big deal for the first 20 to 25 chips, which are easily accessible with fingertips alone, but after that you're left ungracefully sliding the rest out. This may be fine when you're alone, but just try to look cool doing the Pringles slide on a first date or during an important business lunch. No thanks.
I don't think nearly this much about ease of snacking with other chips, but Pringles are different: their empire was built upon the mechanics of how they should be eaten. I feel that they should be judged accordingly, but before we can do that, we need all (or at least some) of the facts.
Pringles have been around since the late '60s and were created as a more uniform, less greasy, uncrushable alternative to standard bagged potato chips. They've pretty much always been sold on aesthetics over flavor, which I think is probably a good call. Not that I don't know love the flavor of Pringles, it's just that they don't taste particularly potato-y. And for good reason: they contain less than 50 percent actual spud. The rest is made up of vegetable oil, corn flour, wheat starch, maltodextrin, salt, rice flour, and dextrose. Which means (drumroll) that we can technically call Pringles multigrain chips! (Kids: use this information to your advantage; I never had the opportunity to).
Even more interesting than their composition is their shape, which is technically speaking a truncated hyperbolic parabaloid.
Less technically speaking, Pringles look like saddles for tiny, tiny horses. Either way you define it, the Pringles profile is a manufacturing marvel—designed using highly sophisticated computers, it has the correct aerodynamics for flight during packaging and the structural integrity to ensure break-free transport in the tube.
What's not to love? Well for one thing, truncated hyperbolic parabaoloids might look and sound cool, but they don't actually fit easily in your mouth, at least not the way Proctor & Gamble intended them to. I've creepily watched a lot of folks eat Pringles and can say with absolutely no authority that most people pop them in their mouths oriented as an upside down saddle (see The Stack image below for reference). For the most part it makes sense—it's the way they come out of the tube and this orientation puts all of the seasoning in direct contact with your tongue.
In reality, the more enjoyable way to eat them is flipped over so that you are working with a crispy saddle for your tongue. The catch? There is no salt (or flavorful powder if you got fancy when shopping) on that side of the chip.
A canister I can't get my hand into and a chip that refuses to be eaten my way? Seems to me that Pringles are the picked-green, thick-skinned Florida winter tomatoes of the chip world: designed first for ease of production, and only second for joy of consumption.
And yet, despite all of their technical flaws, I still find that once I pop these multi-grain hyperbolic parabaloids, I really can't stop. Here are four fun ways to get chip-faced on Pringles:
4 Exciting Ways to Eat Pringles
How do you eat your Pringles?
About the author: Dan is an associate editor of Cook's Illustrated and an on-screen test cook for America's Test Kitchen. Dan cut his culinary teeth as a young apprentice in rural Hungary, and has the paprika-stained gut to prove it. He likes food, he likes science, and he likes you. Follow him on Twitter @testcook.