Taste Test: Asian Shrimp(y) Chips
#2: Haruya Kani Chips
I don't eat shrimp chips often, but when I do, I go for Calbee. I've been snacking on their crunchy, french fry-shaped, shrimp-flavored sticks since I was a kid, and even though I haven't tried many other kinds of shrimp chips, I've always just assumed that Calbee is the best. (Their vibrant magenta polka dotted packaging is definitely the best.)
But when it turned out that Nong Shim makes another brand of crunchy, french fry-shaped, shrimp-flavored sticks that I hadn't yet tried, a taste test was in order. A taste test that became more complicated when, while browsing a few Chinese supermarkets, I realized I had left out the whole puffed disc category of shrimp chips—a category that is much larger than the french fry-like stick category.
And so I bought every kind of shrimp-esque chip I could find in Chinatown, as different as they may be. I ended up with seven brands—mostly shrimp, one crab, and one "lobster"—in stick and disc puff form, from six countries. Yup, this ain't the most scientific of taste tests, and it's by no means an exhaustive look at all the shrimp-flavored chips out there. But the results may help you decide what to get when you're faced with a burning desire for shrimp chips. (We hope so, or else our hours of shrimpy burps would've been for nothing.) Read the results below, ordered from best to worst.
What are your favorite shrimp chips?
Calbee is one of Japan's biggest snack manufacturers, and Shrimp Chips (or Kappa Ebisen, in Japanese) is one of their most popular snacks, first released in 1964. It's popular enough that they manufacture it in the US for their North American market. All other snacks in this taste test are imported from Asia. Get a behind-the-scenes look at how the chips are made in this handy video:
My childhood favorite still holds up today. Calbee's shrimp chips earned the highest praise in our taste test. They're crunchy, light, salty, a bit sweet, and not excessively shrimpy. Most tasters liked the crisp, airy texture and balanced flavor, and said they'd buy it again.
Ingredients: Wheat flour, canola oil, corn starch, sugar, shrimp, leavening (corn starch, monosodium L-glutamate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium carbonate, potassium bitartrate, ammonium chloride, potassium aluminium sulfate), and salt
Haruya Kani (Crab) Chips (Japan)
Haruya's Kani Chips are technically called crab chips, but they also contain shrimp. These are a whole different class of chip from Calbee's wheat-based, french fry-shaped sticks. Haruya's chips are made with potato starch and rice, giving them an airy, styrofoamy texture that has a sort of soft crunch, as opposed to Calbee's hard crunch. Some tasters found them bland, while most (including me) thought they had a pleasant shrimpiness and a pronounced sweetness that balanced well with the savory flavors.
Ingredients Potato starch, rice powder, rapeseed oil, palm oil, crab meat, shrimp, salt, soy bean sauce powder, sugar, glucose, amino acid, baking powder, paprika
I included one fry-it-yourself chip for the hell of it. ...Ok, partially so I could watch these babies transform from lil' hard tapioca-based shards into puffy chips larger than my hand.
I picked Komodo because it had the fewest ingredients of any shrimp chip I could find: tapioca flour, shrimp, sugar, eggs, and salt. The texture is crunchy and light, but more dense than other chips we tasted. Everyone seemed to like the crisp-crunchy texture, but not the flavor. Most liked the subtle shrimp flavor and sweetness level, while a few tasters found it bland.
Ingredients: Special tapioca flour, fresh shrimp, sugar, eggs, salt
Nong Shim (South Korea)
This Calbee shrimp chip copy from South Korean company Nong Shim may not look that different from the original, but a blind taste test showed clear differences. Nong Shim's version is far more bland—less salty and less shrimpy. Otherwise, their light and crunchy textures are pretty similar.
Ingredients: Wheat flour, wheat starch, rice bran oil, palm oil, shrimp, sugar, salt, nonfat soybean
These shrimp chips had the most unique texture out of the bunch—hard and crunchy, but not light and airy like most of the other chips. Some didn't like the texture, describing it as stale and cardboardy. Some also didn't like that it contains seaweed, which detracts from the shrimp flavor. Even the shape was up for criticism; one described it as "a flake of skin off of a deep sea monster." Personally, I like the texture and the seaweed flavor, but I'm biased because this chip reminds me of a seaweed-flavor snack I liked as a kid.
Ingredients: Potato starch, shrimp flavor, seaweed, vegetable fat (palm oil and rapeseed oil), salt, sugar, FD&C yellow no. 5 and amino acid (monosodium glutamate and glycine)
Miaow Miaow (Malaysia)
Miaow Miaow's chips earned the most vehemently disparaging comments. A few of the most descriptive:
"Super down with the texture-does-that-effervescent-tongue-clinging-thing, BUT GROSS! Tastes like rancid wholewheat shrimp."
"Stale, powdery. Like shrimp that's been sitting in the sun for too long."
"No no no no no."
Ingredients: Palm oil, tapioca starch, wheat flour, prawn, sugar, salt, contains monosodium L-glutamate as permitted flavor enhancer and baking powder
Six Fortune (Taiwan)
Six Fortune's chips were the blandest of the bunch. They pretty much taste like styrofoam (well, what we imagine styrofoam tastes like), despite what the "lobster flavor" label claims. The texture is slightly crisp and off-puttingly chewy, and the fluorescent color just makes them seem worse.
Ingredients: Potato starch, palm oil, salt, sugar, seasoning, monosodium glutamate, FD&C yellow no. 5
Our Tasting Methodology: All taste tests are conducted completely blind and without discussion. Tasters taste samples in random order. For example, taster A may taste sample 1 first, while taster B will taste sample 6 first. This is to prevent palate fatigue from unfairly giving any one sample an advantage. Tasters are asked to fill out tasting sheets ranking the samples for various criteria that vary from sample to sample. All data is tabulated and results are calculated with no editorial input in order to give us the most impartial representation of actual results possible.
About the author: Robyn Lee is the editor of A Hamburger Today and takes many of the photos for Serious Eats. She'll also doodle cute stuff when necessary. Read more from Robyn at her personal food blog, The Girl Who Ate Everything.