I would like to both commend and punch the marketing person who came up with the “do us a flavor” idea for Lay’s (originally Walkers, its U.K. counterpart), because it’s both brilliant and awful. We’ve had our eye on the campaign for years, first Taste Testing various Walkers chips way back in 2009, when flavors on the table included Cajun Squirrel and Crispy Duck & Hoisin. (Those Brits will eat anything, amirite?)
“Do Us A Flavour” came to America and lost the extraneous “u” just last year, with fan-submitted flavors duking it out to become part of the regular Lay’s line. We ate them all and were not terribly impressed with any (as usual, I know) of the three, which included Sriracha, Chicken & Waffles, and Cheesy Garlic Bread. The Cheesy Garlic Bread flavor took the prize, and now it’s part of a grand tradition that also includes Hidden Valley Ranch and Barbecue. Hooray for democracy!
Like a user-generated-content phoenix, Do Us A Flavor is back, and the four finalists are in stores now. But before we get to those, here’s how the contest worked: Chip fans (who isn’t?!) had to submit an idea that included a flavor name, up to three ingredients, a tweet-length description of the flavor’s “inspiration,” and a chip style (original, wavy, or kettle cooked). So for example, if I had realized this contest was happening before the deadline, I might have said spicy Thai peanut, with flavors of umm, Thai and peanut, on a kettle chip, and that I was inspired by a recent trip to Southeast Asia, where such flavors can be found on any street corner.
And here were some of the guidelines for entries, copied verbatim:
- You may enter as many different entries into the Contest as you like, as long as the same (or substantially similar) entry is not submitted more than once on the same style chip (i.e. Original, Kettle Cooked or Wavy).
- Entries must be in English; however, they may include one or more familiar foreign words that have attained general acceptance and are commonly understood in the U.S. (e.g. “queso” or “fiesta”).
- Your flavor name must not be the same or substantially similar to an existing flavor of LAY’S® potato chips, nor may it be the same or substantially similar to the original Do Us a Flavor finalists (Cheesy Garlic Bread, Chicken & Waffles and Sriracha). For a list of existing LAY’S® flavors, visit www.fritolay.com.
- Your flavor name must not infringe on any third party’s trademark, as determined by Sponsor in its sole discretion.
- Entries cannot defame, misrepresent or contain disparaging remarks about Sponsor or any of its products, or other people, products or companies or communicate messages inconsistent with the positive images and/or goodwill to which Sponsor associates in Sponsor’s sole discretion.
- Entries must be suitable for family audiences and for display and publication on national television, in the sole determination of Sponsor. Without limitation, Entries shall not contain any content that is or contains: unlawful behavior, profanity, explicit sexuality, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous, or is hatefully, racially, ethnically or otherwise offensive or objectionable.
(So based on that last one clearly I could not have entered the original name of my spicy Thai peanut chips, which was “Kok-Bangin’ Spicy Thai Blast.”)
A panel of Lay’s judges determined which of entries would make the final four, and set their chip scientists to work on them. They hit stores quickly, and you can vote for which ones to “save” at dousaflavor.com, and read the exciting stories of the American heroes who made up chip flavors. It’s just like a real election, the kind in which you determine which candidate you don’t want to kill.
Anyway, this year’s finalists are a disparate batch: Wasabi Ginger (kettle cooked), Mango Salsa (wavy), Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese (regular), Cappuccino (regular). As always, we entered the Taste Test octagon with high hopes (except for the Cappuccino ones, because c’mon). We never want to be disappointed, but we’ve been Taste Testing chips for years. Show us something new, Lay’s. We need a hero. We’re holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night. He’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast and he’s gotta not just taste like barbecue, because that’s what happens half the time.
The taste: I started with Mango Salsa, because it seemed like it would be the lightest. It’s surprisingly nice, with a quick blast of mango flavor that disappears almost immediately. It almost seems like a Willy Wonka trick, the flavor is so fleeting. I wonder if they experimented with a heavier dose but decided to pull it back. These are quite tasty and sweet.
With that good taste in mind, I went in for the one I was dreading: Cappuccino. Since I don’t drink coffee, I was particularly concerned. But again: Somebody at the flavor barn decided not to dump the entire container of flavoring in this three-ounce bag, and the result is shockingly subtle. A bit of coffee, a bit of cinnamon, and then nothing. Those not interested in dessert chips may flee, but these were pretty painless to me. I wouldn’t eat them again, but I didn’t gag, either.
Next up, a bit more of a flavor blast with Wasabi Ginger, which are presented on the crunchier kettle-cooked chips. The package hilariously features a little sushi plate with soy, wasabi, ginger, and a potato chip (just like at Sukiyabashi Jiro!), and the flavors are surprisingly accurate, though they could’ve just called them ginger-horseradish instead. A little flavor hit goes right up your nose and then, once again, nothing. No horrific lingering aftertaste. Will that be the case with the final flavor, too?
Well, they couldn’t all be winners. Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese is too much flavor piled on one chip—and not even a kettle chip to give it some much-needed backbone. Though its ingredient list includes real bacon fat and cheddar cheese, these taste totally artificial. There’s a reason that God won’t let scientists simulate bacon flavor on anything but bacon, because a pork belly is the perfect delivery system. Stop trying, science!
But overall, this was a pretty solid bunch. Nothing tasted exactly like barbecue (Cheddar Bacon came closest) and nothing required spitting-out or minty gum. I’m voting to keep Wasabi Ginger and Mango Salsa, and you should too if you believe in America (and the real Americans who came up with these foreign flavors).
- Lay’s keeps pushing these flavors to new extremes, but they’ve remained incredibly consistent: There’s one chip I’d eat a whole bag of (the Ginger And Wasabi, spicy and refreshing!), one I’d never go near again (know two great tastes that don’t taste great together? Potatoes and coffee), and two completely unexceptional also-rans. Thanks, Lay’s! Let’s do this again in six months.
- The Wasabi ones are like sushi in chip form.
- The bacon mac and cheese ones taste like shitty grocery-brand barbecue chips. Yuck.
- The Mango was too tangy, too much. Just too much power in this chip.
- Cappuccino? I’m impressed. They really hit that one on the nose.
- Bacon Cheddar was better than Chili Cheese Fritos, so in this regard, a huge success.
- Ginger Wasabi was so good, I would even buy them.
- The Cappuccino chip wasn’t even all the way into my mouth before my brain was sending me the signal, “This is incorrect.”
- Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese: I don’t see why other people hated this so much. It’s a slightly cheesy potato chip. I didn’t taste any trace of bacon. This was the least offensive of the four bold, dark, gritty, experimental flavors.
- Mango salsa is a culinary scourge that needs to be wiped from the face of the Earth. If this semi-bland yet cloyingly sweet concoction hurts the public’s perception of mango, as it surely must, then I am all for it. I do like wavy potato chips, though.
- Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger evokes supermarket sushi, except with less dignity.
- I just don’t think I have anything witty to say. The Cappuccino ones were a terrible fucking idea.
- Kettle Wasabi is a real chip that people will buy. Woot.
- Cappuccino tastes like what I imagine a sugar-sprinkled cat shit would taste like.
- Mango is fruity and wavy. Well played.
- Those Cappuccino ones taste like you dropped them in the trash pile of creamer and cinnamon you always find on Starbucks counters.
- I could see eating way too many of those Wasabi And Ginger Lays and then feeling really guilty about it, just like real Chinese food.