Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Noel Tries The New Foods: Chiptastic!

While I appreciate the culinary magic trick that makes one food taste like another, I'm never quite sure it's worth the effort. In my little town, there's a local pizza buffet that sends servers around to all the tables with some bizarre concoctions, like taco pizza (complete with shredded lettuce and beans), honey mustard chicken pizza, fajita pizza and so on. The worst is cheeseburger pizza, which should be a slam-dunk, since the basic ingredients–hamburger, cheese, tomato sauce, bread–are common to the two meals. But this pizza place can't leave well enough alone, so they add mustard and pickles. Pickles!

Still, when I was in college, I was briefly obsessed with Snyder's Of Hanover potato chips, which showed up in our student center vending machines in bizarre flavors like "Coney Island With Mustard" (yep, it tasted like a hot dog) and "Steak & Onion." I don't know that I ever finished a whole bag, but I appreciated the Wonka-esque absurdity of it all. I kept hoping Snyder's would come out with a chip called "Three-Course Dinner," with an aftertaste of blueberry pie.

So it was with fond memories of Snyder's in my head–and foul memories of the disgusting "chicken, mushrooms and ranch dressing" concoction that my local pizza buffet foisted on me once–that I recently dove into three new kinds of potato/corn/etc. chips that attempt to approximate non-chip dining experiences. Here are the results:

Pringles Selects Szechwan Barbeque
I don't know what my college self would've made of Pringles' "Szechwan Barbeque" flavor, but my 36-year-old self, with help from my wife, devoured this whole full-sized bag. Regular Pringles have exhausted just about every combination of cheese, bacon, cream, cayenne, onions, chives, tomato and mesquite that can be compressed into a dusting powder; but this Selects offering is something strange and new. For one thing, it's made with rice flour, mixed with potato flour. And the flavoring contains soy sauce, sesame, MSG, and the right combination of chemicals to produce a ginger/hoisin effect. The chips themselves are tiny, round and thickish, and initially, eating a handful is not unlike consuming those not-always-easy-to-find "potato skins" potato chips, which are so addictively salty and crunchy. But by the second handful, these Pringles start to taste–no lie–like a big plate of Chinese food. All that's missing are the two or three pieces of broccoli that I always hopefully take off the steam table and then scornfully leave on the side of the plate.

Lay's Italian Rosemary & Herb
This one is less a way-out flavor experience and more a delicate appeal to the upscale snacker looking for something to carefully array alongside a quartered, uncrusted cucumber sandwich. Hey, I can dig it. When my wife and I were first married, we played at being foodies, hitting the upscale restaurants in the upscale college town we lived in at the time. At one of those dinners, I remember practically fainting over a side of fried, waffled, thin sliced potatoes that were more like chips than conventional fries, and which were easily the best chips/fries I've ever had. I wish I could say that these Lay's were in that same league, but they're basically like sour cream and onion chips, only with a slightly less milky aftertaste. At that, they're not bad. During that foodie phase, my wife planted an herb garden and I went rosemary-crazy for a time, crushing it over nearly every roasted meat and broiled vegetable. It's still one of my favorite seasonings, and it matches well with potatoes. One complaint: This bag is kind of huge. I may need to host a tea.

Doritos X-13D Flavor Experiment
We're supposed to "name the flavor" contained in this anonymous-looking black Doritos bag, and I decided to accept the challenge as soon I saw that one of the ingredients was "beef." I'd hoped that this would be a stealthy revival of the Doritos "Taco" chips I loved so much as a lad, but when I got the bag home and opened it up, those hopes were dashed. Underneath the cheesy, beefy base, I tasted…pickles. I swear to you. Pickles! And maybe mustard. Anyway, this is definitely a cheeseburger chip, and it will not stand. It's the snack of Dr. Moreau. An affront to all that's natural. For the first time in my life, I may have to exercise the "return unused portion for a full refund" option.

Final score, though: Two decent-to-good new chip flavors, and one cruel joke. As always, chemistry wins!