BOSTON — Crunchy. Potatoey. Salty. Delicious. These are the hallmarks of a great potato chip. But which brand is the very best? Fourteen Monitor staffers set out to answer that question by comparing five major national and regional brands in a taste showdown.
The comparison was among chips of the traditional variety; no fancy extra seasonings like barbecue or sour cream and onion, just plain potatoes cooked in vegetable oil, with salt added.
Most of the entries - Lay's, Wise, Herr's, and Utz - were the typical commercial variety sliced very thin. But we also included one kettle-cooked brand, Cape Cod, cut thicker.
The winner: Cape Cod. Of 14 testers, 10 picked it as either their favorite or the runner-up.
Among the traditional thin-sliced types, the winner was Utz, a regional brand out of Hanover, Pa. Utz edged out the nation's largest-selling potato chip, Lay's, by a narrow margin.
One thing was clear about Cape Cod chips: People either liked them a lot, or disliked them strongly.
Those who gave it high ratings praised the chips as "crunchy," "hearty," "wholesome," and "pleasingly thick."
Critics seemed to dislike Cape Cod for almost the same reasons, describing them as "unpleasantly crunchy," "a tough bite," "thick [with] funny taste," and "tasted more of oil than potato."
Among the thin chips, Utz stood out for being "light," for their "good texture," "crunchiness," "good flavor," and lack of oiliness.
While salt adds flavor, our testers seemed to react against too much of it. Their two favorites, Cape Cod and Utz, had the lowest levels of salt. Utz, for example, has only about half the salt found in Lay's, Herr's, or Wise.
Nearly one-quarter of all the chips sold in America are the traditional Lay's. If you add Lay's Ruffles chips, it comes to about 45 percent of all the chips sold in the United States.
In our test, Lay's fell short on taste and feel. Panelists called them "extremely salty," for having an "old- potato taste," for "crunching into something like sawdust," and for "minimal potato flavor." Only one tester picked Lay's as a favorite, and even he complained that it "lacks flavor."