Yes, it’s true: I allowed these in our house. Some experiments you have to try for yourself.
Someone at the Lay’s Potato Chip factory got bored this year and let the general public choose new flavors for their mad food scientists to concoct and test on us consumer guinea pigs.
That was the state of the potato union in 2014 as we saw previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover, and here we are again one year later. The adventurous bigwigs at Frito-Lay decided the previous stunt was so entertaining, they’re trying it again with four more theoretical flavors suggested by fans at home. The official site for their “Do Us a Flavor” contest lets eaters vote for their favorites and get to know the lucky fans whose suggestions became mandatory work orders for Frito-Lay’s top nutrichemists.
One of the flavors was suggested by a fellow Hoosier who recently spoke to the Indianapolis Star about her new-found claim to potential fame. If she’s one of three losing finalists, she receives a mere $50,000.00. If she wins and America loves her idea, she wins $1,000,000.00, the flavor becomes an official permanent product, and Frito-Lay keeps all future profits in perpetuity, assuming we all don’t band together as a country to troll them by choosing the worst flavor and wrecking their 2016 P&L sheets.
In the interest of food science and life lessons, my wife and I tracked down all four flavors and held our very own two-person chip-tasting party tonight. Also, because we can.
Not that it was easy. Our normal grocery carried none of these, though we did score a bag of the Lay’s 2013 winner, Cheesy Garlic Bread chips, a tasty yet minor consolation. The closest grocery to our house likewise fails to catch any and all zeitgeists and couldn’t help us. For the two large bags in the above photo, we had to travel all the way to West Lafayette and stumble across them while shopping with my son. Then I found the two tiny bags in the top photo when I had lunch today at Subway, which wasn’t my idea but worked in my favor after all. Three cheers for potato chip destiny!
Those four flavors, in the order we sampled them, pictured in photo #3 beginning at the 12:00 position and going counterclockwise:
A. Southern Biscuits and Gravy
We opened the bag and the smell immediately took me back to my old days at McDonald’s and the rare occasions I worked breakfast shifts. I closed my eyes and remembered what it was like to take a metal pan of sausage gravy out of the marinator at 10:40 a.m., run it to the back sink, empty the leftovers down the drain, let the crusty pan sit for the next two hours, and then get around to spraying it out. I didn’t really miss that mildly nauseating memory and now it’s haunting me like a specter risen from the grave. THANKS, LAY’S.
As for the chips themselves: oddly, we couldn’t taste anything unless we ate a few at a time. I sensed buttermilk, faint sausage seasoning, and a touch of imagined flour. Real biscuits and gravy are A-OK in my book, but these weren’t anywhere near as enticing. They also begged a question: given that chips are primarily a side dish, what main dish are we meant to pair with these? Perhaps Lay’s could market them as the world’s first breakfast potato chip, ready-made for scarfing down every morning with a bacon/egg/cheese biscuit, or mixed in with your scrambled eggs like really fragile hash browns, at a time of day when you’re too sleepy for tasting or smelling stuff.
B. Kettle-Cooked Greektown Gyro
Mediterranean spices wafted off this most herbaceous option, including faint nuances of tzatziki sauce. Gyros as a concept are cool enough that I wish they’d gone a little bolder. I was also disappointed the bag wasn’t filled with chunks of actual gyro meat. Topping sold separately, I guess.
C. Wavy West Coast Truffle Fries
Congratulations, Lay’s: you’ve figured out a way to obliterate all traces of potato flavor from a chip. I’m not sure if the thicker, wavy-chip design was a mitigating factor that aided in terms of industrial vat-soaking retention, but all we could taste was thick, oily oiliness. This is the perfect snack for any family that keeps a sprayer tank of truffle oil on the dining room table as an anytime condiment. Now we know why the Chopped judges wince so hard whenever a contestant splashes some on a dish and wipes out all culinary nuance in a fifteen-foot radius.
D. New York Reuben
Reubens are Anne’s all-time favorite kind of sandwich. She opened the bag and nearly put her whole head inside chasing the pervasive rye bread aroma, which was stronger than some brands of rye bread, while also evoking authentic sauerkraut notes and whatever spices give corned beef its corny beefiness. More than any other entrant, the Lay’s version of the New York reuben embodies the sensations of its namesake without hesitation and without making it gross. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear they just tossed several million actual reubens into a city-sized shredder and then fried them into crisps.
Slight problem, though: with such bold, distinct, forward-thrust seasonings, how can these settle for being just a side dish? These chips would overpower any sandwich you’d care to match with them. Maybe if you ate them with something blander — say, turkey on white bread with brand-X mayo and no cheese — the star and the sidekick would complement each other. I’d feel ashamed to let them play second-fiddle to an inferior product — say, most of Subway’s menu. And yet, you’ll never catch me having chips as a main dish, as the reuben chips sorely wish they could be. In my book they’re overstepping their boundaries and need to lose points for trying to get uppity in the grand lunchtime scheme.
If the fate of Frito-Lay were up to me, the winner would be Greektown Gyro, despite the awkward-sounding name. They feature a wiser, subtler selection of pantry ingredients to which I’d be proud to form an addiction. The New York Reubens are a very close second that might work better as a delightful filler between meals, where they can shine on their own without drowning out any companions. Much as I hoped Biscuits and Gravy would shine a little more brightly, I’m just not feeling them and would much rather gorge on the real thing.
If any of the preceding impressions were useful to you, be sure to join us for our next exciting adventure, a little tale about a test of wills that I like to call, “No, YOU’RE Gonna Eat the Rest of These Truffle Chips”.