Chipping Away at Flavour

Earlier today at brunch, Greg and I were discussing Stella McCartney’s spring line in which she has purportedly brought back the drop-crotch pants of the 80s. No, not those “MC Hammer” pants… that was a the death of a style. I’m think more Visage-era New Romantic drop-crotch pants. In any case, we joked that it would be funny if we had a teenage daughter, because, come spring, we could go to Le Chateau and relive our new wave youth by buying drop-crotch pants, just like we did 20 years ago, only with matching pants for the kid.

What has this got to do with chips? Well, it also made us think that we are now… “of a certain age”, whereby revealing our familiarity with an item from the first time around would date us specifically to a certain time in history.

Again… chips? Well, if I said, hey, remember that one summer when they came out with fruit-flavoured chips? Because anyone who remembers those chips remembers EXACTLY the time and place when they first had them. For me, it was at a peewee baseball game in the field on the next street over and my friend Carol Stewart had a bag of grape-flavoured ones. They came in grape, cherry and if I recall correctly, orange, and tasted like someone had dipped the chips in sweetened Kool-Aid powder. Disgusting doesn’t begin to explain it.

So why am I on about fruit-flavoured chips? Because I have some. In my house.

Not the scary day-glo monstrosities from the 70s, but a bag of Peach Mango Paradise chips from a line called Flat Earth, a division of Frito Lay.

They arrived in a huge box, along with a bag of the Tangy Tomato Ranch flavour and a bag of Garlic and Herb flavour. They were sent to TasteTO, but as we don’t actually cover mainstream, grocery-store type products on that site, I figured I’d write about them here. Because the rest of you need to be warned.

The marketing info (and the website) tries to place these chips in a category that most people would consider to be “healthy”, or at least healthier. They are baked, not fried, contain 1/2 serving of fruit or vegetables per 14 chips, and the press info includes lots of stuff about how they “fit into a balanced lifestyle”. Except that 21 – 25 chips is still going to run you approximately 225 calories and 8 grams of fat.

Comprised of a combination of rice flour and potato flakes, the ingredients lists are loaded with things  that really shouldn’t be in a chip, although there is an effort to include real ingredients – the fruit chips do actually contain dried apples, dried peaches and dried mangoes.

Here’s the real problem – they’re just not very good. The fruit chips are downright weird. When I first cracked open the bag, the sweet smell was cloying and overwhelming. The first few seemed not so bad, and I almost imagined myself becoming strangely addicted to them, although there was still an underlying repulsion. After a few more, I put the bag away, and it’s been sitting in my cupboard for a couple of weeks, untouched. Which is saying a lot in my house. Despite the fact that my main carb craving includes both sweet and salty (I’d kill anyone for some kettle corn), these just grossed me out.

I ate a fair amount of the Garlic Herb chips, but not because I really liked them – more because they were there and I felt I should give them a chance. I managed only one bite of one chip from the Tomato Ranch bag. Euch. Despite the natural ingredients, these just taste weirdly fake and… I want to use the word “powdery”. The chips are coated with the flavouring agents and have a hand and mouth feel akin to cheesies or Doritos.

The website reveals an additional savoury flavour of Farmland Cheddar which holds no appeal at all, and two additional fruit flavours. The Apple Cinnamon Grove chips actually sound vaguely appealing as being the one flavour that would match well with potatoes and rice, however the Wild Berry Patch flavour scares the beejeezus out of me. Berries should not be in potato chips.

A lot of companies have marketed rice or rice/potato chips over the past few year, and many of them have been passable to very good. But they’ve been flavours like Thai curry or wasabi or tamari – things that pair well with rice and potatoes.

As a snack food, these chips leave a lot to be desired and as a health food, they fall into that trend of mediocre items that people will eat when they’re desperate because the stuff they really like is considered too fattening. Me, I’d rather eat a real peach and a few really delicious, high-quality gourmet potato chips than a big bowl of little squares of cardboard that reek of fake peach smell.

Okay, they’re not quite as bad as the scary purple chips I ate with Carol Stewart as we swatted mosquitoes and taunted a terrified 8-year-old with a refrain of “Heeeeeyyy, batter, batter!”, but they’re definitely not good. Those grape chips from the 70s at least have warm childhood memories intertwined with them in my brain. These chips are something that I cannot wait to forget. And as was the case with the drop-crotch pant, I hope they fade away without causing too much trauma.