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The Super Bowl Junk Food Challenge : Chips Ahoy!

I’d like to say that The Times Tasting Panel painstakingly assessed these chips, but after the pizza tasting (see below) the rest of the Food staff left me holding the bag. If you must know, I tasted them by myself, alone in my apartment, chased down with about a gallon of club soda. I scrupulously disregarded the U.C. Davis 20-point scale. Probably too many of these chips are products of the Frito-Lay behemoth, whose octopus-like arms wriggle into every niche and cranny of the vast snack-food universe, but what can I say--it’s what they sell at the supermarkets.

I was going to rate pretzels and tortilla chips too, but I got a tummy ache. Maybe next time.

POTATO CHIP FLIGHT

Kettle Chips, Lightly Salted. A rugged chip with a round, almost burnt, toasted-potato flavor unmasked by salt, but the peels are pretentiously left on. If you polished off 30,000 calories worth of these unpeeled babies, you might get an extra unit of niacin or something. 82

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Kettle Chips, From Organically Grown Potatoes, Lightly Sea Salted. Well . . . the bag is a different color. 82

Laura Scudder’s. Mildly salted, nearly greaseless, not overfried, these chips have the fresh, rich flavor of cooked potatoes, which you wouldn’t think was revolutionary, but. . . . 80

Ruffles. All salt and crunch, with a sweetish, slightly high synthetic aftertaste you might associate with picnics or parties in a freshman dorm--you almost don’t need the onion-soup dip. 74

Lay’s. After the first sharp slap of salt, the most delicate of the chips, super thin, almost melting down to a lingering oily presence no amount of Lite Beer can quite scrub away. In a sort of hair-of-the-dog irony, the only thing that can kill the aftertaste of a Lay’s chip is another Lay’s chip, in case you were wondering why it’s impossible to eat just one. 71

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Baked Lay’s. More a potato cracker than a chip, these look less like potato chips than like some industrial ceramic and are extremely crisp. And after you’ve chewed one for a second, there’s the bonus sensation of masticating a mouthful of potato buds. An ounce of Baked Lay’s has about 30 fewer calories than regular Lay’s, and 8 1/2 fewer grams of fat, but nearly twice the salt. 59

Louise’s Fat-Free Potato Chips may look more like chips than Baked Lay’s and have the pleasant, weightless texture of Indonesian shrimp crackers, but they taste just awful, more like the vaguely potato-like off-taste the coffee trade calls “rio” than like anything you might conceivably eat as a snack. Tasted twice. 50

CHEESE FLIGHT

Chili Cheese Fritos. Perhaps inspired by the Southwestern greasy spoons that ladle chili and cheese right into the Frito bag, these are spicier than Nacho Cheesier Doritos, with a blast of cumin and a pinch of dusky New Mexico chile that tempers the aggressive corniness Fritos tend to have on their own. A real sleeper: the chip of the tasting. 91

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Nacho Cheesier Doritos. Like Heinz Ketchup or Strawberry Jell-O, one of those classic, deeply ingrained American tastes that can be compared only to itself. The flavor seems to be that of dehydrated whey cheese inflected by onion and garlic powder, with maybe a bit of dried tomato and a whisper of chile. And the chips have new rounded corners! Wow! 87

Kettle Chips, New York Cheddar With Herbs. All clean grease, crunch and dehydrated onion, this could be considered a sort of Alice Waters-influenced version of Nacho Cheese. 81

Cheetos Puffs. The time-honored Styrofoam texture, and a sharp Kraft dinner whey taste mellowed until it almost marries with the obnoxious high-corn base in the aftertaste. Cloying, but acceptable. 74

BARBECUE FLIGHT

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Lay’s KC Masterpiece Barbecue Flavor Potato Chips. The odd salt-sour rush long standard in barbecue potato chips quickly gives way to a real liquid smoke buzz, then a short, sugary burst of bottled barbecue sauce. It is so different from the usual sensation of a chip that you will probably be driven to try five or six in quick succession, but then, as with a roller-coaster ridden a half-dozen times in a row, you’ll never want to experience it again. 82

Eagle Ripples Mesquite BBQ Potato Chips. Nice multilayered snow-crust crispness, the kind Ruffles only aspire to, and about as free from an oily aftertaste as a chip can possibly get. Unfortunately, the barbecue flavor, while richly smoky, is one-dimensional and cloying. 76

Eagle Thins Louisiana Spicy Hot BBQ Potato Chips. Eagle Thins are actually on the thick side, a clean, though megacorporate, interpretation of the Maui kettle chip without the chip-to-chip variation that makes that style interesting. The “Louisiana” flavor seems to be mostly dusty spice, but these chips have a nasty, hot chile backbite that keeps going about a minute longer than you want it to. 69

Baked Lay’s Bar-B-Q Potato Crisps. The new style of barbecue chip tastes more like a low-fat chip dipped in sauce than an old-time paprika-dyed fantasy of salt and citric acid, but even sweeter and more wholly artificial tasting. 61

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Louise’s Mesquite Barbecue Fat-Free Potato Chips. I once encountered an obscure tuber dish that tasted like this in a Peruvian cafe near the Bolivian border, but I can’t say I had more than three bites. Earthy, that’s the ticket . . . earthy. 51

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Scorebox

100-90 Outstanding.

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89-80 Good. Has special qualities.

79-70 Fair.

69-60 Acceptable.

59-50 Not recommended.

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