Tags: French fries, George Crum, New Zealand, Potato, Potato chip, Pringle, Tayto, United States
Potato chips (known as crisps in British English and Hiberno-English; as chips in American, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian,
Singapore, South African, Jamaican English and as either chips or wafers in Indian English) are thin slices of potato that are deep fried or baked. Potato chips are commonly served as an appetizer, side dish, or snack. The basic chips are cooked and salted; additional varieties are manufactured using various flavorings and ingredients including seasonings, herbs, spices, cheeses, and artificial additives.
Crisps, however, refer to many different types of snack products in the UK and Ireland, some made from potato, but may also be made from maize and tapioca. An example of these kinds of crisps is Monster Munch.
Potato chips are a predominant part of the snack food market in English-speaking countries and numerous other Western nations. The global potato chip market generated total revenues of US$16.4 billion in 2005. This accounted for 35.5% of the total savory snacks market in that year (US$46.1 billion).
According to a traditional story, the original potato chip recipe was created in Saratoga Springs, New York on August 24, 1853. Agitated by a patron repeatedly sending his fried potatoes back because they were too thick, soggy and bland, resort hotel chef, George Crum, decided to slice the potatoes as thin as possible, frying them until crisp and seasoning them with extra salt. Contrary to Crum’s expectation, the patron (sometimes identified as Cornelius Vanderbilt) loved the new chips and they soon became a regular item on the lodge’s menu under the name “Saratoga Chips“. Alternative explanations of the provenance of potato chips date them to recipes in Shilling Cookery for the People by Alexis Soyer (1845) or Mary Randolph’s The Virginia House-Wife (1824).
In the 20th century, potato chips spread beyond chef-cooked restaurant fare and began to be mass produced for home consumption. The Dayton, Ohio-based Mike-sell’s Potato Chip Company, founded in 1910, calls itself the “oldest potato chip company in the United States“. New England-based Tri-Sum Potato Chips, originally founded in 1908 as the Leominster Potato Chip Company, in Leominster, Massachusetts claim to be America’s first potato chip manufacturer. Chips sold in markets were usually sold in tins or scooped out of storefront glass bins and delivered by horse and wagon. The early potato chip bag was wax paper with the ends ironed or stapled together. At first, potato chips were packaged in barrels or tins, which left chips at the bottom stale and crumbled. Laura Scudder, an entrepreneur in Monterey Park, California started having her workers take home sheets of wax paper to iron into the form of bags, which were filled with chips at her factory the next day. This pioneering method reduced crumbling and kept the chips fresh and crisp longer. This innovation, along with the invention of cellophane, allowed potato chips to become a mass market product. Today, chips are packaged in plastic bags, with nitrogen gas blown in prior to sealing to lengthen shelf life, and provide protection against crushing.
In an idea originated by the Smiths Potato Crisps Company Ltd, formed in 1920, Frank Smith originally packaged a twist of salt with his
crisps in greaseproof paper bags, which were then sold around London.
The potato chip remained otherwise unseasoned until an innovation by Joe “Spud” Murphy (1923–2001), the owner of an Irish crisp company called Tayto, who developed a technology to add seasoning during manufacture in the 1950s. After some trial and error, Murphy and his employee, Seamus Burke, produced the world’s first seasoned crisps, Cheese & Onion and Salt & Vinegar.
The innovation became an overnight sensation in the food industry with the heads of some of the biggest potato chip companies in the United States traveling to the small Tayto company in Ireland to examine the product and to negotiate the rights to use the new technology. Companies worldwide sought to buy the rights to Tayto’s technique. The sale of the Tayto company made the owner and the small family group, who had changed the face of potato chip manufacturing, very wealthy.
The Tayto’s innovation changed the entire nature of the potato chip, and led to the end of Smith’s twist of salt. (Walkers revived the idea of “salt in a bag”, following their takeover of Smith’s (UK) in 1979, with their Salt ‘n’ Shake potato crisps. Later chip manufacturers added natural and artificial seasonings to potato chips with varying degrees of success. A product that had had a large appeal to a limited market on the basis of one seasoning now had a degree of market penetration through vast numbers of seasonings. Various other seasonings of chips are sold in different locales, including the original Cheese and Onion, produced by Tayto, which remains by far Ireland’s biggest manufacturer of crisps.
There is little consistency in the English speaking world for names of fried potato cuttings. American and Canadian English use “chips” for the above mentioned dish—this term is also used (but not universally) in other parts of the world, due to the influence of American culture—and sometimes “crisps” for the same made from batter.
In the United Kingdom and Ireland crisps are potato chips while chips refer to thick strips similar to french fries (as in “fish and chips”)
and served hot. In Australia, some parts of South Africa, the south of New Zealand, India, the general West Indies especially in Barbados, both forms of potato product are simply known as “chips”, as are the larger “home-style” potato crisps. In the north of New Zealand they are known as “chippies” but are marketed as “chips” throughout the country. Sometimes the distinction is made between “hot chips” (fried potatoes) and “potato chips” in Australia and New Zealand. In Bangladesh, they are generally known as chip or chips, and much less as crisps (pronounced “kirisp”) and locally Álu Bhaja.
Another type of potato chip, notably the Pringles and Lay’s Stax brands, is made by extruding or pressing a dough made from ground potatoes into the desired shape before frying. This makes chips that are very uniform in size and shape, which allows them to be stacked and packaged in rigid tubes. In America, the official term for Pringles is “potato crisps”, but they are rarely referred to as such. Conversely Pringles may be termed “potato chips” in Britain, to distinguish them from traditional “crisps”.
An additional variant of potato chips exists in the form of “potato sticks”, also called “shoestring potatoes”. These are made as extremely thin (2–3 mm) versions of the popular French fry, but are fried in the manner of regular salted potato chips. A hickory-smoke flavor version is popular in Canada, going by the vending machine name “Hickory Sticks”. Potato sticks are typically packaged in rigid containers, although some manufacturers use flexible pouches, similar to potato chip bags. Potato sticks were originally packed in hermetically sealed steel cans. In the 1960s, manufacturers switched to the less expensive composite canister (similar to the Pringle’s container). Reckitt Benckiser was a market leader in this category under the Durkee Potato Stix and French’s Potato Sticks names, but exited the business in 2008.
A larger variant (approximately 1 cm thick) made with dehydrated potatoes is marketed as Andy Capp’s Pub Fries, using the theme of a long-running British comic strip, which are baked and come in a variety of flavors. Walkers make a similar product called “Chipsticks” which are Salt and Vinegar flavored. The Ready Salted flavor had been discontinued.
Some companies have also marketed baked potato chips as an alternative with lower fat content. Additionally, some varieties of fat-free chips have been made using artificial, and indigestible, fat substitutes. These became well known in the media when an ingredient many contained, Olestra, was linked in some individuals to abdominal discomfort and loose stools.
The success of crisp fried potato chips also gave birth to fried corn chips, with such brands as Fritos, CC’s and Doritos dominating the market. “Swamp chips” are similarly made from a variety of root vegetables, such as parsnips, rutabagas and carrots. Japanese-style variants include extruded chips, like products made from rice or cassava. In South Indian snack cuisine, there is an item called HappLa in Kannada/vadam in Tamil, which is a chip made of an extruded rice/sago or multigrain base that has been around for many centuries.
There are many other products which might be called “crisps” in Britain, but would not be classed as “potato chips” because they aren’t made with potato and/or aren’t chipped (for example, Wotsits, Quavers, Skips, Hula Hoops and Monster Munch).
Kettle-style chips (known as hand-cooked in the UK/Europe) are traditionally made by the “batch-style” process, where all chips are fried all at once at a low temperature profile, and continuously raked to prevent them from sticking together. There has been some development recently where kettle-style chips are able to be produced by a “continuous-style” process (like a long conveyor belt), creating the same old-fashioned texture and flavor of a real kettle-cooked chip.
Non-potato based chips also exist. Kumara (sweet potato) chips are eaten in Korea, New Zealand and Japan; parsnip, beetroot and carrot crisps are available in the United Kingdom. India is famous for a large number of localized ‘chips shops’, selling not only potato chips but also other varieties such as plantain chips, tapioca chips, yam chips and even carrot chips. Plantain chips, also known as chifles or tostones, are also sold in the Western Hemisphere from Canada to Chile. In the Philippines, banana chips can be found sold at local stores. In Kenya, chips are made even from arrowroot and casava. In the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland and Australia, a new variety of Pringles made from rice have been released and marketed as lower in fat than their potato counterparts. Recently, the Australian company Absolute Organic has also released chips made from beetroot.