BY BRIAN GODAR
Besides being one of Poor Scholars’ television gurus, Godar spends a lot of time trying new snack foods while going on television binges. We asked Godar to taste test the new Lay’s flavors — Sriracha, Cheesy Garlic Bread, and Chicken and Waffles — to find out which flavor America should vote for and which new flavor you should be snacking on while watching your favorite show.
In my Doritos 3D article last week, I mentioned the Lay’s “Do Us A Flavor” contest where fans submitted new, unique ideas for a chance to pioneer the new flavor of Lay’s potato chips. The contest has been narrowed down to three finalists from an initial list of thousands. The finalist flavors are chicken and waffle, sriracha, and cheesy garlic bread, and it is up to us, the fans, to vote on which one we want to keep. Here at Poor Scholars, we take our civic duties extremely seriously and as such, I went out to buy bags of all three chips to make an informed decision. That was, however, easier said than done. These chips are extremely rare, which is the reason this article was delayed a bit. I went to a dozen different stores in Wrigleyville and couldn’t find them anywhere. My roommate Rambo had to go to the Walgreens by his office downtown to find some so we could review them.
I rated the chips based on a number of categories: Taste, accuracy to the imitated flavor, and “eatability”, which is how many chips you can eat before getting sick of them (not to be confused with “edibility,” which gauges if food is poisonous or not). For a word that I made up, eatability is surprisingly the most important category of all, because even if every flavor is delicious, it doesn’t matter if you can only eat five chips before becoming sick of them. This statistic has far less to do with actual flavor than you would think, since there is a difference between liking a flavor and being able to consistently eat that same flavor over time. The results are below.
Taste: I know the flavor is technically chicken and waffles, but I cannot for the life of me taste even a hint of chicken. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the flavor that is there is a combination of maple syrup and burning. No, I’m not Ralph from The Simpsons; the burning taste I’m talking about, which I assume is meant to represent the chicken flavor, makes the potato chip taste uncannily like a potato pancake. As someone who loves potato pancakes, that taste is right up my alley, but I can taste why this is the most controversial of the new flavors.
Smell: The smell is overwhelmingly of syrup. In fact, it is almost cloyingly sweet for what is meant to be a combination of sweet and savory.
Accuracy to actual chicken and waffles: Chicken and waffles is an almost perfect blend of sweet and savory, which is why it is such a popular dish even though that combination initially sounds kind of gross. As a chip, the taste falls much more into the sweet category, and the burnt flavor adds even more sweetness as it tastes of caramelization instead of chicken. Overall, this chip only captures half of the dish it is based on, making it 50% accurate to its intended flavor.
Eatability: Not surprisingly, this chip has the lowest eatability of all the new flavors. While it is unique and delicious, I wouldn’t recommend eating a bag of these chips unless you are also snacking on something else that can break up the flavor. I still have some chips left over from the bag I bought. I eat a handful at a time, and I don’t think I could handle much more.
Rambo’s Reaction: While I can’t recall ever having eaten chicken and waffles, I imagine this is not what they taste like. The chips themselves were not bad, but they were very sweet and mostly tasted like syrup. If I had to choose I would rather eat the French Toast Crunch cereal these chips taste like.
Overall Grade: B. My grade is probably higher than the average simply because I like chicken and waffles, the flavor they are going for, and I like potato pancakes, the flavor that they actually achieved. Most people will grade the chips more harshly simply because they are expecting some chicken flavor, but I give these chips a pass for their false advertising since the end result is still good.
Taste: The taste of the cheesy garlic bread chip is surprisingly muted. The taste that pops out the most is butter, followed by garlic, and finally a hint of cheese at the end. The chips are laden with garlic butter, which makes these particularly greasy and taste somewhat stale. The negatives aside, I think this chip is one or two tweaks away from being the best of the bunch.
Smell: The smell is very strong, with parmesan cheese being the most prominent component. The smell is similar to cheese popcorn. Interestingly, these chips use real cheese and other dairy, which leads to laughably short expiration dates. The bag I purchased on March 1st had an expiration date of April 1st. Compare that to Lay’s BBQ chips with an expiration date of next year and that seems kind of ridiculous.
Accuracy to actual cheesy garlic bread: The smell is almost perfect, but the taste isn’t nearly as strong as most garlic bread. You do get reminded of garlic bread while eating the chips, but it’s garlic bread that has been left out too long and got all soggy from the oil.
Eatability: The muted flavor makes these chips surprisingly eatable, even if the flavor isn’t the best of the bunch. I was eating all three flavors at the same time, and this was the first bag that I finished.
(Editor’s note: You might believe that Godar is nearing 300+ pounds with comments like that, but he’s quite possibly the skinniest person I know.)
Rambo’s Reaction: The strong aroma of the chips leads one to believe they will be very flavorful. While they do smell exactly like cheesy garlic bread, the taste is very underwhelming; passable at best. Again, I would much rather eat actual garlic bread than these.
Overall Grade: C+. These chips would get a higher grade if they tasted even half as strong as they smell. If the cheese flavor could be amped up a lot, and something could be done about the inane amount of grease on the chips, the flavor would be good enough to launch this flavor into the realm of the powerhouse of the group (more on that below). You might end up sacrificing eatability for flavor, but I think even if the flavor was more intense, you would be able to eat as many as you cared for.
Taste: Wow. I didn’t realize you could shove so many flavors onto one chip. At first taste, sriracha is nothing more than hot sauce. In reality, there are lots of components in the sauce that create different taste sensations. For instance, there is vinegar, salt, and chili that add the bulk of the tangy, salty, spicy flavor you get from normal hot sauces. However, there is also an ample amount of sugar in the sauce (it’s the second ingredient listed) to provide a certain balance that you don’t get from other hot sauces. I know I just described real sriracha, but I’ll be damned if these chips don’t taste like plain Lay’s that have been dipped in actual sriracha. The flavor alone makes these chips by far the best.
Smell: You pick up more of the sugar in the smell of the chip than in the taste. In fact, they smell similar to the chicken and waffle chips due to the burnt, sugary smell. When you put your nose close to the chip, you finally get that heat that is underneath the sugar, and everything comes together.
Accuracy to actual sriracha: You couldn’t make these chips taste any more like sriracha if you wanted to. There is almost no difference. You get all the nuances and layers that real sriracha has, and that potato flavor really brings out the more subtle notes that you often don’t notice since the taste of the food that you are putting sriracha on usually gets in the way.
Eatability: The only thing that makes these less eatable than the cheesy garlic bread chips is how spicy they are. You don’t get the heat right away, but once it hits you, it’s hard for you to power through. There are likely some people out there who can eat a ton of these chips in a row, but I found myself reaching for a glass of water after every handful. Still, I would much rather eat these and struggle through the heat than eat either of the other two chips.
Rambo’s Reaction: Ding ding ding: We have a winner. Lay’s is on to something with these sriracha flavored chips. They have just the right amount of sriacha flavor to them. They are sweet but also have a spicy aftertaste. Bottom line is Rambo likes his chips spicy and these pass the test.
Overall Grade: A+. The sriracha flavor is intense and layered. You can taste each individual aspect of sriracha, from the garlic and vinegar to the sugar that gives sriracha that perfect balance as a condiment. This is the flavor that I would vote for as well as the one that I expect to win the contest, and by a hefty margin, too.
Overall, this was an enjoyable test. I believe sriracha will win, but I wouldn’t count out the possibility of Lay’s coming out with a tweaked version of cheesy garlic bread after the contest. I don’t believe chicken and waffles won many people over the way it did me, and even I believe this chip is at best a novelty; rhe simple fact is that it is too sweet. When people go to the potato chip aisle in the store, they are looking for a salty, savory snack. Chicken and waffles would be better placed in the cereal aisle. I said last week that none of these flavors could be anything more than a short-term gimmick due to how outrageous they sounded. After this taste test, I am more than willing to admit that I was wrong and that the winner, sriracha, is more than a gimmick. Sometimes I do crave a spicy potato chip, and sriracha is one of the best that I have tried. If you haven’t tried the new flavors, make sure you at least try sriracha before the contest is over and you have to wait until they roll them out as an official flavor, which could take a while. Don’t be like this guy and wait 20 years to buy a snack off eBay. Be proactive and try them now.