There's a whole wonderful world of chip flavors out there. Whether you're a sour cream and onion fan or a die hard for salt and vinegar, there's pretty much a taste for every palette. But when you step away from the more mainstream flavors like cheddar or barbecue, you enter a world of chips flavored like pickles, wasabi, mozzarella sticks, and more. And those flavors seem a little tougher to nail. So I compared unique chip flavors to the foods they're modeled after to see just how close the chips could get to the real deal.
I taste-tested 10 bags of chips from a variety of brands alongside the real versions of the food they're supposed to taste like. To my surprise, most of them tasted just like what they were advertising. A video from Seeker explained how flavors can be created using small amounts of the real food item. Seeker listed hamburger chips as an example, where they can be flavored using beef stock that's been pressure cooked and then had the water removed. All that's left is the concentrated flavor compounds that can then be added to the chips. When you crunch down, "Your taste buds are simply identifying the compounds in the food you eat," the video states. Your brain and taste buds recognize that familiar flavor whether it's concentrated on a chip or in a real burger.
Now, not all brands of chips may use a similar method of creation, but, in looking at the ingredients listed on the back of the ones I bought, most of them do contain a similar ingredients to the foods they're mimicking. For example, Kettle's Tropical Salsa flavored chips really do contain the same sorts of ingredients you'd find in an actual salsa. The chips contain ingredients like tomato, green bell pepper, jalapeño, onion, garlic, chili, and parsley — only in their powdered form. So it's not really that surprising that they would taste like salsa, all the ingredients are there.
Even the Korean Barbeque chips have natural flavors "including smoke" added to them so they really taste fresh off the grill. (Kettle's brand mission according to their website is to use "only the most natural, real food ingredients," which probably explains why the chips taste so much like the real thing.)
But enough about the science, let's get down to the tasting. Here's how the chip flavors stacked up to the foods they're based on.
Honey mustard is definitely my favorite type of mustard since the sweet honey notes cut through the spice. The chips replicated this real-life condiment taste, and unsurprisingly were more fun to eat than just a spoonful of mustard.
Prime Rib & Horseradish
First of all, please ignore how weird that tiny piece of meat looks in this flat lay and how it also looks sort of like a mitten or Michigan. In any case, these chips actually taste like meat. And while I now understand a little more about how natural flavors are added to chips to make this happen, it's still wild to eat a chip that tastes like grilled meat.
These chips didn't have quite as much of a horseradish taste, so I ended up using a tiny bit of the horseradish as a dip for the chips which helped enhance the taste of this famous food pairing. But if you're less of a horseradish fan (no shame, it's a unique flavor) the chips stand on their own as more grilled meat flavored and less spicy.
The chips tasted exactly like a pickle. It probably helps that dill is a pretty easy spice to add to things like chips, but the potatoes even had the tangy zing and crunch of a regular pickle. I was super impressed by the flavor match here, and, not gonna lie, I devoured this whole bag after this experiment was over.
Mozzarella 'N Marinara
This chip actually tastes exactly like marinara and cheese. And I liked them better than the actual mozzarella sticks because they weren't quite as rich and soggy as the ones I made in the oven. It was just the perfect amount of something a little more different than what Ruffles usually sells and nostalgic hints of mozzarella sticks for people who really like those.
To me, pepperoncinis taste sort of like spicy pickles, but what I liked about the chip version is that the spice wasn't as strong as the actual pepper. I'm not usually a fan of overpowering spice, and these chips had just enough of a kick but not too much. If you're too afraid of spice to go for, say, a jalapeño chip — this is a good option.
I mixed my own ranch and wasabi dressing to compare to these chips. I was pretty dubious that this would taste good in either chip or dressing form, but I was pleasantly surprised. The creaminess of the ranch cuts down on some of the wasabi spice which makes it more palatable.
In the chips, the wasabi taste is definitely there so you get that kind of nasal tingle that wasabi is known for when you eat it. It's definitely spicier than, like, the pepperoncini, but the ranch flavor did help cool it down a bit. If you're someone who likes those wasabi peas or spicy snacks, this is a good option for you. Also stores should start selling wasabi ranch dressing for salads, just saying.
My hometown doesn't actually have any real Korean barbecue restaurants so I went with this Korean-inspired beef dinner to compare. But I have actually had real Korean barbecue before and what stands out from that and the chips is the smokey flavor. At Korean barbecue restaurants, you cook your own meat over a grill in front of you, so the food captures a smokey taste. These chips actually have natural smoke flavoring, so it's very authentic. It also smells and tastes like barbecue. Another winner in my book as far as matching flavors go.
These tasted a lot like the regular Ruffles cheddar chips, but with a tad more chili spice. They also smelled overpoweringly like cheese — so it definitely delivered on the english meaning of queso.
I bought mango salsa to complement the mango infused salt of the chips. There's definitely less of a mango taste in the chips, since it's infused rather than just straight-up real mango like in the actual salsa. But the flavor notes were definitely there, making for a slightly sweet and spicy chip.
Tapatio Hot Sauce
The hot sauce itself tastes sort of like taco seasoning, which makes the corn chip version even better because it's literally like eating bite-sized tacos. The chip version was less spicy than applying straight hot sauce to your tongue (duh). They sort of tasted like a spicier cool ranch Dorito. Like a... hot ranch Dorito.
Overall, I was most impressed by how easy it is for natural flavoring to capture the authentic taste of the foods these chips are based on. Now they just need to make some potato chips flavored like my favorite food... ramen.