What constitutes an “odd” flavour of crisps (chips, to our North Americans) is completely subjective, but I invite you to think about how crisps started out. The first flavoured crisps were invented in the early 1950s by the Irish company Tayto, selling only salt and vinegar and cheese and onion flavours to begin with. Prior to that, British-Australian Smiths sold its crisps with a little packet of salt inside each bag.
So if you think about all the flavours that have made an appearance over the past decade or so (some, to no great disappointment, are no longer with us), from those that claimed to taste like our favourite dishes, to chocolate, pigs in blankets and garlic butter scallop, we’ve come a long way. There’s no longer a shortage of choice for the world’s noisiest film snack.
I’ve been corresponding from the UK to see which crisps on the market are pushing the boundaries compared to what we have here in Hong Kong.
Home to Walkers crisps (who own 56 per cent of the UK crisps market), the UK has been known to turn out some pretty odd flavours over the years, including Christmas-edition Brussels sprouts and roast lamb and mint and sandwich-edition cheese, cucumber and salad cream! Sadly, my trip to the UK did not coincide with the release of such limited editions, but I did find some pretty interesting flavours.
Walkers – Marmite
You know how it goes – you either love it or you hate it. However, I’m inclined to say that these crisps might be popular amongst even the most Marmite-damning of people. They have got just the right amount of flavouring so as not to overpower, and the rich, savoury taste is mouth-watering.
Kettle & Apple Slices – Norfolk Pork Sausage
These are probably the weirdest concept of all that I tried from the UK, but they turned out to be my favourite. With normal Kettle potato crisps mixed in with crispy apple slices, these are coated in a sausage flavouring that is gamy and smoky – exactly like a pork sausage! In the UK, it’s not rare for sausages to be mixed with apple before being put into their skins, so the concept does make sense – and it works well.
Kettle & Beetroot Slices – Goat’s Cheese & Caramelised Onion
If goat’s cheese and red onion met on Love Island (a hit British TV series where strangers are put together in an island villa to, well, fall in love), the two would be inseparable from the get-go. I was excited about this match-made-in-heaven flavour, but whilst the beetroot crisps are tasty and earthy, I didn’t quite get the tang of goat’s cheese or sweetness of red onion for which I was hoping.
Walkers Sensations Oriental Crackers – Peking Spare Rib
Made using tapioca in the style of a prawn cracker, these tasted pretty much exactly how I expected them to, with that five-spice flavouring that the UK seems to think all Chinese food tastes of. Despite tasting somewhat unoriginal, they were still very moreish.
Pringles Rice Fusion – Tandoori Chicken Masala
In honour of the UK’s national dish – chicken tikka masala – Pringles has released a tandoori chicken masala flavour from its Rice Fusion range. With the intention of “transport(ing us) to the bustling streets of Delhi”, chicken tikka masala is actually believed to have been invented in Glasgow by a Pakistani chef in 1971. Wherever it originated, this dish is a classic to any Brit well established with his or her local curry house, and Pringles certainly nails the gentle spice and all-too-familiar buttery, tomatoey flavour.
As any Hong Konger should know, the 852 is a big fan of Japanese brand Calbee, which produces crisps in a variety of great Asian flavours. In fact, Calbee is so popular that there is now Okashi Galleria x Calbee Plus, a Japanese concept store in Wanchai that sells soft-serve ice cream with freshly fried Calbee crisps – you heard me! When it comes to this crisps challenge, with Asia being home to such distinct spices and flavours, I do feel that Hong Kong has an unfair advantage to be more varied with its snack flavours.
Jack ‘n Jill – Salmon Sushi and Wasabi
These crisps come in a resealable bag, with a separate packet inside so that you can add the wasabi flavouring to your liking. Before adding the wasabi, I could taste a hint of fishiness, but there was nothing extraordinarily “salmon sushi” about these crisps. With the wasabi, I got more of a sense of sushi, but still no salmon. Though not unpleasant, these didn’t quite live up to the flavours promised.
Calbee – Cucumber
When I opened the bag, “mojito” came instantly to mind. Definitely on the sweet side, these crisps also have a minty aftertaste that I was not expecting. Although cucumber and mint are a perfect pairing, it’s the sort of scent you might expect of a body lotion – and definitely didn’t tickle my taste buds in this case.
Jack ’n Jill – Takoyaki
For those in the dark (as I was), takoyaki is a Japanese street food that is essentially a dough ball with octopus, ginger and spring onion inside, topped with a special BBQ-like sauce and Japanese mayonnaise. These crisps also come with a flavouring packet and taste pretty nice even before adding it, with the distinct flavour of sweet Japanese mayo coming through. These also have a lovely, smoky BBQ flavour on top. I could have finished the whole bag if I wasn’t already trying three other bags of crisps…
Lay’s – Salted Egg
In HK, this flavour isn’t actually uncommon, but it has surged in popularity in the past several years. Salted eggs are made using duck eggs that are preserved in brine or salt and charcoal and are believed to date back thousands of years ago in China. The salted egg flavour has recently made a comeback, with burgers, sauces and even croissant-doughnuts being created in its honour. These crisps certainly stay true to the rich, intense saltiness of the popular flavour, but for me, they are way too savoury (and a bit smelly) to enjoy more than one.
Although I do feel that Hong Kong gets the prize for the most interesting crisps flavours, I don’t necessarily think they all worked when it came down to actually eating them. The typically more reserved attitude of the British crisp may not seem very exciting, but in my opinion, they were a bit more palatable overall. That said, I grew up with boring old cheese and onion crisps, so what do I know?
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