REVIEW: Lay’s Chipotle Ranch Potato Chips

Lay's Chipotle Ranch Potato Chips

You know what, dear TIB readers? I’m angry. I’m angry because I’ve been sitting here for a good half hour now, staring at the awful blinking cursor on a blank document. The dreaded Writer’s Block.

I’m not really angry at my Writer’s Block, however. I’m angry at food. Okay, that’s not fair; I love food, and it’s not food’s fault. It’s the fault of food company’s marketing team, or maybe their R&D departments. I don’t really care who; I’m just angry at all of them. Angry that they’re making my intro to this review about Lay’s Chipotle Ranch Potato Chips so fucking difficult. Here’s some opening themes that I’ve already written but discarded as totally lame:

Regional-flavored potato chips are stereotyping whole regions of the US with their flavors!

Fake angry letter to Lay’s about said stereotypical chips!

Chipotle is the latest food trend and it’s totally been beaten into the ground!

I think the third one is actually the crux of my problem. Chipotle has been overused. What’s left to say? I typically write my review intros before I even taste the product; I like to explore and mock marketing angles and make wild speculations about how awful or tasty the product is going to be based on little to no actual facts. I’ve had enough chipotle-flavored products to see exactly where my review is going:

“These chips have some heat but where’s the smoky flavor that really sets chipotle apart from just generic spiciness?”

Boom. Done. Didn’t even have to open the bag. You’re welcome.

I’d like to be a glass half-full kinda gal, but I’ve been burned, as it were, by so many disappointing chipotle products that I just can’t get excited about these chips. I’ve been turned into a dour food reviewer. My jokes are dried up and played out. I’m even getting angry at spellcheck for refusing to recognize chipotle as a correctly spelled word. I am “The Grim Eater” from Ratatouille. My stomach, two sizes too small.

But I feel an obligation to the readership of this fine, upstanding website to tell you about Lay’s Chipotle Ranch. They’re only available in the southwest region of the United States, so the majority of you will never get to try them. I must cast off this chipotle albatross and march forward!

Let’s start with the regional angle: way back in March of last year, Lay’s introduced their first round of regional flavors. In what was only my second review on TIB, I took a look at their first southwest regional offering, Southwest Cheese & Chiles. There were four other regional flavors, and they mostly seemed to make sense in regards to representing the flavors of their regions.

This time around, along with the southwest’s Chipotle Ranch, they’ve also launched Honey Mustard for the northeast (“tangy mustard combined with a touch of sweet honey”) and Creamy Garden Ranch for the Midwest (“sour cream mixed with spices and fresh cucumbers for the flavor of herb ranch dressing”).

I’m not exactly sure how the other two flavors relate to their regions. Hey New York, are you totally in love with honey mustard? I thought you guys went the spicy brown route. Midwest, you really into ranch dressing? Well, Michigan and South Dakota are tied for tenth fattest state, so maybe they’ve got something there; plus, cucumber chips sound interesting. However, I suppose chipotle makes sense for the southwest. People generally think of chiles and spicy food when they think of southwestern cuisine, and, again, chipotle is the hot flavor of the moment.

Lay's Chipotle Ranch Potato Chips Closeup

Lay’s description of Chipotle Ranch is “sour cream and buttermilk ranch mixed with chipotle spice and green chili”. Not sure what ranch has to do with the southwest. I guess they’re going for that “spicy/cooling” angle, but really, there’s no point in that. They would have been fine with just chipotle and green chili. But hey, there are a lot of ranches in the southwest! That explains everything.

After all this bitching and moaning and generally being a curmudgeon, it’s time to take off my crankypants, put on my ObjectiveReviewerpants, and get down to business.

Upon opening the bag, there was a distinct lack of any sort of odor, which I found odd. Usually some sort of aroma hits my nostrils when I tear open a bag of chips, but there wasn’t much to go on with these. The chips themselves are covered with a medium amount of flavor powder, appropriately orangish-red with little flecks of green that could represent either the green chili or the ranch. Or both!

The first thing that hit my taste buds was the heat. It was surprisingly mild, but enjoyable. And, of course, try as I might, chip after chip, that signature smoky flavor of chipotle was absent. My mouth wept. Not literally, though; I try to stay off the Thorazine while I’m doing a review.

As I kept eating, the heat built gradually but nicely. The ranch flavoring, which I didn’t think I would like, worked well with the spice. It made its presence known, but wasn’t overwhelming. I could even taste hints of the sour cream, which I thought would be nonexistent. It complimented both the ranch and the…”chipotle” quite nicely. As for the green chili, I couldn’t distinguish it from the chipotle. The spiciness was too generalized; Lay’s could have just called the chips “Spicy Ranch” and I would have nodded my head in agreement. There’s an interesting aftertaste that I would describe as “herby”. I actually liked it, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was.

My pessimistic view towards all things claiming to be chipotle-flavored remains, but I’m gracious enough to put down the bitter pill and say that Lay’s Chipotle Ranch is a tasty chip. The heat level builds nicely and stops just short of being too hot, and the ranch and sour cream both work well with it. Real chipotle flavoring is my Moby Dick, but I can’t blame Lay’s any more than anyone else. Looking on the bright side, hey – at least my region got a new flavor! Suck it, Northwestern US! (Still want to try cucumber-flavored chips.)

(Nutrition Facts – 1 package – 290 calories, 160 calories from fat, 18 grams of total fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 4.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 9 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 320 milligrams of sodium, 640 milligrams of potassium, 28 grams of total carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 2 grams of sugars, 4 grams of protein, 6% vitamin A, 2% calcium, 15% vitamin C, 6% iron, 10% vitamin E, 10% niacin, 8% thiamin, and 15% vitamin B6.)

Item: Lay’s Chipotle Ranch Potato Chips
Price: 99 cents
Size: 1 7/8 ounces
Purchased at: Circle K
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Gradual build of heat level. “The Grim Eater”. Ranch and sour cream were just right. The term “chipotle albatross”. Interesting herby aftertaste.
Cons: NO CHIPOTLE FLAVORING. Spellcheck being a dick. NO CHIPOTLE FLAVORING. Getting’ the “Thorazine drools”. NO CHIPOTLE FLAVORING.

WEEK IN REVIEWS – 5/28/2011

Zen Garden

Here are a few product reviews posted this week from other blogs we follow.

I can reach Zen by drinking this? Bah! So it appears I don’t need to meditate and rake the gravel in the Zen garden I built. Damn that Zen monk! (via Drinkable Review)

The Impulsive Buy has been around for almost seven years and during those years I’ve put a lot of things into my mouth. Some I regret, some I long for, and some I forget. But if there is one thing I will never put into my mouth, it’s this. (via Probably Edible)

The Tabasco lollipop doesn’t taste at all like Tabasco. I don’t know whether I should be upset or relieved. (via Junk Food Betty)

Chocolate company Thorntons has a chocolate bar with roses inside of it. Hey, fellas. If you’re looking to kill two birds with one stone on Valentine’s Day, that chocolate bar will do it. Also, you can kill two birds with one stone by having your anniversary on Valentine’s Day. You’re welcome. (via Jim’s Chocolate Mission)

Too late, Betty Crocker. With the name Lazy Cakes taken, you blew your opportunity to change the name of these extremely easy-to-bake cakes to Lazy Cakes. (via The Surfing Pizza)

REVIEW: Limited Edition Creamsicle Oreo

Limited Edition Creamsicle Oreo

August 14th is National Creamsicle Day.

I didn’t know that until just moments ago and although it’s only a few more months until it comes around again, I’ve been making up for the years I didn’t celebrate National Creamsicle Day by eating one Limited Edition Creamsicle Oreo for each year I missed it. Unfortunately, I don’t know when the holiday was established, so I hope the thirty cookies I’m eating will make up for it.

When the holiday comes around again, I won’t be sucking, licking, or biting a frozen Creamsicle to celebrate the day. Instead, I’ll be eating more of these Limited Edition Creamsicle Oreo cookies to honor the orange and vanilla treat. I hope they’ll still be available, since they’re limited edition.

Why not honor a Creamsicle by eating a Creamsicle? Because I believe one should honor something by eating something else that honors it. I wouldn’t eat an actual flag on Flag Day or a mother on Mother’s Day. In the case of Flag Day, I would eat something that honors the flag, like a cake or cookie decorated to look like an American flag or a pizza that uses pepperoni and mozzarella cheese to create the thirteen stripes.

Although, to be honest, I don’t really celebrate Flag Day, because no one gets the day off, there aren’t any fireworks, and I don’t want to blow my entire patriotic load before the Fourth of July.

Speaking of blowing entire loads, it looks like the folks at Nabisco have been doing just that with their Oreo cookies. Over the past two months, they’ve not only released these Creamsicle Oreos, but also Berry Burst Ice Cream Oreo, new flavors of Oreo Fudge Cremes, Oreo Brownies, and Triple Double Oreo.

Limited Edition Creamsicle Oreo Closeup

However, out of that high fructose corn syrup-sweetened group, Creamsicle Oreo is the only one labeled limited edition and I’m disappointed by that because they make me wish every day was National Creamsicle Day.

After all the twisting, licking, biting, and other verbs that sound sexual but are also done with Oreo cookies, I think the cookie as a whole doesn’t taste like a Creamsicle. However, the orange and white creme itself does taste very similar to the frozen treat, but it doesn’t have a strong enough flavor to stand out from the vanilla Oreo cookie. When the creme is combined with the vanilla Oreo cookie, its flavor reminds me of Fruity Pebbles.

Even though the Limited Edition Creamsicle Oreo as a whole doesn’t taste like a Creamsicle, it’s still a pretty good cookie. And I look forward to celebrating National Creamsicle Day with it.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 150 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 1 gram of polyunsaturated fat, 3 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 15 milligrams of potassium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, less than 1 gram of protein and 2% iron.)

Item: Limited Edition Creamsicle Oreo
Price: $2.98
Size: 15.25 ounces
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Creme taste like a Creamsicle. As a whole, it tastes like Fruity Pebbles. Honoring something by eating something that honors it. The number of Oreo varieties released recently.
Cons: As a whole, it doesn’t taste like a Creamsicle. Limited edition. Missing years of celebrating National Creamsicle Day. Eating an actual flag on Flag Day.

REVIEW: Orville Redenbacher’s Smart Pop! Butter Pop Up Bowl

Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop! Butter Pop Up Bowl

I’m surprised the Pop Up Bowl wasn’t invented until now. My mind boggles when I consider all the inventions someone thought of (and capitalized upon) before this quite practical invention. You know, stuff like curly straws, dog goggles, and miniature Sharpies. I am certain when I say that no canine ever in the entire history of puppy-kind ever really desired goggles. OK, maybe the cosmonaut dogs shot into space by the USSR needed some, but those little guys already had a lot on their plates, what with having to demonstrate Soviet might beyond the stratosphere and all. Reducing glare probably wasn’t a priority.

Orville Redenbacher offers the new Pop Up Bowl with their Butter, 94% Fat Free Butter, and Movie Theater Butter microwaveable varieties. The Pop Up Bowl is basically a standard microwave popcorn bag, except it is made with a red, plastic tear-off cover on one side that gives you direct access to your snack when removed.

Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop! Butter Pop Up Bowl Lid

The “bowl” does actually stand up by itself, and it’s very cute. Thick red-and-yellow stripes and a festive, gold band make the Pop Up Bowl look like something from an old-timey movie theater… which is nice if you’re nostalgic for that sort of thing. It’s nothing like the oversized, top-heavy cups they give you at the movies now with a Quantum of Solace Aston Martin or Johnny Depp’s pirated-up face on it, so that’s a plus.

The Pop Up Bowl’s plastic covering was a little harder to tear off than I anticipated. It’s attached with industrial strength glue and is stuck to the corner pocket of the bowl in such a way that it twists up and doesn’t just shear off when you tug it. This can be a bit of a problem when you take into account the fact that this is a heaping bowl of popcorn, filled with kernels ready to fly everywhere at the first errant yank.

Truthfully, it wasn’t that big of a production to get the bag open, but I think they could’ve made it a little simpler to remove, since that’s the whole point. If Orville Redenbacher went through all the trouble of touting the “Easier Snacking, Sharing & Clean-Up” motto, they could at least keep you from spilling your popcorn everywhere.

Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop! Butter Pop Up Bowl Bowl

Despite the cleverness and practicality of this concept, I can’t really think of a real reason why we needed the Pop Up Bowl. Sure, it saves you the effort of having to wash a plastic bowl and makes popcorn feasting a little cleaner, since you no longer have to reach deep inside a greasy bag and get butter all over every inch of your hands… but as nice and as water-saving as those perks are, we’d be fine without them.

Maybe the creation of this Pop Up Bowl speaks more to the fact that despite record-setting opening weekends for movies, audience numbers are way down. People are staying home, renting movies and enjoying their popcorn on the couch. But I realize Orville Redenbacher can’t comment on that. “Easier Snacking, Sharing, Clean-up, and Destruction of the Movie Studio Business Model” doesn’t seem like it would fit on the label.

(Nutrition Facts – ½ bag (about 7.5 cups popped) – 120 calories, 2 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 0.5 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 240 milligrams of sodium, 300 milligrams of potassium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 15 grams of sugar, 4 grams of protein, 8% iron.)

Item: Orville Redenbacher’s Smart Pop! Butter Pop Up Bowl
Price: $3.49 (on sale)
Size: 3 bags
Purchased at: Ralphs
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Cleaner than a normal popcorn bag. Dogs in space. Bowl does actually stands up on its own. Movie theater nostalgia. Aston Martins.
Cons: Functional but unnecessary. Dog goggles. Plastic lid can be difficult to tear off. The modern movie studio business model. Johnny Depp dressed as a pirate, again.

NEWS: David’s Signature Beyond Gourmet Jelly Beans Make Jelly Belly Buttered Popcorn Seem Less Gross

Full of beans Project 365(2) Day 270

For those of you looking to fill your brain with knowledge that will come in handy if you happen to face IBM’s Watson in a battle of answering trivia questions to determine whether the supercomputer takes over the world, David Klein is the inventor of Jelly Belly jelly beans.

You’re welcome, Planet Earth.

Although Mr. Klein is no longer at Jelly Belly, he’s still creating candy and this week at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago he, along with Leaf Brands, will debut David’s Signature Beyond Gourmet Jelly Beans, which according to the press release, “is the first confectionary product of its kind: blending exotic cuisine and luxury candy.”

How exotic can jelly beans get?

Imagine chewing on jelly beans that taste like “the world’s finest and most exotic spices, herbs, roots, flowers, fruits, and nuts specific to world culture.” A couple of David’s Signature Beyond Gourmet Jelly Beans sets include “Tastes Around the World” and “Hot Peppers Around the World.” Oh I wish for a habanero jelly bean for me to chew on and then immediately spit out.

The jelly beans allow eaters to create in their mouth the flavor of complex dishes using different jelly bean varieties.

Finally, David’s Signature Beyond Gourmet Jelly Beans will also include a rare product that includes a “special blend” of the rarest and most exotic ingredients in the world, which will be enclosed in a 24-karat gold bean. All of that will be placed in a crystal jar. The price tag for these rare jelly beans and the packaging it comes in is set at $500.

REVIEW: Lay’s Kettle Cooked Potato Chips (Spicy Cayenne & Cheese and Creamy Mediterranean Herb)

Lay's Kettle Cooked Creamy Mediterranean Herb and Spicy Cayenne & Cheese

In recent years it’s as if Lay’s has decided test marketing is entirely too passé for them. Apparently, all the cool kids are now releasing regionally-specific products and quietly incorporating the best loved flavors into the national lineup over time. Besides, test marketing sounds so… iffy. It’s the difference between “Hey, try this… thing!” and “I made this just for you!”

Luckily, this practice has not yet been applied to their Kettle Cooked line. Both new flavors managed to make their way to my obscure, out-of-the-way location way out in the middle of everywhere. And thank God, because the Sandy Egg keeps getting lumped in with the general Southwest and receiving an annual truckload of rebranded nacho cheese chips. Really, Lay’s? Really? You had me at chile limón.

Please stop barraging me with malformed clones and crappy imitations. I will try them once, foist the remnants on unsuspecting party guests, and never ever touch this season’s abomination again, and you know this.

What’s that? One of the new Kettle Cooked flavors is Spicy Cayenne & Cheese (heretofore known as SCC)? Great. Thanks.

I choose to approach this bag still hoping for the best. Lay’s has trained me to automatically delight in Easy Mac powder and dried jalapenos delivered in bold new ratios. My expectations are low; my palate bored stupid.

Kettle cooked chips always feel more refined, somehow, than their counterparts. I don’t know why this is – they’re greasier, fatter, and far more prone to little oil bubbles. If they were people, I’d probably quietly avoid them. In chip form, though, they might as well come with little monocles and bow ties stamped on. They are the nouveau riche of chip empire, loyal to their potato roots, a little trashy, totally inept at blending in with the classics, but irresistible when dolled up in just the right bag. The rest of the snack aisle must hate them.

The newest additions to this Beverly Hillbillies-esque clan are Creamy Mediterranean Herb (CMH) and the aforementioned nacho cheese retread. Both are made with white cheddar and bonus goodies. CMH gets the buttermilk treatment, as well as oregano, basil, and sun-dried tomatoes. SCC comes complete with a bit of a cayenne, but fewer overall frills.

Let’s dig in.

We might have a small problem on our hands, but don’t panic. Just answer me this: have any of you seen Cool Ranch or Nacho Cheese Doritos around lately? Because I think I just found their flavorings scattered about in the wrong bags, red and green spicy flecks strewn this way and that, cheese powder spilling onto my jeans. Oh the humanity! While mildly horrified at this gruesome turn of events, being something of a psychopath myself, I do have to admit that the Kettle Cooked line of chips seem to wear their stolen coatings well.

Lay's Kettle Cooked Creamy Mediterranean Herb

The pre-dipped sour creaminess of CMH is quickly growing on me. The basil flavor is balcony-garden fresh and prominent in every bite. The buttermilk also manages to shine through, adding some ranchiness to the mix. The sun-dried tomato flecks, however? Purely aesthetic. CMH manages to toe the line between refreshing and dense. I find myself going back for a handful now and then, but this definitely isn’t one of the “oh no – oh dear god no – HOW IS THE BAG ALREADY EMPTY?” kind of flavors. I’m used to seeing this combination more in cracker form where backdrops of baked wheat and oats work in tandem with the creaminess to keep things from getting sickeningly heavy. It works here for awhile, but at a certain point, I hit a wall.

Lay's Kettle Cooked Spicy Cayenne & Cheese

SCC tastes vaguely similar to cheesy Sun Chips at first bite. The cayenne delivers a nice kick without sending me rushing for a glass of water. I’m powerless to say no to zesty cheese even after one hundred previous incarnations of varying quality have assailed my senses. These taste much lighter than their creamy herb buddies and many of the other Kettle Cooked varieties. The cheese hasn’t been overdone this time, and I think that’s the difference. It’s there, but it’s quiet, and it’s distinctly white cheddary, rather than whatever it is Kraft keeps cranking out. The nondescript “cheese” label does these guys a huge disservice. I might actually buy these again, provided I forget to eat before heading to the store.

All in all, a good showing from Lay’s. Both flavors make for interesting and tasty additions to the picnic table this summer, especially if your region lacks chile limón goodness. However, I do not recommend combining the two flavors and calling it a complete meal. That was a mistake.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 ounce/16 chips – Creamy Mediterranean Herb – 150 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 1 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 2 grams polyunsaturated fat, 4 grams monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 360 milligrams of potassium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein. Spicy Cayenne and Cheese – 150 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 1 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 2 grams polyunsaturated fat, 4 grams monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 350 milligrams of potassium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Lay’s Kettle Cooked Potato Chips (Spicy Cayenne & Cheese and Creamy Mediterranean Herb)
Price: $1.99 on sale (regularly $3.49)
Size: 8.5 ounces
Purchased at: Albertson’s
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Spicy Cayenne & Cheese)
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Creamy Mediterranean Herb)
Pros: Tiny monocles. Basil explosions in my mouth. The light kick of cayenne. The subtlety of white cheddar. Chips made just for me. Chile limón. Picnics. The convenience of hungry party guests.
Cons: May or may not have murdered some Doritos for their flavors. More nacho cheese stereotyping for the Southwest. Creamy Mediterranean herb gets kind of dense and overwhelming after a few handfuls. Kettle cooked chips greasy, fat, and alienated from the cool kids. Spicy cayenne and cheese must compete with all the other clones for my attention.