In the world of potato chips, the bright yellow bag of Lay’s potato chips is stamped permanently in my Potato Chip List of Glory. How one improves on permanence? I don’t know.
Of course, every new product Lay’s rolls out presents a new threat to my ardor: What if I eat a new kind and find myself unsatisfied? It isn’t realistic to expect perfection from every product…is it? Should I just stick with the classic fried chip? Am I going to give up Lay’s if I have a negative experience? If I give them up, where will I go when I have a chip craving? What does it all mean for my future of chip eating?!?!
I’m not sure, but I do know that a) the arrival of Popchips has been threatening to disturb the order of Lay’s potato chip glory on the shelves lately and thus b) Lay’s deserves its day to try and stand up for itself in this puffed-chip world. It was for this very reason that I pushed my anxiety aside and picked up the Lay’s Air Pops, determined to see if my steadfast chip could hold its own in these shifting, puffy-chip times.
Air Pops supposedly come in Sour Cream and Onion and Barbecue flavors. This time, the Fates conspired against me and I was left with the Original as my only option, a shame as I would’ve swooned like a melodramatic Shakespeare character over a bag of Sour Cream and Onion, but I figured it was best to try the Original first as it would prove whether or not Lay’s could set a solid foundation for its poppable round crisps. Plus, it saved me a lot of embarrassment that would’ve resulted from swooning in public.
Having been raised on the Original Lay’s, I like my chips thin, crispy, and with a salinity that could compete with the sodium levels of the Dead Sea. At the same time, none of this should take away the potato flavor. Popping open the bag, I’m greeted with the smell of potato and salt, a good foresight considering that’s all I want to taste.
And these don’t disappoint. Salty, crispy, potato-y, these have all the qualifying pillars that build a Potato Chip Parthenon on the acropolis of Greatness. They’re definitely inspired by the “Popchips” all those youngsters are talking about. Now, if you’ve yet to dip your toe in the Popchips craze, let me explain: a Popchip is a potato pellet (yes, “potato pellet”) that, according to an oldie clip of Marc Summers, has been vacuumized and puffed out into a round, crispy disc.
Flavor and texture-wise, I would describe Popchips as a round, potato-enhanced Bugle. One of the troubles I sometimes encounter with a Popchip is that they have a grain that can come across sharp against my mouth, almost as if I were subjecting myself to eating potato-flavored dry polenta. I was happy to discover the Lay’s version has a more Pringles-like grain that goes down smoother. That, paired with the fact that they’re doused with that perfect, cheap, grainy Lay’s table salt, gives them high marks all around.
There are many things that bring me great joy: the wrinkly faces of English Bulldogs, crazy straws, and Scottish kilts. While I’ve never taken the time to number them, resting somewhere at the top of the list would have to be finding the crumbly bits of chip at the bottom of the bag. You know what I’m talking about. Those discarded, semi-damaged remnants of potato flake and salt that, when tipped out of their pointed fissure in the corner of the aluminum bag, congeal with the perfect ratio of sodium chloride to potato. I’m happy to say that, for all you chip dust lovers, Lay’s doesn’t deny you here. Because the bag had been slightly crushed on the trek home (curse you, closing subway door!), a bounty of dusty booty awaited me as I reached the end of solid chippery, allowing me to tilt the bag and consume my reward. Ah. Chip satisfaction.
As seen with yo-yos, spandex, and roller skates, trends can meander and shift with no rhyme or reason, and it’s no different in the world of chips, which can go from 3-D to taco-fied in a matter of months. However, this puffed chip craze seems to be sustaining itself, having already expanded to everything from tortillas to lentils, and I, for one, am glad Lay’s has jumped in the ring. Their rendition is a solid one, done with a fearlessly salty hand and a quality potato taste while offering a slightly smoother texture than Popchips, so make room in the pantry. Lay’s has entered the puffed chips game.
(Nutrition Facts – 19 crisps – 120 calories, 40 calories from fat, 4 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 190 milligrams of sodium, 80 milligrams of potassium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 0 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)
Item: Lay’s Air Pops Original Potato Chips
Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 3 oz. bag
Purchased at: Duane Reade
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Nice balance of salt and potato. Similar to a slightly airy Pringle. Comes in Barbecue and Sour Cream and Onion. Plenty of crumbs. Doesn’t require endorsements from pop icons to make them taste good. Crazy straws. Wrinkly bulldog faces.
Cons: Only finding the Original when you really want the Sour Cream and Onion. May be too salty for some. Kinda sorta copying Popchips and, therefore, could be accused of lacking originality. “Potato pellet.” Getting crushed by subway doors.