REVIEW: Lay’s Southwest Cheese & Chiles Potato Chips

Lay’s has recently introduced a new line of chips, marketing them as “regional flavors.” There are five different regional flavors, and one flavor that’s being introduced nationwide, which is Tangy Carolina BBQ. What’s up with that, Lay’s? Really, you’re going to pick Carolina to be your national representative? And you don’t even specify which Carolina? I would go with South, but only because Stephen Colbert is from South Carolina, and Stephen Colbert can pretty much get anybody to do anything he wants. He has his own treadmill on the International Space Station, for Christ’s sake.

Carolina conundrums aside, here are the five regional flavors:

Northeastern US: Pepper Relish – “Available in New York, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States”

Midwestern US: Garden Tomato & Basil – “Available in the Heartland, the Mid American and Midwest States”

Northwestern US: Balsamic Sweet Onion – “Available in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and Northern California”

Southwestern US: Southwest Cheese & Chiles – “Available in Texas, Southern California and the Mountain States”

Southeastern US: Cajun Herb & Spice – “Available in the Carolinas, the Southeast and Central Gulf States, and Florida”

Oh, so the Carolinas get two chip flavors, now? I smell a Carolinan plant in the Lay’s flavor lab. No, wait, I see it now – Stephen Colbert heard about Lay’s regional flavors and placed a quick phone call. Boom! Two Carolina flavors. Somebody needs to keep that man in check.

I have to say, though, all six flavors sound downright delicious. Potentially. I think we’re all aware of how easily chip flavors can go horribly wrong. I’m just thankful they kept the flavors pretty reasonable, instead of flying off the handle with flavors like hamburger, or hot dog. Or pizza. Or, God help us, Garbage Plate.

Unfortunately, I’ll never get to experience most of these flavors. While I find this marketing strategy cute, it does have the negative side effect of limiting Frito-Lay’s markets, and vaguely pissing me off in the process. Also, you could twist the “regional favorites” idea into “stereotypes about what certain people around the country like to eat.” Gulf States, you’re nothing but a Cajun-style blackened catfish to Lay’s.

And I, hailing from the unfortunate state of Arizona, arguably a Mountain State, am nothing but cheese and chiles. I think that loosely translates into “Mexican.” Where’s the Arizona shout out? Texas and SoCal, but not Arizona? I’m offended. C’mon, Lay’s; face it, when you think “southwest”, you think deserts, cacti, and Kokopelli. If that’s not Arizona, or at least, other people’s perception of it, then what is?

But hey, I’ll be honest – Arizona has a large Mexican population, and therefore, a lot of Mexican restaurants, which means lots of cheese, and lots of chiles. I am perfectly okay with this, since Mexican is my favorite kind of food, and you don’t have to look far to find an authentic Mexican food experience, aka the taquería. I can sit smugly in my small, dingy, non-air-conditioned local Mexican joint, confident that most of the rest of the country are chowing down on Chalupas, imagining that they are eating Mexican food. You are not. You fail.

The back of the bag features a recipe for…Southwest Cheese & Chiles Dip. That’s so meta. I’m not sure if this implies that you should dip your Lay’s Southwest Cheese & Chiles into your Southwest Cheese and Chiles Dip, but I have to say, that recipe actually sounds delicious. I might actually make it someday soon. Wait, the bag only contains the ingredients, not the recipe itself. I’m assuming the recipe is “mix everything together,” but now my confidence is shaken, because it says I have to go to Lays.com to see how to do it. So I did that. And I couldn’t find the recipe anywhere. I couldn’t even find a recipe section. I did a website search for it, and again came up empty-handed. “Did you mean sw cheese & chives dip?” NO. NO I DID NOT. If any of you readers out there can actually find the recipe, feel free to post the URL in the comments section. For now, I’m stumped.

So I guess I’ll never get to know if I’m a tool for taking cooking advice from the back of a bag of chips. I suppose that’s for the best. But hey, we’re not here for the dip, we’re here for the chips! Will they embody everything the southwest region stands for, which, apparently, is cheese and chiles?

I have to say, I actually made that semi-surprised “Mmmm!” sound out loud when I popped the first chip in my mouth. Which is even weirder than it sounds when you realize that I’m alone in my apartment with my two cats. Actually, I guess that’s better than someone hearing it, because really, who does that? Me, I guess.

What I’m trying to say here is that, while it’s kind of hard to go wrong with spicy cheese chips, these are some of the better ones I’ve had. The cheese is the exact same flavor as can be found in Lay’s Cheddar and Sour Cream. I’d fall over from shock if you told me that powder didn’t come from the same vat. Or whatever they keep their flavor powders in.

The chiles part of this equation is much milder than I expected it to be. Honestly, there’s almost no heat at all, which you might find disappointing, but then you hit one that gives you a little burst of unmistakeable chile flavor. It’s not just “generic spicy,” it’s chile. I’m going to say poblanos, even though they aren’t listed as an ingredient. The chips are perfectly in line with the mild heat of that pepper, too. Somehow, they made that poblano flavor happen, and, while subtle, it’s delicious.

I have to hand it to Lay’s – all stereotyping aside, I think they did a fine job of capturing the taste of the southwest. Of course, I can only speak for my home state, but they sure nailed the flavor of Arizona. Sure, cheese flavor, anyone can do that. It’s cheese. But when that chile flavor hits, I feel like I’m standing in the parking lot of my local Mexican grocery store, where they have a big 55-gallon-drum grill set up near the entrance, roasting big batches of poblano peppers. Now I sound like I’m writing a commercial for Lay’s. Damn you, Lay’s Southwest Cheese and Chiles!

As a side note, for those of you concerned with things like “health” and “not ingesting so many preservatives that your body embalms itself,” it might interest you to know that all the regional Lay’s are made with “all natural potatoes and seasonings.” Your days of yearning for a chip that isn’t made with Styrofoam potatoes is over. Raise your hands to the gods in thanks.

I may never get a chance to taste all the other regional flavors, but I give Lay’s Southwest Cheese & Chiles a thumbs up both for flavor and accomplishing their marketing goal, which was to capture the flavor of a distinct and unique region of the United States. For those of you living in the other 40.5 states, you can get creative and try to find this flavor on eBay or something, or you could try out your own regional flavor and see how it stacks up. Hopefully, you’ll be as satisfied as I am.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 package — 290 calories, 170 calories from fat, 18 grams of total fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 8 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 8 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 370 milligrams of sodium, 800 milligrams of potassium, 29 grams of total carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugars, 4 grams of protein, 6% vitamin A, 2% calcium, 20 % vitamin C and 6% iron.)

Item: Lay’s Southwest Cheese & Chiles Potato Chips

Price: 99 cents

Size: 1 7/8 ounces

Purchased at: Circle K

Rating: 8 out of 10

Pros: Captures the flavors of the region. The smell of roasting poblano peppers. All-natural ingredients. Tastes like chiles, not just “spicy.” Taquerías. Yummy cheddar flavor, even if it was stolen from another Lay’s product.

Cons: May disappoint some in the spicy heat department. The Carolinas get two flavors. Only available in 9.5 states. Mysteriously absent dip recipes. Stephen Colbert eventually ruling the world.

33 thoughts to “REVIEW: Lay’s Southwest Cheese & Chiles Potato Chips”

  1. One must state specifically CAROLINA BBQ . . . because our sauce (specifically southeastern North Carolina BBQ) is based on cider vinegar with little or no tomato. Unlike S. carolina sauce that sometimes has mayo or mustard as a base and all other ketchup based sauces.

    I am willing to guess that they screwed up and added too much vinegar powder to the reqular bbq flavor and covered it up by calling it “carolina bbq.”

    Carolina’s vinegary bbq kicks ass.

  2. Tried the Garden Tomato and Basil; I really enjoyed them. You really need to like tomatoes, however. I was surprised by the intensity of the flavor.

  3. It’s North Carolina, I’m guessing. Carolina bbq can be one of two distinctive types of bbq: the vinegar based bbq which is AWESOME I TELL YOU. and then there is another regional bbq that is tomato based. Perhaps this is what they’re talking about?

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