Monday, June 18, 2012

Krunchers! Sweet Hawaiian Onion Kettle Cooked Potato Chips

           What on Earth - or should I say, “what in the Pacific Ocean”- is a Sweet Hawaiian Onion?  As it turns out the Krunchers brand isn’t inventing a mythical pineapple-flavored onion, but rather is referring to the ‘Maui Onion’- so called because the best ones are grown off the side of a goddamned volcano in Maui called Mount Haleakala, and how much more awesome could something be than that? 

Despite it's volcano-loving
proclivities, the Maui onion can be
grown in a home garden.
That sinister red volcanic soil produces small onions with unusually low amounts of sulfer and high amounts of water- resulting in a vegetable extra juicy and sweet as a mob mistress.  In fact, these exemplary onions are recommended for raw-eating, which makes me want to one up Johny appleseed by munching away on Maui onions and planting them on every field I can find.  (Ok, to be fair, the Georgia-grown Vidalia onion is also similar in taste and consistency.)

According to Hawaian folklore, the demigod Maui's
grandma lives in the crater on Mt. Haleakala, and
one spring day she might yet pour a tide of liquid
hot magma death instead of onions down the
 slopes of her awesomely named home.
 So, has Kruncher’s really made specifically ‘Maui onion’ chips?  Well, unfortunately, I can’t tell for sure.  To their credit, ‘onion powder’ is nearly at the top of the ingredient list, but no details as to whether it’s Hawaiian onion powder (maybe it is, but I certainly can’t tell!), and the rest of the list is all chemicals of one variety or another with the exception of a hint of garlic powder.  The seasoning does taste mildly sweet, and mercifully light on salt (unlike many other otherwise tasty onion-flavored products).  Some might find themselves wanting to ramp up the sweetness or saltiness dial, but the principle shortcoming is unfortunately much more serious.

One of the few flavors I don't
want to taste in my food.
        That relatively mild sweet onion flavor is completely overpowered by the oil that crisps have been cooked in.  These otherwise impressive kettle-cooked chips have been thoroughly soaked in a (non-trans fat) corn oil that reeks of the sort of cooking oil usually poured on a skillet.  While some may feel that the rough oil brings an authentic touch, it may simply be that it is too authentic, and overpowers the flavoring by far.

An excellent image of Krunchers chips
courtesy of realfitmama.  Note that
they don't have visible seasoning.
This is truly tragic, because in most other regards the texture and potato crisps are really first class kick-ass.  The blonde potato rounds are extra thick (up to 2 millimeters!) , twisted and rumpled in beautifully complex shapes, and wonderfully crunchy in an organically uneven sort of way.  As you munch away at them, you can even feel the (too-strong) oils seeping coolly out of the saturated crisps onto the tongue.  (I should note that the nutritional information shows these chips to be no more unhealthy than an average bag of Lay’s potato chips- and these are gluten free!)

            Ultimately, the over-saturation of the cooking oil flavor and the comparative weakness of the seasoning leaves me feeling that these chips didn’t quite carry the day- Maui onion flavor is a neat concept, but the seasoning is too subtle and the cooking oil is as a discrete as She-Hulk before the red moon.  The amazing quality of the potato round does leave me intrigued about trying other Kruncher’s products; perhaps if I swiped some actual Maui onions and mixed them together I'd get the complete experience.
She Hulk making a subtle

Stars: 2/4
Spiciness Rating: None

- Incredibly thick and crunchy kettle cooked potato rounds impress with their class and texture
- Inoffensive and light sweet onion flavoring is pleasant and avoids the excessive saltiness common in the genre

- Super-excessive corn-oil flavoring oversaturates the chips and overpowers the seasonin
- Many will find themselves wishing for a sweet and possibly slightly-saltier onion seasoning
- It’s unclear that the seasoning is really very ‘Hawaiian’

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ballreich’s Marcelled Smokey Sweet Mesquite Potato Chips

       One of the most rewarding aspects of writing this blog is all the opportunities to expand my knowledge and vocabulary.  When I was sitting down to write this review and trying to decide in which order to write the title for the review (as the presentation on the package, ‘Sweet Mesquite Smokey Ballreich’s Marcelled Potato Chips’, didn’t quite flow to my satisfaction), I suddenly realized I had no idea what ‘Marcelled’ meant.  Well, I had a suspicion, so off I went to Google.
Hair style invented in France in 1872
by Francois Marcel.
          Of course, Marcell refers to a “hairstyle characterized by deep regular waves made by a heated curling iron.” That would describe a large portion of the do’s on the swarms of ladies walking outside my apartment, coming to avail themselves to Paris’s premier African hair salon district.  But it also refers to Ruffled chips with wider and deeper trenches in between each ruffle than usual.  Think, wide as a ridge-cut French fries!

I wasn't exagerating about where I live- every one of those is either a hair
salon or a wig vendor.  I regularly walk on shed diva
hair every morning.  Ah, Paris!
         Needless to say, Ballreich’s chips are precisely of this variety, and all the more charming for it.  Each of the blonde potato chips is large and fairly thick, but in a soft-crunch rather than hard-cracking way.  The long, lazy waves on the chip’s surface happily channel the tongue to lap up the flavored goods, which are admittedly intriguing.
Note the marcelled waves.  A guy found
God in his potato chip bag, because
what else could possily explain a random
cross shaped hole and Jesus fish shaped
burn in a potato chip? With only a gazillion
chips out there, certainly not probability.
           Ballreich’s Mesquite chips reminded me of the sweet molasses flavoring of Grippo’s Barbecue chips, which is high praise considering my stunned enjoyment of that product.  However, Ballreich’s chips emphasize a different, saltier aroma, albeit with equal verve and intensity- the chips appeared to be cooked in, or seasoned, with shortening, aka, lard, and the pervasive salty-fat taste makes the chips taste as if they were fried on a salt pan full of rib-meat and bacon drippings.  (The ingredients list clarifies that the chips are cooked in ‘soybean shortening’, but like many other products derived from the protein substitute, it definitely proves convincing!) That the shortening is soaked inside the chips, rather than applied on top, makes it all the more pervasive, 
Molasses, it must be admitted, looks
suspiciously like the alien ichor in
Promtheus.  Maybe that's why it never
quite caught on as much as honey...
        The downside of the flavoring is that it does bring the chips heavily on the salty side, and some may feel the evocation of lard on the grill is a little disturbing.  (For what it’s worth, the chips have an average number of calories, but an above average number coming from fat.)    The seasoning does, nonetheless, deliver the entirety of the barbecue experience, with mesquite spices (but not hot spices), a general smoky aroma, and those sweet molasses notes (the ingredients list includes molasses, onion, garlic, and paprika powder.) 
Let's admit it, lard can be
         Overall, I appreciated the unique stylings of these crisps, from their lovely marcelled soft-crunch potato slices, the soaked-to-the-bones shortening flavor, and the lovely notes of sweet molasses.  However, the other aspects of the barbecue flavoring are little further in the background than I would have liked- more spice and more sugar would have been a plus- and the saltiness and the fatty-tasting sensation has downsides as a chip flavoring.  As long as you can suppress the instinctive guilt at eating something which really tastes like it’s been soaked in salty, delicious fat, you may still find Ballreich’s fashionably-cut crisps worth giving a try.

Stars: 3/4
Spiciness Rating: Very Mild

- Remarkable lard-shortening flavor pervades the foundations of each crisp
- Large marcelled chips with a crumbly soft crunch are pleasure to munch
- Sweet molasses notes in the seasoning distinguish these from regular barbecue chips

- At times a little too salty, and the sweeter aspects of the barbecue seasoning get a short shrift
- The shortening flavor may possibly be a turn off for some

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Crusticroc Snack Balls Jalapeño-Cheddar

After immense difficulty
I finally found a website
with a pic of the bag
titled Sack Balls .
I’m juvenile enough to find any junk food called ‘snack balls’ automatically hilarious, and of course, detailing that they are made out of spicy cheese is an open invitation to sophisticated humor of the South Park variety.  The Buck Rogers style retro Sci-Fi title adds a delightful kitsch factor to what I can only anticipate to be yet another mediocre product from discount snack-food producer Crusti Croc (a store brand of Lidl.)

If every episode of South Park featured
mutant laser-spear toting sea otters
mounted on ostriches in the ruins of
NYC, I would become a regular viewer.
But nein, the canny German proletariat-feeders at Lidl have in fact formulated an eccentric work of mad (though by no means refined) genius, not unlike their well-documented plot to raise a zombie army to win World War II.  The Corn-Puff Balls are extra-large- about an inch in diameter each- are satisfyingly lumpy and crunchy, and feature a reasonable amount of chewy inner density to make for a snack which floods the mouth with pleasing flavor.

Agent Blaskowicz's escape from Castle
Wolfenstein played a critical role
in the defeat of the Nazi Zombietruppen.
            Now the seasoning itself is no way ‘life-like’ or ‘sophisticated’, and yet is ‘powerful spicy’, as they say in Gone with the Wind, and quite effectively infused with jalapeño.  Unlike far too many other snack foods, there is no lack of flavor, and an extra salty, super-picante experience awaits your mouth for each crackling snack ball you suck into your saliva-gushing maw like a Tyranid Mawloc. 

Mawlocs may not mouth off as much as
your teenage son or a Sandworm of Arrakis
but their gullets do seem to moistly slaver
more gratuitously.  Painted by C-Bomb13.
Unfortunately, the flavor-sensation is rather marred by an undeniable degree of over-saltiness, and fondness for drinking salt water may be a prerequisite for extended eating of these cash-concession corn-puff confections.  The saltiness also rather obscures the cheese flavoring, but overall I found this shortcoming of the Snack Balls rather tolerable when weighed against the lightning those joy-spheres were packing, and recommend them as a flavorful though crass diversion for a night’s entertainment.

Of course one could actually make real
jalapeño cheese balls if one wanted to
as pictured from this recipe by Kooksfood.
Stars: 2½/4
Spiciness Rating: Hot

- Nice extra-large corn-puff balls are thick and crunchy
- Flavorful and spicy

- Salty balls are too salty

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Route 11 Mama Zuma’s Revenge Habanero Potato Chips

Image courtesy of JunkFoodGuy
who has a very comprehensive
analysis of the packaging.
Let's be honest, for some books or movies the cover or poster alone is worth the price of admission, so ridiculously awesome (or awesomely ridiculous) that whatever follows can only at best complament the outrages insinuated.  How could this not be the case for Mama Zuma’s chips- the word ‘epic’ was misappropriated by pop culture for this very reason!

Zuma is dripping with crackling allure and a take-no-prisoners mystique, draped in a hot pepper bandolier and a revolutionary flag somewhat incongruously bearing a corporate logo rather than an anarchist slogan.  The back of the package explains that Zuma lost the love of her life in a ‘bizarre and tragic potato peeler accident’, which rather evokes Spock's attempt to con the New York police (see 0:43) by claiming his ears were the result of an encounter with a mechanical rice picker.  Now Zuma is “hell bent on burning every mouth she kisses with her special brand of passion”.  I can already see the Direct to DVD script writing itself, replete with explosions and catfights.  Machete, watch out, you have a competitor!

I SO want to see this movie.  Very slightly adapted
from Ludolf Backhuy's original oil paintaing...
As much as Route 11 may come off as being full on themselves with their “Warning: These chips are made with some of the hottest peppers on the planet” labels and assorted spicy food braggadocio, Zuma chips prove she’s no girly Sailor Moon and fully deserves her reputation for fiery badassitude.  These chips are exceptionally hot and spicy, and manage to pack in about as much flavor as possible on a chip thats set about burning away your taste buds from the get go.  Your mouth is Atlanta, and the chips are Sherman.

Sherman left Atlanta 100% more burnt
down than when he arrived, though
at least he didn't leave the population
inside while indulging his pyromania.

I’ve already discussed Jalapeno peppers in previous posts, but Habanero peppers are their more elite, more rarely encountered cousins: small, perfectly innocent-looking orange peppers that just happen to be one the most intensely spicy naturally-born peppers on the face of the earth.  Literally.  Habaneros also have their own distinct flavor from Jalapenos, (sweeter and less bitter overall), but they are so burning hot that one rarely is afforded much of a chance to notice it.

Habaneros look so dainty and cute for
something that can leave  you writhing
in pain.  The Red Savina Habanero was
claimed to be the hottest pepper on
Earth, but that title has been claimed 
later by others such as the Ghost Chili,
Naga Viper and the Trinidad Scorpion
among other names on what appears to
be a team of superheroes.
Let me be honest, just like you may feel the English Patient is a lovely movie but you wouldn’t recommend it for kids, Zuma’s chips are only going to be appropriate for two types of people: those who enjoy extremely spicy flavors, or those who enjoy a genuine test of their endurance.  Snack-eaters with a more limited capacity for setting a raging firestorm in your gills would be wise to stay away- every individual chip eaten alone packs a terrifying punch, and three or so in succession will leave a prolonged burn in your throat.

Though it does look like Count Lazlo
(Ralph Fiennes) may also have a turbulent
history with Mama Zuma as well...

The crisps themselves are quite small- ranging between 1 inch and 1.5 inches in diameter on average- though this is not really a great flaw because the individual chips are so densely packed with spices and flavor that more would be counterproductive and possibly dangerous for your mouth.  They are beautifully kettle-cooked, with a bubbly and crunchy texture, and slathered with thick orange seasonings.

This excellent photo courtesy
of Aleta fom the Omnomicon,
who actually offers a recipe of
baked chicken breasts covered
in Zuma's Revenge chips.

I hinted earlier that extremely spicy foods can limit the extent to which other flavors can be appreciated, and there is no doubt that the powerful habanero spices in Zuma’s Revenge predominate over the other seasonings on these chips. Nonetheless, those subtler flavors are still there to be appreciated- notes of salt and garlic, and a pleasing smoky aroma give a wonderfully sophisticated backdrop for the tongue-stomping in the foreground.  Furthermore, the distinct taste of the habanero pepper can be discerned, which is a rewarding surprise in and of itself.

Anyone looking to see how far they are willing to burn themselves for love of spicy sensations is well advised to give Zuma’s Revenge a shake.  Here, the incandescent thrills are matched with first-class supporting spices and kettle cooked potato rounds.  However, a slower pace of eating is advised, or that fiery fox will burn you to a crisp.

Stars: 3/4
...I wasn't kidding!  Although I would
personally be rather afraid to bite into
that delicious looking thing, considering
how spicy those chips are individually.
Spiciness Rating: Flaming Hot

- Truly spicy Habanero challenge
-Excellent backdrop flavors of salt, garlic, and pepper
- Beautiful extra-crunchy crisps

- Only good for those with a tolerance for intense spice
- The crisps are very small, and should be eaten slowly

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Vico’s Saveur Fromage Bleu et Crème

         When I was little, I was fascinated with Roquefort cheese.  My parents warned me it might be too intense for me, which naturally heightened my interest, as well as the name, which brought to mind some sort of formidable rocky castle.  Fortunately for me, Roquefort is indeed strongly flavorful- though not ‘spicy’, it indeed packs a certain salty punch, wedded to its creamy texture.

Roquefort, the Batman of blue cheeses,
exclusively grown from its very own
mutant bacteria in the moist  caves of
the village of Roquefort, France.

Most Americans are familiar with ‘Blue cheese’ from its use in salad dressing and the occasional ritzy hamburger sauce, but of course it has many other applications, (just try it spread llike butter on bread, it’s great!)  While we Americans have been quick to dip Buffalo wings in some bleu, I hadn’t really seen blue cheese chips until I found a bag on the store shelves by Vico, and I asked myself, “why did it take so long?”  As cheese flavorings are so ubiquitous on the crisps, it’s wonder they took so long to go from cheddar  orange to blue- the movie industry has long realized it’s a hot combo.

Vico decided to keep it classy and not use any artificial colorants, which I have to admit is slightly disappointing but probably prudent, so you will be looking at plain blonde-yellow chips upon tearing open the bag.  Vico has consistently impressed me with their crisps, and these ones were enormous and full of delicious air bubbles.  Staring at the bisected half of one of the chips, I felt I was beholding the desiccated husk of a pint-sized whale, so expansive and bulbous with air bubbles were the chip’s proportions.  Like other Vico products, they proved to be extra hard and crunchy.

On second thought, that metaphor may
not be as tasty looking as it sounded...
But what of the flavor?  I would characterize it as cunning in its mimickery- yet sadly insufficient.  One bite of the blond crisps will unleash the familiar salty aromas of blue cheese- oh yes!- mixed with a milder creamy aroma, but then there is no follow through, the taste does not last.  So though the experience is evocative, the flavoring has not been applied in sufficient quantities to make it linger memorably.

Roquefort is not the only French blue
cheese- the above pictured Bleu
d'Auvergne has a butterier texture,
and incorporates rye-bread mold
for a mellower flavor.
Overall, I would still recommend giving these a try because the blue cheese flavor is cool and unique and deserves to be expanded upon; as it was, I was tasting about 2/3 potato chip to 1/3 blue cheese, a proportion which must be improved.  Vico should still be commended for shoring up this obvious void in France’s national chip portfolio, and we can only hope they and others will continue to refine the concept to more ambitious and assertive ends.  Plus: anyone interested in making some Camembert chips?

Spiciness: None

- Gets the salty flavor of blue cheese nearly right
- Large crunchy chips with delightfully bulging air bubbles

- Flavoring lacking necessary density and intensity, does not dominate over the potato-chip flavor

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lay’s Strong Chili & Lime

      When I saw in a grocery store in Budapest that Lay’s had released Chili & Lime chips, I recognized the brilliance of the concept immediately.  Who doesn’t adore a nice wedge of lime with their Corona?  (Or less respectably, those lime-flavored beers- I’ll own up to it, someone has to come out and admit it!)  This is a flavoring concept that just needs to have its voice heard by the masses, though for now the masses with the opportunity appear to be exclusively speakers of the Slavic or Magyar tongue.
Limes help fight scurvy!  But not
as well as lemons.  On the other
hand Wikipedia claims that limes
are more sour than lemons, but
science says it's wrong.
       As I’ve previously noted, flavorists have recently begun to appreciate the possibilities of making truly tangy chips, and that zest with which they applied themselves here is commendable.  No, they haven’t made anything even the least bit tongue-curdling or acidic, (nor would I have condemned such a product if they had)- the packaging proclaims these to be LIME flavored, the sweeter, greener, and mild-mannered cousin of the lemon.  Yes, they don’t even have their own name in French (citron vert = ‘green lemon’), but the difference is real.  If you’ve ever squirted a wedge of lime onto some salty tortilla chips or into your beer, you’ll recognize the sensation immediately- sweet and tangy cool, without in any way revisiting the Sour Patch Kids experience.

        Now, these are supposed to be Chili and Lime chips, but the Chili isn’t so dramatic- basically there’s a pleasantly spicy afterburn as you munch on these that contributes to the picante-Tex Mex vibe, but the heat factor is pretty unthreatening and the actual flavor is really all about the hand-grenade fruit.  The crisps themselves are ruffled and about 2 inches in diameter, vaguely orange in color with a decent sprinkling of black pepper.  They are thick and fun to sink your teeth into with a crunch not unlike a cave collapsing, and the bag I acquired in Hungary managed to stay fresh and crispy for a surprisingly long time.  The package proclaims they are ‘best with cold drinks’, and while this might seem like a cocky bit of macho self-promotion, eating them does indeed create a desire for accompanying beer or soda, and the two do complement each other well.

Though Lay's Chili Lime chips are hard to find,
Des at has an awesome
recipe to help you convert plain potato chips
to jalapeno-lime godhood.
        In short, I loved these chips and they helped me nostalgically revisit all sorts of tasty Latin/Tex-Mex cooking that is sadly unavailable in Paris.  The additionally tragic/ironic aspect to these chips is that they are apparently being sold all throughout Eastern Europe (the packaging is translated in Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Czech, and Slovak!), but I have seen no hint of these delicacies in France, nor am I certain this variety is available in the United States.  (I am aware of several Chile and Lime chips by Lay’s available in the United States, but none of them appears to be ruffled.  Let me know if I am wrong in the comments!)

Stars: 3½/4 Stars
Spiciness Rating: Moderate

- Absolutely nails that tangy-but-mellow sweet-lime on chips flavor
- A pleasant, spicy afterburn
- Wonderfully crunchialicious ruffled crisps

- Not especially Chilli flavored
- The spice level is only moderate in intensity

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Barcel Takis Nitro Habanaro & Lime Flavored

           It’s my firm belief that anyone biting into the crimson pirouette-cookie look-a-likes known as Takis Nitro will be convinced that their mouth has just been squirted with watermelon bubblegum flavoring.  Or something like it- there’s an undeniable and thoroughly bizarre fruit-aroma that falls short of actual sweetness at the first bite that goes way beyond the typical lemon-lime citrus flavor that is implied on the packaging.
A bowl of Takis.  Note that
the 'Nitro' variant is actually
a darker crimson in color. 
There’s no doubt that Takis Nitro is a very extreme and colorful product, but I’ve actually run into a similar concept in France- basically tortilla chips rolled up like scrolls into tubes resembling pirouette cookies or penne pasta. These actually convey the seasoning effectively and crunch in a most satisfying fashion, and I hope that the idea catches on in the United States. The Takis Nitro variety are also undeniably beautiful, each three-inch corn chip roll thickly covered in eye-pleasing dark crimson seasoning. They couldn’t have looked better if they’d been painted.

            The brilliant colors of the Takis rolls promise the extreme flavor and flaming hot appeal of a red race car or shiny-latex seductress, and the Nitro Takis deliver exactly that: extreme sourness and extreme spiciness, served alongside the completely incongruous and altogether strange fruit flavor.  The snacks will reliably set your mouth aflame like a control panel on the starship Enterprise and expel the snot from your sinuses if you eat more than a few at a time; I mean that in a good way, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.  They are also more sour than a sour patch kid and leave you feeling like you bit into a lime.

The warp drives and phasers are awesome, but
the arcane science behind seat belts appears to
have been lost in Star Trek, and the computer
screens seem to be based on Soviet TV sets.
            And yet, despite being an aficionado of the spicy and the sour, these crisps don’t quite succeed in pleasing.  The weird fruit-aroma is part of the problem, I think, as it creates an expectation of sweetness that the seasoning doesn’t actually deliver.  Chips and salsa/guacamole complement each other well because the saltiness of the chip is combined with the sweetness or sourness of the salsa, but here that sweetness or saltiness is lacking, and the tongue is kind of left hanging limply, though no doubt in part from the beating it just received from the scary habanaro seasoning.  Alas, Sour and Spicy without either Sweet or Salty does not a complete flavor make (for me.)

Imagine these, spread out on a chip
without the sugar, and you will know
the flavor of Takis Nitro.
            There’s no denying that Barcel concocted a ridiculously over-the-top product with their Takis Nitro, with its uncanny fruit aroma and mouth-scorching habanero and lime flavor.  Unfortunately, I can’t say I quite enjoyed it; nevertheless, the experience is strange enough that I found myself frequently curious to try a few more in a fruitless effort to grok its sheer gonzoness.  Anyone who appreciates the super spicy or the grotesquely weird should give these a try- you may or may not love them, but you probably won’t forget that they tasted like a spicy watermelons, without the sugar.

Note: These chips are available in Mexico and the United States

Stars: 2 /4
Spiciness Rating: Flaming Hot

- Ultra hot and super sour
- No lack of crimson-colored flavoring
- Wrapped nacho scrolls are extra crunchy and beautifully coated with spices
- Weird fruit flavor?

- The lack of sugar or salt to tie together the sour and spicy makes these chips feel incomplete
- The sour and spice are too intense for the comfort of many (most?) palettes
- Weird fruit flavor