Monday, April 4, 2011

Tim’s Cascade Snacks Hawaiian Kettle Style Chips

Available in Canada, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and United States of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
Lady viewers should be
pleased to observe that
both the male and the
female figures on the
packaging offer a most
tempting aspect.
Like a big thick novel with a slow beginning, my initial reaction to the Hawaiian Kettle Style Chips was underwhelming.  Yes, the prose is nice, but not too much is happening- meandering anthropological notes are made, a birthday is described full of social nuances of subtle significance, you find yourself wading through some obscure passages referring obliquely to events in an earlier story.  But then, about 100 pages in, Ringwraiths are stabbing you with their death blades, magical water-horses are summoned by elven lords, and a kraken lurking in a pond trys to snag your foot for an early lunch, and you’re sucked into a thrilling ride you can’t drop.  Likewise, the Hawaiian Kettle chips make a slight impression on first taste, but rapidly build up to a fiery epic.

Not a photoshop.
Now, these would be my first ‘Hawaiian flavored’ chips, (in fact, it would appear the company makes several varieties of Hawaiian chips), and I must admit the idea is intriguing in a good kind of way, despite my aversion to seafood.  Besides seafood, of course, my ill-informed American mind has been trained by just about every major pizza chain ever to associate Hawaiian cuisine with ham and pineapple.  Now as it turns out, when we say Hawiian’s are into ‘ham’ we actually mean ‘spam’, and Wikipedia helpfully informs us that Hawaii is “the second largest consumer of Spam in the world, right behind Guam”, and helpfully lists all of the peculiar local varieties of SPAM-based cuisine.  This fact I first gleaned from some French students who had studied in Hawaii, reminiscing nostalgically about all the spam they used to eat- surreal!  As spam was first introduced into Hawaii by the military during World War II (when off shore fishing was restricted and meat became scarce), we can well conclude that the after effects of that terrible conflict are even deeper than we ever suspected.

Anyway, you can see that I am already well intrigued by the concept of 'Hawaiian' chips.  On the outside, they are indeed quite clearly quality kettle-cooked chips, nicely textured and bubbly, thickly coated with rich orange spices.  The individual crisps are on the smaller size, however, and they seemed to be relatively fragmented, but as my ‘review copy’ was mailed to me from the United States and over the Atlantic, that may be a result of the over-sea travel and compression into a narrow box!

The sort of book that inspires
admiration and dread in equal
Now upon my first bite, I was left with that ‘thick classic novel’ sensation- the high quality trimmings are clearly there, but the actual flavor is a bit dull- basically a classy but restrained typical barbecue flavoring.  However, as I began to help myself more crisps, it felt like somebody dialed up the contrast to 11 and suddenly I was tasting ultra-violet flavors that emerged from the ether like void spectres materializing from the superheated depths of the Mutara Nebula.  The spiciness quickly ramped up to glowing but comfortable blaze like a hot bath, the sugar and the salt began fighting a blood battle on my tongue leaving only me the ultimate victor, and underneath it all was a nice bedrock of peanut oil.  So, all in all, sweeter and spicier chips than one would have expected at first blush, and also very reminiscent of Utz’s Kettle Classic Smokin’ Sweet Barbecue chips for those East Coasters among us (which I also highly recommend, and will perforce review in detail at some point in the enigmatic mists of the future.)

But do they taste Hawaiian, you ask?  Well, not dramatically, and the ingredient list on the back yields no obviously Polynesian influences, nor any hint of canned meat.  And yet, as I delved deeper into the tiger-colored madness, I detected faint tones of sour-sweetness that reminded me distinctively- yes!- of pineapple.  The pineapple flavor is definitely more of an occasional flavor note then part of the chorus as it were, but the inclusion of ‘citrus flavors’ on the ingredient list suggest to me that I am not tasting placebo-pineapple. 

Basically, it’s a cool idea executed with restraint- perhaps they could have been more bold with the ‘Hawiian’ element, but in so doing they would have moved away from the more reliable mass-market appeal of the barbecue flavor to something more experimental (and pineapple-flavored.)

Just like this, if she were also on fire.
Still, back to the basics: these are well-textured Kettle chips with a sweet barbecue flavor that starts out timid, but with a little patience and careful prodding, will step out onto the dance room floor (of your mouth) and show off its true colors in a whirling spicy hot cavalcade that will leave you panting for more.  There is a nice little Hawaiian pineapple accent thrown in the deal, but the main show is quite enough to please all by itself.

Stars: 3/4
Spiciness Rating: Moderate-Hot (hot near the bottom of the bag)

- rich sweet barbecue flavor builds up to a rewarding and spicy climax
- did I mention that these are barbecue chips that are actually spicy?
- smokey peanut oil undertones are pleasure all by themselves
- pineapple notes add a hint of island-citrus to the barbecue mix
- well textued Kettle crisps

Cons: (or more like caveats in this case)
- though the crisps are thick, they are also very damp with oil, and not as crunchy as some might prefer
- the flavor takes time to fully present itself and does not offers its full rewards on the first few bites (especially near the top of the bag where flavoring is less dense)
- individual crisps tend to be relatively small and fragmented
- the chips shy away from deeply exploring the whole Hawaiian-pineapple concept

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