Welcome to potato chips.
Brits call them crisps, Israelis munch on tapuchips, and Indonesians crunch keripik. Whatever name you use, potato chips are one of the most popular and adaptable snack foods in the world. The global market is worth over forty billion dollars!
Where did it begin?
In 1812, Charles Dickens wrote about “husky chips of potato” in A Tale of Two Cities. The first printed recipe was in Dr. William Kitchiner’s 1817 bestselling British cookbook, The Cook’s Oracle. According to Wikipedia, Kitchiner described “potatoes fried in slices and shavings . . . using lard or dripping.”
On the other side of the pond there were the Specks.
George “Crum” Speck was born in 1824, the son of an African American father and Native American mother. He grew up in Saratoga Springs, New York and became a well-known chef at Moon’s Lake House, a local high-end restaurant. One day in 1853, a very famous (and picky) customer complained that the fries were thick, soggy, and not salty. He sent them back to the kitchen four times. Frustrated – perhaps angry – Speck sliced a potato paper-thin, fried it, and added extra salt. The diner was Cornelius Vanderbilt, railroad tycoon, and one of the richest men in the world. The dish was potato chips. Vanderbilt was delighted.
Was it Speck’s creation? His sister, Kate Speck Wicks, also worked at Moon’s. Her story says she accidently dropped a thin slice of potato into hot oil and . . . you know the rest.
Choose your story – a frustrated chef, his sister’s tasty accident, or tidbits from history.
According to The Black Wall Street Times, Wick’s obituary (1924) read “A sister of George Crum, Mrs. Catherine Wicks died at the age of 102, and was the cook at Moon’s Lake House. She first invented and fried the famous Saratoga Chips.”
Saratoga Chips still sell today.
Check out William Speck and sister Kate below.
Potato chips took off in the 1920s. Laura Scudder, a California entrepreneur, sold them in wax paper bags sealed with a warm iron, a freshness date, and labeled the “noisiest chips in the world.”
A few years later a North Carolina man entered the business. He first sold potato chips out of the trunk of his car. By 1938 he was so successful that he began mass production. His name was Herman W. Lay.
Today Lay’s comes in over 200 flavors, is rated among the top ten in the world, and promoted by “Betcha can’t eat just one.”
In 1954 Joe “Spud” Murphy, an Irish entrepreneur, figured out how to add spices and flavors while cooking potato chips. According to Huff Post, Murphy “felt that an unseasoned life was a life not worth willing.” Murphy’s company – Tayto – began with cheese & onion and salt & vinegar. You can still buy them today.
These days there are endless flavors from barbecue to salt & seaweed. Some are a bit strange like curry, wasabi, and crab. The U.S. boasts flavors like buffalo wings, dill pickles, and prime steak while the U.K. has prawn cocktail and roast beef. You can also indulge in “originals,” kettle cooked, ruffled, sweet potato, and New Orleans voodoo chips.
More recently, British courts faced a tough decision on “once-you-pop-you-can’t-stop” Pringles. Potato chips were taxed. Technically, Pringles are not potato chips. They’re made from a paste of dehydrated potatoes, wheat starch, flour, vegetable oils, emulsifiers, and seasonings. The court found that Pringles were potato chips and delivered a tax bill of $160 million. In the U.S. they are “potato crisps” with strange flavors like pecan pie, cheeseburger, and mayo cheese.
Pringles are not gluten free.
The U.S. consumes the most potato chips in the world – a total of 1.85 billion pounds or 6.6 pounds per person annually. It’s closely followed by France and the U.K.
Ever wonder why potato chip bags are never full? According to Mental Floss, the extra space cushions the chips along with nitrogen gas pumped in to protect freshness. All of this supports research by Professor William Lee, University of Florida, who found that the sound of crunching increases pleasure. Control subjects who couldn’t hear the crunch, ate less.
Maybe that’s a new diet tip?
Grab a bag or handful, go to a picnic or party, or munch in front of the TV. Be sure to make a lot of noise.