Earlier this week Frito-Lay announced the four finalists in its annual 'Do Us A Flavor' fan-made potato chip flavor contest — Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger, Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese, Wavy Mango Salsa and Cappuccino. Which one wins my mouth?
It's year two of the 'Do Us A Flavor' competition, in which consumers around the country suggest custom flavors for Lay's brand potato chips, and then Lay's picks out the ones that won't kill consumers and let's them duke it out on the national stage. Last year we saw a knock-down, drag-out battle between Chicken and Waffles, Sriracha and Cheesy Garlic Bread, a battle won by ignorance and possibly a little spite.
This year there were four edible varieties among more than 14 million entries.
- Lay's Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese – Submitted by Matt Allen, a fireman from Troy, OH
- Lay's Cappuccino – Submitted by Chad Scott, a visiting lecturer from Las Vegas, NV
- Lay's Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger – Submitted by Meneko Spigner McBeth, a nurse from Deptford, NJ
- Lay's Wavy Mango Salsa – Submitted by Julia Stanley-Metz, an event planner from Sacramento, CA
For simply making it as a finalist, each of these four people is guaranteed at least $50,000, which means we don't have to be nice to any of them because hey — they got free money.
The flavor the majority of America votes for once the voting website opens for business will score its creator either $1 million or one percent of net sales of their flavor for a year.
If we were to go by creator name alone, Meneko Spigner McBeth would certainly win, even though she's from New Jersey. Chad Scott would come in last, because dammit, Chad.
Fortunately for Chad, this is not a name popularity contest. This is about how these strange new chip flavors taste, and none of them taste like Chad.
What They Taste Like
Not Chad. We've been over this.
What They Taste Like Specifically, By Variety
Oh, I guess we could do that too. I mean, I did make a video and everything. Spent a couple of hours in Adobe Premiere. No? Fine.
Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger
If you're going to go Wasabi Ginger, have the (Wasabi) balls to go full-on Wasabi Ginger. I was expecting burning spice. I was hoping these would clear my sinuses. I wanted these to hit me as hard as they could, and they just halfheartedly swiped at me like a old cat.
I blame the kettle cooking. The irregular shapes lead to uneven flavor distribution. A few of the chips I tasted almost packed the punch I was looking for, but the rest fell flat. Worse, they reminded me of Funyuns. That's not right.
My most eagerly anticipated flavor of the bunch hammers home the mango theme from the moment the bag is opened and that tropical fruity smell comes rushing out. It's not the sort of smell you'd expect from a bag of chips, but it is most definitely mango.
There's a pungent sweetness to these chips that slowly resolves itself into onion, a strange journey familiar to any fan of fruit-based salsa. It's quite pleasant at first, but then the taste buds make the connection between the mango taste and tropical fruit gum, and it's all over. The unified potato/fruit taste splits in two, and your mouth starts tasting like you've made bad choices.
These start strong, but finish very odd.
Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese
These chips taste like Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese, from the first hit of bacon to the lingering aftertaste of macaroni. Brilliantly done, really, making a fried chip taste like a boiled noodle product. I'm impressed, to a point.
That point is right up until my mouth realizes these flavors are nothing new. I've had bacon flavored chips. I've had cheddar cheese flavored chips. Mixing them together feels — well, it doesn't feel like someone should get $1 million for it, that's for sure. Sorry, Matt.
From the moment I read that Cappuccino had made it into the 'Do Us A Flavor' final four, I've been preparing to tear these chips a new one. A new what? That's not important right now. The point is, they were going to have several new ones.
Now they'll just have to settle for their old ones, because these freaking chips are so delicious that dark things beneath the ocean wiggle their face tentacles appreciatively in their direction.
Milk, brown sugar, sea salt, butter and natural coffee flavors make for one smooth and lovely chip, which doesn't even begin to make sense. Chips are supposed to be crunchy. These definitely crunch — you can hear it in that video I worked so hard on — but they're also dark and sweet and creamy in a way that makes me feel horrible for ever doubting them.
As my visiting brother-in-law put it, these aren't a chip anyone would seek out, but if they stumbled upon a bowl of them they wouldn't stop eating until it was empty. Then they might lick the bowl.
Seriously, Chad. If you win a million dollars for typing "cappuccino" into a web form, I am going to be so pissed. Pleased, but pissed.
So Who Wins?
If Lay's 'Do Us A Flavor' competition were a contest about innovation and experimentation with different flavors and textures, Cappuccino would win, cups-down. Unfortunately it's not that sort of contest. It's more an internet popularity contest, and that means Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese will win because the internet likes talking about bacon.