Who doesn’t love a bag of potato chips? Whether as a side to a deli sandwich or an accompaniment to a glass of cold beer, potato chips in a restaurant provide that much-needed, salty nibble punctuating the momentary pause between each rush of flavor. And of course, you can also buy potato chips from any neighborhood store and enjoy a bag on its own as a savory snack—a testament to the simplicity, ubiquity, and popularity of the humble, thinly-sliced, fried potato.
The sheer variety of available flavors alone makes potato chips an obvious topic for review—or even a series of reviews, if you consider criteria like local vs. imported brands, flavored vs. plain, or chip-shaped vs. stick-shaped. There are potato chips with crinkled cuts (also called ridges or v-cuts), saddle-shaped “potato chips” formed out of potato dough, even potato chips covered in dark or milk chocolate. The list can be daunting.
In this first installment of a series of potato chip reviews, we’ve decided to keep the criteria simple: locally manufactured brands made out of straight-sliced potatoes only (no ridges). And because a good potato chip is best appreciated by itself, we chose to review only the plain salted varieties. Thus stripped of all its “nature-identical” flavorings, the chips can be judged according to their crispiness, saltiness, and oiliness—which are an indication of its most basic components: potato slices, salt, and fat (though we suspect that MSG has a lot to do with the experience also).
Php 15.85 per 28g pouch
Calbee Foods started out in post-war Japan as a snack food manufacturer specializing in arare, a soy-flavored snack made of puffed rice. Their rise to snack food fame came in 1964 with the invention of a shrimp-flavored rice snack called Kappa Ebisen, which is usually served with beer and is regarded as the ancestor of all tubular-shaped prawn crackers. In 1975, Calbee started their first foray into the potato chip business, and that’s when things started to get really interesting. Today, Calbee is best known in Japan for releasing limited batches of potato chips with strange and unusual flavors—variants like Salt and Lemon Peel, Beef and Wasabi, Consommé, Mayonnaise, and even Plum. However, when they entered the Philippine market in 2015 (through a partnership with Jack ‘n Jill), they decided to manufacture four “safer” flavors for the local market: Classic Salted, Cheddar and Sour Cream, and (perhaps as a nod to its Japanese origins) Wasabi.
Calbee’s Classic Salted potato chips are uniformly light-colored, except for a small, lightly burned portion on each edge that’s almost a Japanese aesthetic touch. Each chip has a pleasant, uniform bite, with just the right amount of crispness and thickness. The flavor, however, is a bit on the bland side. At 110 mg of sodium per serving, Calbee has the lowest salt content of all potato chips reviewed. By default, this makes Calbee the healthier option, as well as the most neutral-tasting. Price-wise, however, it is also the most expensive locally-made potato chip.
Php 27.75 per 60g pouch
Speaking of Calbee’s local partner, Jack ’n Jill is a brand known to any Filipino worth his salt. This dominant player in the Philippine snack food scene started in 1966, when its parent company, Universal Robina Corp., launched its famous first three savory snacks: Chiz Curls, Chippy, and Jack ’n Jill Potato Chips. Originally sold in clear plastic canisters, these snacks (and their foil pouch designs) have changed very little through the years, and are still immediately recognizable by Filipino consumers to this day.
As for their potato chips, Jack ’n Jill originally sold them in just one flavor: Classic Barbecue. As a result, its sweet-spicy-savory profile became the Filipino’s default potato chip flavor for several decades. It was only in 2016, when Jack ’n Jill introduced their Plain Salted variant, that Pinoys were able to enjoy the potato chips on its own, without the tried-and-tested barbecue seasoning.
The first thing you’ll notice when you take a bite out of a Jack ’n Jill potato chip is its crispness. It’s not as if they were cooked longer or hotter (the chips aren’t much darker than Calbees’) but each chip does crumble in the mouth more easily than the other brands reviewed. Perhaps it’s because the chips are sliced just a little bit thinner—but not by much—just enough so that it’s actually possible to crumble the chips between your palate and your tongue, with minimal effort. Jack ‘n Jill is also the most flavorful of all the potato chips reviewed, mostly because it contains the most salt (270 mg per serving, or more than double the sodium in Calbee’s). And though it doesn’t feel like it, Jack ’n Jill has the most fat (11g per serving against Calbee’s 9 g), which might be the reason for the pleasantly savory aftertaste to the chips. All in all, Jack ’n Jill is a satisfying choice, though probably not the healthiest.
Php 9.55 per 22g pouch
The snack food brand we know today as Oishi has its humble beginnings in 1946 as Liwayway Marketing Corp., makers of Liwayway Gawgaw cornstarch. Now it might seem odd for a snack food company to be involved in laundry products and soup thickeners, but this is actually quite normal. Other snack food giants (like Universal Robina, for example) started out in the cornstarch business before they started making savory snacks.
Liwayway’s transition to snack foods came a bit slower, though, with their first two offerings, Oishi Prawn Crackers and Kirei Yummy Flakes, debuting in 1974, or 28 years after they started. The first Oishi potato chips (originally in cheese flavor) rolled out of their factories on their 52nd year, in 1998. That year turned out to be milestone, as the company began adding new snack food lines since then on an almost yearly basis. Though it’s not clear when Oishi first launched its Plain Salted potato chips (the earliest Internet reviews we found were from 2010), it is likely one of the company’s newer variants, a reflection of the recent shift in consumer tastes to more natural and less artificial flavors.
But take a few bites of Oishi’s Plain Salted potato chips, and you’ll know that it was not an easy decision for them to remove the flavorful seasonings. Beyond the slightly burnt potato chip taste, there is not much flavor to be had, partly because it has the second lowest amount of salt and fat (150 mg and 10 g per serving, respectively). If it is any consolation, price-wise, it is the most sulit potato chip you can buy.
Php 46.75 per 90g pouch
Lastly, Farmer John is the potato chip brand of Leslie Foods Corporation, the same manufacturer of Clover Chips, another popular Filipino snack. First launched in 1972, Clover Chips positioned itself as a “healthier” snack chip. Not only were Clover Chips made with less salt, fat, and MSG, but they were also fortified with nutrients like vitamin A and calcium — a response, perhaps, to a time when many snack chips were being labeled as “junk food” by mothers and nutritionists alike.
True to its roots, Farmer John Potato Chips are made with less fat — 9 g per serving, which is the same amount as Calbee. But strangely, you wouldn’t really know this just by looking at the chip. Maybe this is because Farmer John chips are darker in color (the darkest among all chips reviewed), so the surface oil seems to glisten a bit more. As for the sodium content, Farmer John’s 160 mg per serving actually makes it one of the saltier chips—the opposite of what one would expect from Leslie Foods. The chips are also slightly bigger and thicker than its competitors, which could be seen as a bonus (especially when dip is involved), but this also makes the chip less crunchy to the bite. There is also a slightly burnt aftertaste to the chip that could be seen as either good or bad (depending on your taste) but it does add some complexity to the flavor. All in all, Farmer John is a satisfying choice, one capable of giving the Jack ‘n Jill people a run for their money.
With this roundup of plain salted, locally made potato chips complete, we can’t wait to follow this up with a review of the myriad other variety of imported and flavored chips available in the market today. But, as we mentioned earlier, the choices seem so endless, we can only chip away at it one flavor at a time. Stay tuned!
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