Like the rest of the snack game, the chip market has exploded in recent years, leaving a trail of Doritos dust in its wake. While veteran stoners will still vouch for old standbys like Lay’s when the munchies kick in, we’re seeing new players enter the fold, impressing everyone with bolder flavors and flashier packaging.
Meanwhile, restaurants are making their own chips, big brands are making small or limited-edition batches, while independent brands are using premium ingredients. Even beyond traditional potato chips, there is also a movement to make them out of pretty much any type of vegetable or flour. That much of these new alternatives are healthier than your GMO-ridden corporate offerings bodes well for the survival of snack aficionados world wide—if we’re going to subsist off chips, there might as well be some healthier options to “cleanse” the system.
And that’s not necessarily to take shots at the big guys. They’re innovating too (as you’ll see below), keeping the die-hards happy while catering to the next generation of snackers. With no seeming end in sight, the best thing you can do is grab a few bags and enjoy the ride. Here are my Snack Bangers of the Month, with an emphasis on chips (and crunchy treats).
Doritos Nacho Cheese Explosion
Why you need it: I put variety packs on a pedestal, so when Frito-Lay unveils new snack mixes, it’s like reuniting the 1992 Dream Team. Nacho Cheese explosion pairs up Nacho Cheese Doritos, Jack Cheese Dinamitas (Doritos version of Takis), Four Cheese Dorito Twists (basically Fritos Flavor Twists), and Spicy Nacho 3-D Triangles. The different flavors of nacho cheese aren’t particularly distinct—the triangles are slight spicy, the Dinamitas vaguely jack-y, and the four cheese twists are a bit tangy. But if you’re really being that persnickety you probably aren’t the type of person that should be eating something called “Nacho Cheese Explosion” anyway. It’s all about the shapes, the textures, and the excess of nacho cheesiness—which is delivered in spades.
Rusty’s Black Pepper Chips
Why you need it: Hand-crafted, all-natural potato chips, eh? Rusty’s promises no conveyer belts, packaging machines, or any of today’s robotic processes to make their peppery product. Just human hands, in gloves, hopefully. They also employ safflower oil and French Mediterranean sun dried evaporated sea salt to give their mix of dark and light chips a premium taste. Black pepper may sound like a super basic flavor offering, but when you try Rusty’s chips, which are also well-suited for dips, you realize simplicity isn’t so bad when it’s done so right.
OoLaLa Porcini Rosemary Potato Chips
Why you need it: I’ve never seen “Porcini” on a bag of chips, so OoLaLa’s potato chips were hard for the Snack Gawd to resist. I’m no shroom fanatic—I barely ate them until a few years—but I’ve grown to appreciate their unbridled umami, their nuanced flavor and earthiness. Oh yeah, they’re great with potatoes too, as is Rosemary. OoLaLa is way ahead of the competition here, bagging up these steakhouse flavors with their “pommes de terre,” EVOO, and sea salt to create an elite chip. The porcini flavor is not assertive; sea salt and rosemary balance it well. The chips are light, airy and crisp—they beg to be put on a steak sandwich, or used as a vehicle for slices of kobe roast beef, if not just fresh out the bag.
Lay’s Gouda & Chives Chips
Why you need it: You have to be a real simp not to like Ruffles Cheddar Cheese & Sour Cream potato chips—literally one of the best chips of all time, no arguments. However, for some reason, the ridge-less counterpart at Lay’s has never been granted entry into this flavor zone. Smoked Gouda & Chives is probably the closest they’ve come (it’s part of their flavor swap program). The smokiness and funkiness of gouda is there, but it’s still cheesy enough to satisfy that cheddar cheese and sour cream crave. It won’t make you forget about that yearning you get for the Ruffles, but definitely a suitable substitute.
Late July Nacho Chipotle Chips
Why you need it: I was warned about Late July chips and was initially skeptical. Nacho Cheese Doritos are admittedly an all-time favorite, but how can a healthy/natural/organic chip even compare to the flavor bomb that is the Dorito? Late July’s packaging is colorful and enticing, and when FWF top banana Chris Schonberger gives the co-sign, you indulge. Needless to say, I’m a convert. The chipotle is not necessarily a dominant ingredient, but the cheesy crunch is enough to satisfy the Doritos jones.
Cool Ranch Fritos
Why you need it: I’m still very confused by my recent discovery of bags of Cool Ranch Fritos at a convenience store on a recent trip. Internet research and personal snack knowledge lead me to believe these babies have been out of circulation for some time (the most recent iteration being Wild n Mild Ranch Fritos in 2012). Ahhh, the sacrifices and risks I take for the greater snack good. I recall Cool Ranch Fritos being craveable growing up; I also remember when they morphed into Cool Ranch Fritos Flavor Twists. Safe to say Frito-Lay has perfected Ranch seasoning. Whether the bags I found are from 2016 or 1996 (the date on the bag said Frito Lay 2004, but I believe that dates the trademark, not the chips, I hope), somehow they still taste fresh, crunchy and delicious. (Oh GMOs, you serve your purpose.)
Half Pops Kernels
Why you need it: Full disclosure—Half Pops sent me a full flight of their products, and I’ll probably eat them all, but no amount of free product can sway a snack king from writing about something he wouldn’t naturally polish off if left alone in a room with. I’ve always scavenged the bottom of popcorn buckets and bags for the slightly popped kernels anyway, enjoying the crunch that normal popcorn lacks, and the lightness of the half popped kernel that is not a clear endangerment to my fillings. Half Pops was genius enough to bag these dandies up, season them lightly, and leave the dental risk out of the equation.
Strawberry Kit Kat
Why you need it: I don’t f**k with strawberry ice cream, or too many creamy strawberry snacks period. I like fruit snacks that are tart, or sour, not usually cloyingly sweet or creamy. So when I bit into my first Strawberry Kit Kat I was surprised to get my wig flipped. The chocolate is the only change from a normal Kit Kat, the crunch is the same. However, the change was revelatory—instead of chocolate there is creamy strawberry goodness around the cookie wafer crunch, with little flecks of red that are tart. This Japanese product is worth the hunt, the shipping, or the trip to the local Asian grocer (if they carry them).