05 July 2007

Just for fun: Genealogy of the potato chip

The New York Times has an interesting take on 100 years of potato chips.

Think you're obsessive about our mutual passion of genealogy?

Chowhound.com's Jim Leff has tasted more than 400 chips and written on methodology and results. His favorite is a Maui, Hawaii brand that rarely seems to get off the island.

The quintessential American snack has its origins in Saratoga Springs, New York. When, in 1853, a restaurant customer complained about soggy, tasteless fried potatoes, the cook became angry and made a batch of extra-salty, thinly sliced potatoes that crunched. According to the article, that's one version.

Another story says the cook's sister was frying doughnuts and slicing potatoes when one fell into the hot fat and the chip was born.

There's no video available, so oral history and legend play a big part in the birth of the chip.

No matter the truth, chips became part and parcel of fun things to do when visiting the region. Visitors took word of the invention home and over the next eight decades, many people began making chips, with many regional variations.

The article covers the 1920s mechanical potato peeler and continuous fryer and a 1930s Nashville salesman (Herman Lay) who became interested. I guess he couldn't eat just one! Today Frito-Lay buys 3.2 billion chipping potatoes a year and Lay's are made in 40 countries.

However, the original type - thick-cut batches of chips fried in vats of hot oil and called kettle-style - are made by regional companies in Massachusetts, Louisiana and Oregon. According to the story, these thicker chips are the fastest growing potato chip category.

The article - a delicious read which compares major varities - is timely, considering one of the two biggest days for chips is the 4th of July; the other is Memorial Day.

The NYT's Dining section spent three days testing them: "Keep a few dozen bags on your desk and suddenly everyone’s your new best friend."

There are even regional tastes in the kind of oil the chips are fried in, read all about it.

Enjoy the salty, crunchy complete article here


  1. Anonymous2:18 PM

    Having grown up in Saratoga Springs, I knew of a different version of the origin of the potato chip. It seems that the cook at Moon's Lake House, one of a number of gambling establishments in Saratoga in the 1850's, cooked up the delicacy because the house ran out of gambling chips. I'm sure it didn't take long for the guests to realize that the poker chips were also quite delicious!

  2. Anonymous10:22 AM

    By the way, the enterprising chef was named George Crum.