Deep, and Crisp, and even

I think it was a combination of Chris Hoban and Annabel Meikle’s comments on Facebook that kicked this idea into reality – I’ve long suspected that the obscurity and specificity of crisp flavours was a bit of a sham, and that in fact there are only a few basic flavour compounds in use… so this seemed a perfect time to test it.

And so, with the marketplace heaving with Festive Crisp Variations, our Crispmas tasting was born!

Method & Materials

Visiting a selection of local supermarkets, I obtained 11 packets of festive-themed special crisp flavours. I augmented the line up to 12 with a packet of Paprika crisps from the Polish shop up the road, partially as an experiment to see if anyone else liked Paprika flavour as much as me, but also cos I just really like them.

The festive options were:

  • Parmesan and Prosciutto (M&S)
  • Beef Wellington (M&S)
  • Ham with Spiced Cola Glaze (Tesco)
  • Winter Berries & Sparkling Prosecco (M&S)
  • Brussels Sprout (Walkers)
  • Luxury Pigs in Blankets (Iceland)
  • Pigs in Blankets (M&S)
  • Turkey & Stuffing Legs (CoOp)
  • Turkey Feast (M&S)
  • Luxury Lobster Cocktail (Iceland)
  • Ultimate Roast Potato (CoOp)

I think I must have gone to M&S first and been overwhelmed by the breadth of their range, and then was more selective in visiting CoOp, Iceland and Tesco, because I didn’t want to have 6 types of Turkey & Stuffing and 8 types of Pigs In Blankets options. I didn’t have a chance to get to Sainsburys, Asda or Morrisons, and Waitrose didn’t appear to have anything as gauche as festive crisps. Iceland seem to have chosen not to reinstate their “Salted Christmas Tree flavour crisps” from last year, which is a bit of a shame.

Enlisting the help of Mr Billy Abbott, we conducted the setup as a double-blind arrangement – I poured the crisps into numbered bowls, and then Billy removed the numbers and assigned each bowl a letter, so nobody knew for sure what was in which bowl.

Results

10 people participated in the tasting – Liz, Fi, Adrian, Sarah, Luke, Nicole, Jon, Euge, Billy and myself.

Scoring was done on the basis of one mark for getting the flavour more or less right, or discretionary half marks for being close. I didn’t tell the participants what any of the flavours were ahead of time, so the only pre-knowledge of available flavours would be what they’d seen in shops or on Facebook.

The scores ranged from a low of 1.5 to 2 high scores of 5.5 – the latter being Billy and myself, the only people who knew what all the possible flavours were (which probably gave us an edge, although not a big one as the results show).

Each flavour was guessed by somebody, with the exception of Beef Wellington – although a couple of people guessed truffle, so got half marks for that.

The most common correct guess was Brussels Sprouts. Whether this was because the grim flavour they presented was unmistakably representative of what they were going for, or because the crisps were slightly green, I don’t know.

My notes/comments on the individual flavours were:

  • Parmesan and Prosciutto – a few people detected the cheese flavour of these, although we all agreed it was a much creamier cheese texture like a Brie.
  • Beef Wellington – probably the weirdest of the lot. Euge wrote “dead slipper” on his sheet for this one. When Billy & I tasted the leftovers the following morning (cos I couldn’t be arsed putting them all away at the end of the night) the mushroom note was much more prominent.
  • Ham with Spiced Cola Glaze – lots of people guessed “meaty”, but not specific enough to direct you to ham.
  • Winter Berries & Sparkling Prosecco – universally unpopular. Also had little gold stars mixed in among the crisps. Liz’s guess was “Bullshit Prosecco”.
  • Brussels Sprouts – green, as mentioned above. Other guesses were kale, wasabi, and seaweed.
  • Luxury Pigs in Blankets – whilst very few people got this one, once we’d revealed the flavours Billy noted that he thought this one was the most accurate, in that they tasted like Iceland Pigs in Blankets.
  • Pigs in Blankets – unusual in that M&S had elected to make sausage flavoured crisps, and mix them in with pork rind foam to make up the combination.
  • Turkey & Stuffing Legs – very little flavour. Only one person guessed these, even though they were shaped like turkey legs. My sheet said “Packing material?”.
  • Turkey Feast – again with the mixed ingredients, there were 3 types of crisp and some weird little cheeto-like balls making up the “feast”.
  • Luxury Lobster Cocktail – a few people had guessed “tomato sauce”, so there was clearly more emphasis on the cocktail sauce than the lobster.
  • Ultimate Roast Potato – I was really hoping to like these ones. The primary flavours were of herbs, although post-reveal Billy concluded that the after taste was very specifically very potato-ey.
  • Paprika (Polski) – about half the group (myself included) guessed these as being cheesey, with only one person getting Paprika right.

Conclusions

The relatively low accuracy of the guessing – combined with the general mode of the chat afterwards – supported my theory that wacky crisp flavourings are more about suggestibility than about accuracy of flavour. Upon revealing each flavour most people would take another crisp, and having been told what it was, would nod and say words to the effect of “I can see how that would make sense”. The only exceptions to this being the Beef Wellington (which everyone just found odd), Parmesan & Prosciutto (wide disagreement that they’d picked the right cheese for the label) and Brussels Sprouts (which was distinctive and fairly accurate).

Lots of people guessed the Ultimate Roast Potato ones to be roast chicken, which afterwards we concluded was from the strong herby notes, and peoples’ memory leading them to guess based on what sort of thing those herbs were associated with.

On the whole we were all very thirsty afterwards, and most people took a break after the first 6 flavours for a glass of water. As luck would have it, we had a selection of locally produced ales on hand for rehydrating with.

My friends are legends – both for going along with this half-baked idea in the first place, and also for the frankly ludicrous wave of interest, enthusiasm & support from people via The Interwebs.

And, finally, I don’t think I want to see another crisp until at least February.

Winners

Inevitably, with a “taste-off” people want to know the winner – and I did ask people to circle any on their sheet they really liked, but I didn’t want to bother them with *too much* admin, so that didn’t really work out.

Going by the relative levels in the bowls as I was tidying up after everyone had left or gone to bed it was very apparent to me that the Paprika bowl had had a lot more eaten out of it than any other, so I’m going to pronounce them to be the most popular.

I thought that of the festive flavours, the Ham & Cola Glaze ones were my favourite – both in terms of the attempt to do something a little different, and overall niceness.

Billy seemed very strongly in favour of the Beef Wellington, Lobster Cocktail, and Iceland Pigs in Blankets being the “most accurate” flavours, however once again those were only apparent upon second tasting once you knew what the flavours were.