With annual sales topping $30 billion, potato chips beat out pretzels and tortilla chips as America's favorite snack food. There are endless chip varieties and flavors, but which bag of plain chips should the purist reach for? We grabbed eight national brands and headed into the test kitchen to find out.
Potato chips are made with three basic ingredients—potatoes, oil, and salt. According to our tasters, starchy white russets and Idahos are the only way to go; products made from other varieties left tasters wondering if they were made from real potatoes.
The type of oil used for frying turned out to be very important. Three of the four bottom-ranking chips are fried in so-called "neutral" canola oil, which made the chips taste "fishy," with a "stale aftertaste." Why? Canola oil has a very high concentration (11 percent) of unsaturated fatty acids (called linoleic acids), which break down at high temperatures and take on a fishy flavor and odor. The other chips were fried in safflower, sunflower, corn, and cottonseed oils, which have much lower concentrations (3 percent or lower) of these fatty acids.
Kettle-style chips finished first and fourth in our tasting. These thick-cut chips are cooked in small batches and spend more time in the cooking oil. A thicker cut means more potato mass—and thus more potato flavor—and longer cooking times result in crunchier chips. Our favorite brand's crunchy chips were the thickest ones we sampled and just salty enough to keep tasters coming back for seconds.
Our favorite premium extra-virgin olive oil from a previous tasting, Columela is composed of a blend of intense Picual, mild Hojiblanca, Ocal, and Arbequina olives. This oil took top honors for its fruity flavor and excellent balance. Tasters praised its “big olive aroma, big olive taste” with a “buttery” flavor that is “sweet” and “full,” with a “peppery finish.” One taster said: “It’s very green and fresh—like a squeezed olive.” Another simply wrote: “Fantastic.”
|Spain||$19 for 17 oz|
Tasters noted this oil’s flavor was “much deeper than the other samples,” describing it as “fruity, with a slight peppery finish,” “buttery undertones,” and a “clean, green taste” that was “aromatic, with a good balance.” “It has the flavor that some good EVOOs have,” said one admiring taster.
|Italy||$19.99 for 500 ml ($39.98 per liter)|
Virtually tied for second place, this oil was deemed “round and buttery,” with a “light body” and flavor that was “briny and fruity,” “very fine and smooth,” and “almost herbal,” with “great balance.” “Good olive flavor. I could smell it and taste it,” approved one taster. In a word, “pleasant.”
|Italy||$17.99 for 750 ml ($23.98 per liter)|
|Recommended with Reservations|
A clear step down from the top oils, tasters noted “overall mild” flavor and “very little aroma,” with only a “hint of green olive” and a “hint of spiciness at the end.” In pasta, it was initially “not complex,” but gradually “bloomed in your mouth.” Overall, it was “worthy of a second bite.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$12.49 for 750 ml ($16.65 per liter)|
While some tasters found this oil “sweet” and “buttery” with “medium body” and “slight spice at the end,” others complained that it had “zero olive flavor” and was “so floral it’s almost like eating perfume”; still others noted a “bitter” aftertaste. In pasta, it was “extremely mild” to the point of being “boring.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$10.99 for 750 ml ($14.65 per liter)|
Comments: The best comments tasters could muster were “mild” and “neutral.” Some liked it on pasta (though one called it “Snoozeville”), but complaints were myriad: “metallic,” “soapy,” “briny,” “hints of dirt.” Carped one taster, “I can’t imagine what is in here, but they have a nerve calling it EVOO.”
|Spain||$13.99 for 1 liter|
For complete access to the results,
start a 14-Day Free Trial.
Start Your 14-Day Free Trial Membership
Every Recipe. Every Rating. Every Video from
Every Magazine & Every Episode!
- 8 years of Cook’s Country Foolproof Recipes
- Complete Cook’s Country TV Video Library
- 2,900+ Equipment Ratings and Ingredient Taste Tests
- Step-by-Step Technique Photos
- Save Favorites, Create Menus, Print Shopping Lists