Tortilla Chips

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From Cook's Country | August/September 2015
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Overview:

Salsa is now America’s best-selling condiment, so it’s not surprising that tortilla chips are poised to soon overtake potato chips as America’s favorite salty snack. According to data from IRi, a Chicago-based market research firm, tortilla chip sales grew at nearly double the rate of potato chip sales in 2014.

Tortilla chips are traditionally made from yellow or white corn, but we’ve noticed an increase in products made with blue corn. We reached out to manufacturers and learned that—for some smaller, health-focused brands—these blue corn products are just as popular as traditional white or yellow corn chips. We gathered seven nationally available tortilla chip products: three made from blue corn and four made from white or yellow corn (if a company made multiple products, we selected its most popular variety). Twenty-one America’s Test Kitchen staffers sampled the chips plain and—to see how well they could scoop—with salsa and guacamole.

To our surprise, blue corn chips universally sank to the bottom of the pack. Many tasters… read more

Salsa is now America’s best-selling condiment, so it’s not surprising that tortilla chips are poised to soon overtake potato chips as America’s favorite salty snack. According to data from IRi, a Chicago-based market research firm, tortilla chip sales grew at nearly double the rate of potato chip sales in 2014.

Tortilla chips are traditionally made from yellow or white corn, but we’ve noticed an increase in products made with blue corn. We reached out to manufacturers and learned that—for some smaller, health-focused brands—these blue corn products are just as popular as traditional white or yellow corn chips. We gathered seven nationally available tortilla chip products: three made from blue corn and four made from white or yellow corn (if a company made multiple products, we selected its most popular variety). Twenty-one America’s Test Kitchen staffers sampled the chips plain and—to see how well they could scoop—with salsa and guacamole.

To our surprise, blue corn chips universally sank to the bottom of the pack. Many tasters detected “slightly bitter,” “burnt,” or “beany” notes in blue corn chips that stood in stark contrast to the “sweet,” “mild” flavor of white and yellow corn chips. How did these pretty chips end up at the bottom of our rankings? Blue corn gets its vibrant hue from large concentrations of pigment-producing chemicals called anthocyanins in its kernels; the same chemicals responsible for the bright color of eggplants, blackberries, and grapes. In addition to a blue hue, anthocyanins can contribute a slightly bitter, astringent flavor to foods, particularly when they’re cooked.

Blue chips were also universally lacking in salt, with most having between 60 and 80 milligrams of sodium per serving, compared with 110 to 115 milligrams of sodium in higher-ranked products. Chips with less than 110 milligrams (including one white corn product) were “bland” and “overly sweet.” Tasters thought that saltier chips were more “authentic,” “fresh,” and “bright.” We tried salting one of the blue corn chip products to see if it would improve the flavor, but it wasn’t enough to mask the beany aftertaste.

Testers dipped the chips in our winning medium chunky salsa and our Hearty Guacamole to evaluate how well each held its shape. While most chips maintained their structure, a few products turned soggy under salsa or crumbled on a drag through guacamole. Tasters preferred thick chips with curved or curled edges that could trap dips. A thicker chip didn’t necessarily mean a denser chip, though. We favored chips with large air pockets, which added structural support while still maintaining a crispy, flaky texture that wasn’t too dense or stiff.

Our new favorite chips were reformulated right before our tasting, and while the manufacturer wouldn’t disclose exactly what it changed, it’s certainly doing something right. These chips were light, flaky, and crispy, with a bright corn taste.

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Tortilla Chips

Can you judge a chip by its color?

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  • Product Tested

    Price*

  • On the Border Café Style Tortilla Chips

    Recommended - Winner

    On the Border Café Style Tortilla Chips

    This recently reformulated product was praised for its “traditional,” “buttery” sweetness and “bright corn flavor.” Tasters found these big “flaky” chips “light and airy,” with a “bubbly,” “crisp” exterior that was “the perfect counterpart to salsa.” “I could eat a whole bag of these,” said one taster.

    $3.00 for 12 oz ($0.25 per oz)

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Tostitos Original Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips

    Recommended

    Tostitos Original Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips

    “Oh, hi, old friend,” said one taster, who identified this top-selling product’s “familiar,” “very salty” seasoning and “large,” “sturdy” shape. These “coarse,” “crunchy” chips were “built for heavy dipping” and had “simple, straightforward flavor” that tasters loved.

    $4.29 for 13 oz ($0.33 per oz)

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Santitas White Corn Tortilla Chips

    Recommended

    Santitas White Corn Tortilla Chips

    Our former favorite, this product was “very salty” and “grainy,” with “mellow corn flavor” and “light roasted notes.” Though a little too thin for some tasters, these chips were “crisp but strong,” with “satisfying crunch” and a “slightly bubbly” exterior.

    $2.00 for 11 oz ($0.18 per oz)

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Garden of Eatin’ Blue Corn Tortilla Chips

    Recommended with Reservations

    Garden of Eatin’ Blue Corn Tortilla Chips

    With the lowest levels of salt in our lineup, these “rustic” blue corn chips were “a little bland” for some tasters, though most appreciated their “mild” earthiness and “grainy” flavor. Tasters also liked the “dense,” “thick” texture of these chips, which were good for “sturdy,” “supported dipping.”

    $3.99 for 8.1 oz ($0.49 per oz)

  • Mission Tortilla Triangles

    Recommended with Reservations

    Mission Tortilla Triangles

    This product, made from all white corn, was “sweet,” “mild,” and “inoffensive” but was “bordering on too bland” for some tasters. Though these chips could hold a good scoop of dip, many testers noted that the chips quickly turned “soft” and “soggy” under the weight of salsa and “crumbled like a stale tortilla.”

    $3.49 for 13 oz ($0.27 per oz)

  • Food Should Taste Good Blue Corn Tortilla Chip

    Recommended with Reservations

    Food Should Taste Good Blue Corn Tortilla Chip

    These “hearty,” hexagonal-shaped chips are made from blue corn, other grains like quinoa and rice flour, and flaxseeds. While many tasters appreciated this product’s “slight sweetness” and “sturdy” texture, others were turned off by its “smoky,” “earthy” flavor and “lack of authentic feel.”

    $3.29 for 5.5 oz ($0.60 per oz)

  • Xochitl Blue Corn Chips

    Not Recommended

    Xochitl Blue Corn Chips

    These “fragile,” “paper-thin” chips had “razor-sharp” edges that cut tasters’ mouths and shattered in salsa. Most tasters couldn’t get past the “burnt toast” bitterness and “beany” blue corn flavor, but those that could noted unpleasant “stale” and “cardboardy” aftertastes.

    $5.29 for 12 oz ($0.44 per oz)

  • All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.
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