What’s really in Britain’s favourite crisps?

I went to the local supermarkets and gathered a selection of different flavours of crisps all from different manufacturers and invited 12 colleagues for a blind taste test to see whether the crisps’ flavours would shine through. 

Interestingly, it seems the blander the flavour, the more recognisable it was. The only ‘flavour’ which all the tasters were in agreement on was Tyrells ‘Unsalted’ – essentially unflavoured – followed closely by Waitrose’s sea salt and black pepper which was correctly identified by all but one. 

In contrast, no one correctly identified the chipotle and lime Manomasa tortilla chips. But interestingly, classic flavours also proved tricky. None could correctly identify the taste of ‘West Country cheddar and caramelised onion’ – Waitrose’s elevated take on cheese and onion, with a few guessing cheese but missing the onion entirely. M&S’ prawn cocktail crisps also proved tricky, with three guessing they were salt & vinegar. 

The distinctive tastes of truffle and jalapeno also stood out although they weren’t universally loved. After tasting M&S’ black truffle and olive oil crisps, one colleague gagged and noted “gosh, is this athlete’s foot flavour?” while another suggested this was good evidence that truffle crisps should be outlawed entirely. Walker’s Strong Max jalapeno and cheese flavour also came in for criticism, with tasters comparing the flavour to Marmite or bad breath, while another just wrote “ouch, all spice, no flavour”. 

It was noteworthy that, in general, tasters were able to correctly identify meat flavours better than cheesy or spicy flavours, albeit not often correctly. M&S’ beef wellington crisps were correctly identified as being meaty, but most thought they were eating roast chicken flavoured crisps, while two thought Walkers’ roast chicken crisps were beef flavoured (perhaps a slightly more generous assessment than the taster whose conjecture was that they were ‘garden fertiliser’ flavoured.) It was the M&S maple bacon which was the most correctly guessed of the meat flavours, though almost none picked up the maple or any sweetness, suggesting that perhaps the supermarket might be unnecessarily over-exerting itself. 

Overall the results were as follows… 

Waitrose West Country Cheddar And Caramelised Onion 

0/12 correctly identified the flavour

Despite cheese and onion being a bonafide classic, not a single taster guessed it correctly. Four detected cheese (though one commented it was “bad cheese”), but the sweetness of the caramelised onions threw most off. Someone even guessed these were ‘strawberry’ flavoured crisps. 

Manomasa Chipotle And Lime

0/12 correctly identified the flavour

While four tasters detected chilli in this one, none found any trace of lime, but four thought they detected bacon, one suggested refried beans, and someone thought Manomasa’s entire effort in flavouring these was for naught as he thought they were plain. 

Kettle Sweet Chilli And Sour Cream

1/12 correctly identified the flavour

While only one person managed to correctly identify both components of the flavour here, five noted the tangy lactic flavour of the sour cream so yogurt and cheese were other popular suggestions. One said he detected tomato. 

Steakhouse barbecue

1/12 correctly identified the flavour

Perhaps “barbecue” is too complex a flavour to identify easily but here guesses ranged from “baked beans” to “parma ham” with sweetness and tomato flavours being picked out by three people. 

Walkers Max Strong Hot Chicken Wings

2/12 correctly identified the flavour

Only two realised they were eating chicken though most commented on the spice. Three suggested beef and one thought it was a pizza-flavoured crisp. 

Walkers Crispy Roast Chicken 

2/12 correctly identified the flavour 

Two tasters guessed chicken although another two also suggested beef and another bacon. There were two tasters who thought this one was cheese and onion, while another suggested Walkers had gone for a left-field option and chosen to flavour the crisps with ‘garden fertiliser’. Yum. 

Walkers Strong Max Jalapeño And Cheese

3/12 correctly identified the flavour

The strong spicy taste of jalapeño helped identify these though none could detect any cheese, suggesting Walkers might have over-egged the pudding with the spice on these. 

M&S Manchego Cheese And Chilli

3/12 correctly identified the flavour

“This tastes like feet” was a common response to this one, though that probably suggests at least the cheese flavour came through, however no one was prepared to identify the specific genre of cheese. One person thought perhaps this was a Lucozade tie-in and the energy drink had lent its classic flavour to these crisps. 

M&S Prawn Cocktail 

3/12 correctly identified the flavour

Surprisingly, the most popular guess here was “salt & vinegar” with only three guessing prawn cocktail right away. Others suggested sweet & sour chicken or curry flavours. One person thought egg might have been involved. 

M&S Prosciutto And Formaggio 

4/12 correctly identified the flavour

Prosciutto isn’t the strongest flavour in the world, and all taste testers found it was entirely overpowered by the formaggio cheese. There were a few left-field options too. “Cranberry sauce” and “strawberry” were two of the kinder suggestions, while one suggested a brand new flavour which might set the culinary world alight: “mould.”

M&S Maple Bacon 

5/12 correctly identified the flavour

The smoky taste of these was what led most to identifying them as bacon though three guessed chicken and one simply wrote “forgettable”. Ouch. 

M&S Beef Wellington 

5/12 correctly identified the flavour

While meat flavours did shine through with these crisps, only five recognised them as beef. Three suggested chicken while two suggested sausage or stuffing. Perhaps slightly uncharitably, one taster said “tastes like dust”. 

M&S Black Truffle And Olive Oil 

6/12 correctly identified the flavour

Truffle stood out strongly in these to around half of the tasters though two truly had no idea and one merely grimaced and intoned a single word: “Grim.”

Waitrose Sea Salt And Black Pepper 

11/12 correctly identified the flavour

Again this one was easy to guess, perhaps because the black pepper was visually identifiable, however one person thought these were chicken and thyme flavoured. 

Tyrells Unsalted 

12/12 correctly identified the flavour

The most identifiable taste was an utter absence of flavour, but don’t mistake ‘identifiable’ for popular. Comments ranged from “pointless” to “awful”.

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