Investigating the Lay’s craze

Every weekday, I stop at Thornton’s on lower Brownsboro Road to get a Pepsi and a snack. A few weeks back, I noticed something strange in the impulse buy bin by the counter: Lay’s potato chips flavored like biscuits and gravy. The heck? I later learned that this is part of the ongoing Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” contest aimed at picking the best customer submissions to create interesting new chip options. Hey, I live and die by the Flaming Hot chips, and I’m OK with the K.C. Masterpiece Barbecue versions, too. But biscuits and gravy?

Well, my friends at Thornton’s informed me that there are several new flavors out now, and consumers get to vote on which one or ones might be candidates to become permanent releases. Unfortunately, by the time I was truly interested in tasting and/or writing about these strange creations, they were sold out.

But recently the chips came back, so I bought one bag of each. And if you haven’t tried these things, well, you may or may not like them. I’m still trying to decide, to be quite honest. I’ll go through them one by one to give you a preview.

Wavy West Coast Truffle Fries: These are about what I expected – they smell and mostly taste like truffle fries light. Diane, who works at Thornton’s, actually gave me my first taste of these. Lay’s used “truffle fries seasoning” to get the flavor here (I hate when companies do that), but there’s actually duck fat involved in these chips. Diane’s co-worker Alice said to her they just taste like sour cream and onion chips. I didn’t agree, and yet somehow I couldn’t fully disagree.

Kettle Baked Greektown Gyro: Much like with the truffle version, the aroma here doesn’t quite distinguish itself at first. And the thick, crunchy kettle chips actually compete with the flavoring. I got some Greek spice in the flavor, and I even sensed the tzatziki, but the question I kept coming back to was that, unlike the truffle fries version, this isn’t trying to mimic another starch, it’s trying to mimic meat. How do you make potato chips taste like meat? And does that mean mankind is on the cusp of inventing pork chops that taste like Pringle’s? That aside, flavored with sour cream, various powdered spices and “gyro seasoning” (really?), they weren’t bad, but lamb really has its own flavor going. Again, these might be best eaten with an actual gyro if that’s the flavor you’re into.

New York Reuben: These chips pack a big, distinguished aroma. If Lay’s missed on making potatoes smell and somewhat taste like lamb, it didn’t miss on making potatoes smell and even taste like a corned beef sandwich. Once you take a few bites and the flavor starts to set in, you get a big rye flavor as well, which mimics the bread you’d be eating with a Reuben. Naturally, this big flavor comes from the “Reuben seasoning” in the mix (sigh), while there is also paprika, tomato powder, cheese and more. Corned beef is usually just brisket cured with kosher salt and Prague powder No. 1, so maybe it was easier to mimic on a potato. These chips were so interesting that I’d suggest them as a standalone snack. Eating them as a side would really mess with your palate — unless, of course, they were on the side of an actual Reuben. That might actually be overkill.

Southern Biscuits and Gravy: And this was my “holy cow” moment. Lay’s made the most of its “biscuits and gravy seasoning” (shakes head) to give us something familiar to the point of being a little creepy. These chips have a big peppery aroma that also suggests yeasty biscuits and even a hint of breakfast sausage. The flavor goes a step farther — is that sage I detect? We’ll never know, since “biscuits and gravy seasoning” is all Lay’s is giving us. But what I found creepy is that as I chewed these, my brain actually gave me the sensation of creamy gravy. Now, buttermilk and cream are among the ingredients, but still – that had to be my brain playing tricks on me. Regardless, these taste uncannily like biscuits and gravy. Granted, they tasted like cheap, hotel breakfast-buffet biscuits and gravy, but you get my point.

And this brought me to a supposition: I suspect that kind of flavor familiarity is what makes these chips work. I grew up on my grandmother’s biscuits and gravy, but none of the other three flavors came into my life until well into my adulthood. Had I spent my childhood in New York going to delis with my grandparents, I might be raving over the Reuben. If I’d spent my life hitting up Greek street vendors, I might be giddy over the gyros.

You get the point. If you haven’t tried these yet, they’re worth the reasonable price, if only for the fun of picking out the flavors. And if your mom or grandma aren’t up for making biscuits and gravy this weekend, you’ve at least got a fallback breakfast option.