Chip shot.

Photo: Maria Falgoust

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As a cook, I gravitate toward fresh, whole ingredients. I prefer whole foods as an eater, too — unless there’s an open bag of potato chips nearby. My usual strategy is to avoid proximity to open bags of chips. But because of my lamentable chip-love, I couldn’t resist this assignment: taste-testing health-food-store potato-chip brands.

I figured finding green-ish chips would be easy — just walk down the snack aisle of a natural-foods supermarket and plunk all the bags marked “organic” into the cart. But on a recent trip to Whole Foods in Chapel Hill, N.C., I found slim pickings. The only such chips on offer were Kettle brand’s organic line. I ran into the same trouble at another well-stocked shop: Weaver Street Food Co-op in Carrboro, N.C.

While organic corn chips are widely available, their potato counterparts seem to be a rather scarce commodity. I suspect it has something to do with a shortage of organic potatoes from the kind of industrial-scale farms that can provide a steady supply to chip-makers.

Grist’s Pick

Kettle Organic Chipotle Barbecue
$2.99 / 6.5 oz.

What, then, must a deadline-addled food writer do? Since I couldn’t properly review just a single brand of chips, I merely selected from the cornucopia of non-organic chips available at the “natural foods” supermarkets in my region. I figure these establishments must have some sort of screen on the products they peddle. (To mix things up, I included a bag each of plantain and cassava chips.) This is an admittedly lax selection method — one that will no doubt make certain readers want to plunge me into a kettle of boiling oil. If that does happen, I have one request: Could you toss in a few thin slices of potato, too?

I can state that all of the specimens under examination here contain no heart-ruining hydrogenated oils. A few do contain hard-to-pronounce ingredients, though — and some questionable oils, like cottonseed and palm.

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To decide which chip is champ, I appealed for help from the farmers and farmhands at Maverick Farms, the small vegetable farm I help run in North Carolina. I offered them all the chips they could eat, as long as they agreed to scribble down tasting notes and rank them by preference. Lesson learned: Even at the height of the harvest, when there’s plenty of great stuff coming in from the fields, don’t stand between a hungry farmhand and an open bag of chips.

Potato Finger Barbecue Chips
$1.50 / 8 oz.
Weird ingredients: maltodextrin, dextrose, corn syrup solids (!)
Claim to fame: “Only non-GMO potatoes;” certified kosher

This bargain-priced contender (bought on sale) pleased our panel. I found them thin and fun to eat, but with a very muted barbecue flavor. One taster noted that they’re “not oily” — a much-appreciated quality when you’re tasting lots of chips. “Great texture — went back for seconds,” wrote another.

Natura Plantain Chips
$3.99 / 7 oz.
Weird ingredients: none
Claim to fame: Made from plantains, the banana’s starchy, not-so-sweet cousin

I loved these unflavored crisps, but they’re not for everyone. They weren’t nearly as greasy as most store-bought plantain chips I’ve had, and they felt substantial to eat — more like food and less like junk food than their spud counterparts. One other panelist echoed my positive reaction: “sturdy, sweet, nice alternative to potatoes,” she said. Everyone else cried foul, bitterly disappointed that they weren’t sweeter. “Wanted to spit them out,” one went so far as to write.

Solea Olive Oil Chips with sea salt
$2.50 / 5 oz.
Weird ingredients: none
Claim to fame: Fried in olive oil (along with “safflower and/or sunflower oil”); “40 percent less fat than regular chips”

These chips — what’s the technical term? — sucked. They almost remind me of Pringles — something about the texture feels artificial. And they lack salt. Just in case you’re wondering, the presence of olive oil is indiscernible — probably because the deep-frying process destroys olive oil’s delicate flavor. From the panel, derision rained down: “cardboard texture,” “fishy flavor,” “too thick, too dry.” One taster did find that “they grew on me,” but even she called them “a little weird-tasting.”

Lay’s Natural Thick-Cut Sea Salted
$3.79 / 8.5 oz.
Weird ingredients: none
Claim to fame: Mega-giant chip-maker goes “natural”

Scoff if you want, but I picked these up at Whole Foods. I found them basic, standard, pleasing chips (though if they’re “thick cut,” regular Lay’s must be microscopic). They remind me of the Jays potato chips I used to inhale as a kid visiting family in Chicago. Most tasters like them as well. “Melt in your mouth,” said one; “very chippy,” said another. Another was less pleased: “As soon as you bite into them: cardboard.”

Arico Cassava Chips Natural Bliss Barbecue
$2.99 / 5 oz.
Weird ingredients: autolyzed yeast extract, silicon dioxide (“a natural anti-caking agent”)
Claim to fame: Made from cassava, also known as yucca, a tropical root

I dug these chips, which delivered a cracking crunch and assertive, round barbecue flavor (though they’re a bit sweet). The rest of the panel was divided: “Awful” and “I can live without these,” declared detractors. “Thumbs up — great texture,” countered a supporter. One taster found middle ground: “Like ’em, don’t love ’em.”

Tyrrells Cider Vinegar and Sea Salt Chips
$3 / 5.3 oz.
Weird ingredients: none
Claim to fame: “Hand-cooked;” names potato variety (Lady Claire)

This British-made chip fared well. I thought they had fantastic crunch and a nice, not-too-assertive salt/vinegar punch. “Perfect amount of vinegar,” wrote one taster, who also found them “a little sweet” but “yummy” overall. “More vinegar needed,” came another verdict, while a fan declared them the “first vinegar chip I like, ever.”

Tyrrells Mature Cheddar and Chives
$3 / 5.3 oz.
Weird ingredients: see above
Claim to fame: see above

Full disclosure: Cheese in snack food creeps me out. Dried, powdered cheese? Ew. Like the salt-and-vinegar Tyrrells, these are quality chips, but the flavor doesn’t do it for me. Only one taster embraced them: “Like the flavor — chives provide a kick at the end.” Other reactions ranged from “could use more flavor” to “weird” to “fishy.”

Tyrrells Sweet Chili and Red Pepper
$3 / 5.3 oz.
Weird ingredients: see above
Claim to fame: see above

Again, nice chip. But I wish they delivered more hot-pepper kick to balance the dominating sweetness. (I’m a fool for spicy chips.) Other responses ran the gamut: “sweet goodness,” “good flavor,” “too sweet,” and “yuck.”

Terra Crinkles Blue, jalapeño-flavored
$3.69 / 6 oz.
Weird ingredients: autolyzed yeast extract, maltodextrin
Claim to fame: From blue potatoes; the only “crinkled” chips in the bunch

I wanted to love these. I appreciate the blue-potato angle and revere jalapeño peppers. But I found these chips unpleasant, an off flavor rising up above the mild chile heat. The panel generally agreed. Even the person who liked them most found the texture “kinda cardboardy.” “Gross,” concluded another.

Kettle Organic Chipotle Chili Barbecue
$2.99 / 6.5 oz.
Weird ingredients: none
Claim to fame: Organic! Also, contains chipotle pepper (or smoked jalapeño).

These chips inspired euphoria on the panel. “I could eat the whole bag,” concluded one reviewer. “Sweet, spicy delicious,” judged another. A third declared, “It’s got a good beat, and I can dance to it.” Myself, I like these chips, but don’t love them. I find them a little too rich; I’m pretty much done after a chip or two. And the flavor’s a bit too busy — the sweet, smoky, spicy elements don’t quite strike a pleasing balance for me. Still, majority rules, and the Kettle Organics wowed the panel. These chips took top honors.

Bottom Line: Face it: Chips are good. But while they’re fun to eat, they’re disgusting when you eat too many of them — even these hippie-ish ones. Most of the samples pleased at least one taster. I really admired the two non-potato entries, but their appeal wasn’t enough to stop the Kettle Organic Chipotle juggernaut. As for me, I’ve had enough. I’m over chips (at least until the next open bag comes sashaying by).