Chips or crisps? That depends on where you are in the world. These deep-fried slices of potatoes have been greasing up fingers as early as 1817. Wait a minute – popular culture claims its “invention” is credited to George “Crum” Speck in August of 1853 in Saratoga Springs, New York. But people on the other side of the Atlantic in England already had a published recipe for crisps in the 1822 edition of The Cook’s Oracle called “Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings.” But there is a contention that the English potato slices were not technically “crisps” since they were quarter of an inch thick.
Besides we all love a good yarn and George Crum’s story is far more interesting! According to lore, Mr. Crum, the head chef at Moon’s Lake House, a resort in Saratoga Springs, the potato chip was invented because a customer complained that his fries were tasteless and too thick and soggy. My, oh my! So, Mr. Crum sliced them paper-thin, fried them to a crisp and dusted them with salt. The satisfied customer tried one and couldn’t stop! Thus, the Saratoga Chips were born. Crum never claimed that he invented the potato chip and his sister. Some versions of this story also make unsubstantiated claims that the picky customer is no other than railroad magnate, Cornelius Vanderbilt.
According to Snopes, the most credible version is that of Katie Speck Wicks. In an interview in 1899, “Aunt Katie,” Crum’s sister claimed that it was she, who invented the potato chip when she accidentally dropped a potato peel in frying oil. When she fished it out, Crum tasted it and said it was good. They then decided to make plenty of these chips. Her obituary in 1917 credited her as the inventor of the potato chip.
There has been some concern about the sodium content and trans-fat in potato chips and companies have invested in research to lower salt and modify their recipes and cooking methods to provide a healthier product. Of course, we can also try to make our own chips. Here’s a tool called the Healthy Potato Chip Maker.
Some fun facts about potato chips:
- Laura Scudder, a businesswoman in California, came up with the concept of using waxed paper bags for potato chips in 1926. Potato chips used to be sold in bulk either in barrels or tins and of course, the bottom chips were crushed. Her grease-resistant packets are the precursor of the foil packets we have today.
- Herman Lay, an enterprising salesman made the potato chip popular throughout the Southeast.
- Air is used for cushioning and pumped with nitrogen which ensures a fresher product.
- Corker Crisps set a world record for the largest single bag of potato chips in 2013. It was 18 feet tall and more than 2500 pounds of chips which were cooked in a single batch over a 17-hour period.
- Americans eat approximately six pounds of potato chips per person each year.
Occasionally, potato chip companies like Lay’s have contests that allow consumers pitch their idea for flavors. In the U.S. popular flavors include like barbeque, buffalo wing, sour cream and onion, etc.
In the U.K., they like salt and vinegar, prawn cocktail, and pickled onion.You can find potato chips the world over and in a multitude of flavors. Many countries have married their favorite food flavors with chips. So you may find takoyaki (fried octopus balls) in Japan or poutine in Canada. The variety world-over is mind-blowing!
My favorite is Cape Cod kettle-cooked salt and vinegar. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments below.