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A totally scientific potato chip taste test to determine the best new $1 million flavor from Lay's

A totally scientific potato chip taste test to determine the best new $1 million flavor from Lay's

Lay's Chips
An up-close shot of the office winner, sriracha. Photo by Rachael Abrams
Lay's Chips
The three finalists were selected from nearly 3.8 million submissions. We only kind of liked two of them. Photo by Rachael Abrams
Lay's Chips
Lay's Chips

Lay’s potato chips released three new flavors on February 12 as part of its “Do Us A Flavor” campaign to let the American public decide which one will join already established flavors barbecue and sour cream and onion.

Vying for your taste buds are cheesy garlic bread, sriracha, and chicken and waffles. They were the finalists taken from nearly 3.8 million submissions from across the country, and now you can vote for the one chip to rule them all. The inventor of the winning flavor earns $1 million or 1 percent of his or her flavor’s 2013 net profit. Voting goes through May 4. 

We’re nothing if not thorough and scientific here at CultureMap, so we decided to do a taste test of the three, in hopes of finding our next sandwich enhancer. We’ve got opinions, but CultureMap Dallas Senior Editor Teresa knows, y’all.

Our thoughts:

Cheesy garlic bread

Rachael Abrams: “All of the worst parts of greasy garlic cheese bread packed into one bite.”

Claire St. Amant: “I expected this to be my favorite going in, but it actually finished last. Too much of everything here. I’d prefer a more subtle garlic and cheese approach.”

Jonathan Rienstra: “It’s overwhelming, and somehow it made my throat dry almost instantly. It tastes like a crappy kind of garlic bread that you find in someone’s freezer.”

Jennifer Chininis: “Well, it does taste a lot like cheesy garlic bread. But is that a good thing?”

Teresa Gubbins: “Opening flavor was curdled milk with a hint of queso, verging on the flavor of vomit. Second wave brought hits of tomato and Wolf Brand canned chili. I got some ranch dip in there, but I suspect that was an unrefined attempt at garlic. To me this tasted more like store-brand cheese pizza than it did garlic bread, and look at all the cheese and dairy: cream, cheddar, Parmesan, butter, Swiss, Monterey Jack and Gouda. They took the dumbest route by making it all about the cheese when they could have done an interesting garlic potato chip that probably would have been a lot better than this.”

Chicken and waffles

Rachael: “Tastes like frozen French toast sticks. Yuck.”

Claire: “The maple syrup comes on strong at first while the chicken flavor develops more slowly. A dessert potato chip sounds wrong, but it tastes so right. My favorite by far.”

Jonathan: “You really get the syrup, and it does sort of taste like chicken and waffles, but not very good versions of either. It’s so sweet. I don’t know if I’d eat more than three or four at a time.”

Jennifer: “That syrupy sweetness hits you right off the bat. And chicken ‘flavored’ anything creeps me out. I’d much rather have the real thing.”

Teresa: “Maple came on strong and fake up front; it’s disappointing that the test kitchen distilled ‘waffle’ into ‘Mrs. Butterworth's.’ It reminded me of one of those packets of artificially flavored maple instant oatmeal or Quaker apple-cinnamon rice cakes. The ‘chicken’ component was straight-up McCormick chicken bouillon cubes. Chips with a sweet component are always a risk, and this flavor was the most pronounced fake — but I suspect that’s because it wasn’t loaded down with various forms of cheese, so points for that.

“In a year or two, everyone will be tired of the chicken and waffle trend, so this seems doomed. But just to be contrary I will give this my vote because I resent the heaping helpings of cheese in the other two flavors, especially the sneaky dose on the sriracha!”

Sriracha

Rachael: “My favorite! The new panko bread crumbs? I think so.”

Claire: “I’m not a fan of spicy foods in general, but surprisingly the sriracha flavor shined without being overly hot. It’s my No. 2 pick.

Jonathan: “I use sriracha a lot, because I’m bad at cooking, so this is right up my alley. Definitely my favorite, but I still don’t think I’d put this in my regular chip rotation. It tastes like sriracha, but it’s flat.”

Jennifer: “These are by far the best — probably because of the slightly less offensive faux flavors. It’ll do if I am desperate for crunchy carbs.”

Teresa: “This doesn’t seem all that different from the spice mix on their cousin product, spicy nacho Doritos, other than it contains a sour, fermented note that’s due to the addition of cream cheese, cheddar, Swiss and sour cream. Does sriracha sauce have cheese in it? I did like the sensory value of the heat, the way it sits on the front of your tongue only, not the back. It has no after-burn; pretty much as soon you swallow the chips, the heat goes away. So in order to sustain the heat, you have to keep eating them, which makes it the smartest flavor of the three.”

So there you have it: Sriracha was the office favorite, followed by chicken and waffles. That said, nobody fell in love with any of these flavors (except perhaps Rachael and her beloved sriracha). It raises the question: Does Lay’s need to expand its lineup? Like Coca-Cola knows all too well — remember Coca-Cola black cherry vanilla? — a brand is probably best served by its staples.

But, hey, someone’s going to win at least a million bucks, and you can help make that happen.

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Vote on Facebook, via Twitter with hashtags #SaveGarlicBread, #SaveChickenWaffles or #SaveSriracha, or via text message by texting "VOTE" to CHIPS. You can vote every day through May 4.