THE GREASY HISTORY OF POTATO CHIPS
The average American eats 4lbs of potato chips every single year. That’s 64 bags of chips over the course of 365 days.
If you follow this study done by the good folks over at Thrillist, you could say the average American is eating roughly 10k single potato chips over the course of 12 months.
The potato chip is a pantry staple, a sandwich sidekick, the perfect palate pleaser.
There’s no denying that the potato chip is a go-to when your taste buds are craving a little extra crunch, but what most don’t realize is there’s a rather deep and greasy history around this snack that may surprise you.
We like to consider ourselves snack savants, and did the deep research for you, so without further ado, here is the greasy history of the potato chip and how it became one of the most popular snacks on the planet.
Turn the clocks back to 1853…
The President is Franklin Pierce (anybody know who the hell that is?) and New York City’s Bryant park was popping with the The Exhibition of Industry of All Nations that was making its debut in the United States.
About 3.5 hours north of NYC, the small town of Saratoga was about to cement its place in history as Cornelius Vanderbilt—yes, the founder of Vanderbilt University—walked into the Moon’s Lake House craving a snack.
The head chef, George Crum—a local legend and noted chef in the town, served up a fresh plate of meat and potatoes to Mr. Vanderbilt. To his surprise the railroad tycoon despised the potato portion, requesting that Crum bring him another batch, but sliced thinner.
Crum walked back into the kitchen ready to stuff Vanderbilt’s face with the thinnest set of potatoes he could, knowing full well the oil would burn them to a crisp, leaving the patron with a bitter taste in his mouth.
Upon serving these thin taters, Crum was shocked to see Vanderbilt actually stuffing his face full of them. One after the other, he crunched down and the sound of shattering chips echoed inside Moon’s Lake House.
@bean_thinkin George Crum? So good at customer feedback that he (maybe) invented the 🐐 of all snacks #snacksmarter #snack #foodhistory #eatsmarter #healthychoices ♬ Love Story (Taylor’s Version) - Taylor Swift
It wasn’t long after Vanderbilt scarfed down Crum’s fried concoction that the entire town of Saratoga knew that was the place to get the perfect potato. Crum himself was even dubbed the “Edison of Grease” and residents came flocking to his spot just to try a few chips for themselves.
This was the birth of potato chips—or was it?
The great and greasy debate…
Though many of the folks in Saratoga would credit Moon’s Lake House with the development of the potato chip, there's a question as to who actually invented them and who the first person was to try them.
Some would side with Crum, saying he was slinging petite potatoes right from the kitchen to everyday customers. But when you read his obituary, there’s not a single mention of them anywhere—you’d think a man who invented such a snack would get some credit.
Others would claim it was his sister Eliza, the true cook of Moon’s Lake, who was credited with being the real brains behind the thinly sliced snack that was fed to customers.
Meanwhile, other rumors swirl in Saratoga that a man named Hiram S. Thomas was really the first person to sell potato chips out of Moon’s Lake House, calling them Saratoga Chips—but he didn’t start working at the spot until 40 years after our man Mr. Crum.
There’s plenty of theories to go around and each path you travel to find the truth arguably ends up leaving you more confused than when you started. Especially considering that some foodies believe the potato chip wasn’t even invented on U.S. soil, but rather British.
The crispy snack from across the pond…
While George Crum and his sister we’re still kids, there was a British doctor by the name of William Kitchiner who was crafting up his first cookbook called, The Cook’s Oracle.
Inside this Catholic family cookbook, on page 157, Kitchener directly mentions a dish simply called, “potatoes fried in slices or shavings”.
This rather simple recipe instructs cooks to slice up their potatoes into extremely thin pieces or shavings, fry them in lard or oil, and top them with a pinch of salt when finished.
I’m not sure about you, but that sounds most definitely like some potato chips to me.
If that’s the case, one could make the argument that Kitchiner, who mine as well be named Dr. Kitchen, was the first person to actually document and suggest the making of a potato chip—making Crum and Thomas’ claims false.
@bean_thinkin What an American move to take what’s not yours and make it your own. What’s your go-to chip? #snacksmarter #snack #eatsmarter #healthysnacks #chips ♬ original sound - Bean Thinkin
The gods of grease don’t care for credit…
Whether you’re siding with Crum and the folks over at Moon’s Lake House, or you’d rather side with the potato doctor from Great Britain, one thing is for sure: the gods of grease don’t discriminate when it comes to slinging potato slices.
The proof is in the potatoes…
In 1932, Herman Lay opened his first production facility in Nashville, TN and named it the H.W. Lay Lingo & Co. This would be the foundation for one of the most iconic chip brands in the game. You guessed it, Lays.
While potato chips were nothing new at this time, one thing that Herman did differently was marketing. Instead of selling slices to the rich and wealthy in hotels and restaurants, he thought there was a better way to sell potato chips to the common man.
What better way to appeal to them than with a little encouragement?
As Herman traveled around the southeast, slinging chips out the back of his pickup truck, he told customers these potato chips were “special”, so “special” they were considered an aphrodisiac.
Now this was nothing new at the time, doctors in the 1800’s believed that potatoes were the cure for a little limp dick and they could even cure leprosy, but what was new were these bagged snacks that were packed with salty crunch you couldn’t get anywhere else.
Fast forward 30 years and thousands of bags later, Herman Lay partnered with another chip champion of the time called Frito. You guessed it right again, this partnership is what would become the infamous snack juggernaut Frito-Lay—makers of every crunch chip on planet earth (almost).
Today, Frito-Lay rakes in an average of $127 million annually, slinging over 32 different kinds of snacks including some originals that have been around for decades.
But they aren’t the only ones prospering off potatoes…
If you ever find yourself driving through the plains of Pennsylvania, make sure to mark your map on the town called Hannover. It might not seem like anything special, but let me tell you, this place is precious when it comes to potatoes.
Type Hannover, PA into Google and you’ll get a resounding response—the potato chip capital of the U.S.
That’s right, there are more potato chip brands in Hannover than anywhere else in the world. They’ve got snack supergiant Snyders, Utz, Wise, Herr’s, Martins, Middlesworth, Goods, Bickels, Nibble with Gibbles, and so much more, your stomach will hurt just thinking about them.
If you’re really in the mood to get a taste of every single tater chip you can get your hands on, Hannover is by far the best location to make it happen.
For those who don’t want to roadtrip for a few snacks…
If you’re like me and potato chips aren’t worth the drive to PA, I challenge you with this: go to your local grocery store, find 3 different chips that you like, and take all three home with you.
Next time you're craving the salty snack, pay attention to the bag you choose first, it will say everything about your chip preference. Once you know, do a little searching and try to find the origin story of your snack—you may be surprised what you find.
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