Crunch!: a History of the Great American Potato Chip, by Dick Burhans. Terrace Books, a trade imprint of the University of Wisconsin Press, 2008.
Before I started this book, I hadn’t eaten many potato chips and thought they were pretty much alike. I learned otherwise as I read this book. The potato chip origin, mythology and business are all in it. It starts and ends with kettle chips, and spends time on the potato chip wars, where Frito-Lay emerged victorious over the national market. I thought the first half of the book could have been done in ten pages, but didn’t see the second half that way. Who would have known there was so much in making and processing potato chips? Fat is explored here, too, with different fats producing different chip tastes and textures. If you want saturated fat (lard), or trans fats, or vegetable oils, they are available, but not all in the same chip.
A small amount of space is devoted to potato chip nutrition, but potato chip devotees are quoted as saying that if people want nutritious snacks, they aren’t likely to eat potato chips anyway. The small localized chip companies apparently are having some success with chips that aren’t uniform like the national brands, and flavors abound. It’s not your grandmother’s potato chip any more, even if it’s made in a kettle again.
Now I am eating potato chips again and having some appreciation for the uniqueness of the different brands. They’re not all alike.