As you may know, Walkers Crisps (known as Lay’s in the US – and yes, I am jealous of the apostrophe) recently ran a competition to find a new flavour. They’ve got it down to six: Builder’s Breakfast, Cajun Squirrel, Chilli & Chocolate, Crispy Duck & Hoisin, Fish & Chips and Onion Bhaji. Here they are:
This experimental bunch have just gone on sale, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to buy them all and give them a completely non-expert taste test. And if you were wondering, this post wasn’t commissioned or endorsed or even known about by Walkers. But in the extremely unlikely event that they want to retrospectively furnish my bank account for it, then I will probably say yes. Full disclosure!
Anyway, here goes the test.
Challenge 1: getting hold of all six
This shouldn’t even have been part of the test, but the truth is, it was a bit of a faff trying to actually buy the crisps. I went to my local Tesco, nothing. Local Sainsbury’s – only Onion Bhaji. Newsagent? Nothing. Costcutter? Not a packet in sight.
Finally, thankfully, I found the other five flavours at Sainsbury’s on Mortimer Street in W1. But this part really lets the high-profile campaign down. How can you vote for your favourite if you can’t get hold of the contestants? Not everyone can get to a supermarket in central London.
The taste test
I roped in my other half, better known as Planbot for this part, because two people’s opinions are better than one, and also because he was so excited about the new flavours that he was practically chewing on the packets. We went through them alphabetically, with water in between flavours.
I thought my favourite would be the Hoisin Duck, and Planbot said Fish & Chips. It seemed likely to me that Onion Bhaji would be the worst, whereas Planbot thought it’d be Chilli & Chocolate for sure.
So, were we right?
Flavour 1: Builder’s Breakfast
I’m a bit disappointed that they called this a builder’s breakfast and not something like Full English, though it isn’t technically full. The builder connection puts me off – it makes me think of greasy spoons, not scrummy crisps.
Smells like: Smoky Bacon mixed with the old ketchup flavour
Tastes like: Smoky Bacon and ketchup – but with an eggy taste that creeps up on you after the first couple of crisps and doesn’t quit. I found it offputting but Planbot quite liked it.
Are they nice? Quite nice. I’d say a 6, Planbot says 7. Definitely edible, but there’s potential for an eggy breath issue. Though nothing tops Cheese & Onion breath, and they sell thousands.
Do they taste right? I’d say so. I could definitely taste bacon, egg and tomato, but not really sausage. Nonetheless, that’s a good effort, so I’d say 9 for tasting right.
Overall? They’re decent. Neither of us were mad about them but we couldn’t really fault them either. Planbot initially said he’d buy them again, but later changed his mind. I guess this means they’re divisive – or mediocre.
Flavour 2: Cajun Squirrel
The name of this one is really offputting to me. The thought of eating squirrel puts me in mind of roadkill. But they’re only crisps, and no real squirrels were harmed in the flavouring process (they asked someone who’d already eaten one to help get it right), so I gave them a fair try.
Smells like: Almost exactly like the existing Roast Chicken flavour.
Tastes like: The roast chicken is definitely there, but with a spicy cajun twist. I have an immensely sensitive mouth and these made it burn a bit, but Planbot is more normal and he was fine with them.
Are they nice? Quite nice. If you like Roast Chicken and spice, you’ll love them. I was a bit put off by the strength of the spice, but Planbot thought they were nice enough.
Do they taste right? Only someone who’s eaten squirrel can answer that properly. But the cajun taste was pretty spot-on, in a synthetic-ish crisp way, of course.
Overall? We both agreed we wouldn’t buy these again. I would if they were less hot, and Planbot would if they were considerably nicer. I can definitely see these being a hit, though.
Flavour 3: Chilli & Chocolate
Planbot thought these would be vile. I was intrigued. I like chocolate, and I’ve been told it pairs unexpectedly well with chilli, so I was hopeful.
Smells like: I can’t think of anything to compare the smell to. You can definitely smell chilli, and something else, but that something else isn’t chocolate. Or, at least, not any chocolate I’ve ever had.
Tastes like: I found these really spicy and, predictably, they burnt my mouth a bit. Planbot, on the other hand, didn’t find them particularly spicy at all. I couldn’t taste the chocolate, but Planbot could and thought it was really synthetic and powdery. Horrible.
Are they nice? No, we both really disliked them.
Do they taste right? High marks for chilli, zero marks for chocolate.
Overall? I can’t imagine a market for these. Chocolate lovers won’t like them, and chilli lovers will probably be put off by the weird powdery accompaniment.
Flavour 4: Crispy Duck & Hoisin
These were the ones I thought I’d like best. I love crispy duck and I love hoisin sauce, so it seemed a fairly sure bet.
Smells like: A Chinese takeaway. They smell impressively similar to a real duck dish.
Tastes like: Duck pancakes – exactly like them. Somehow they’ve captured the duck, the pancake, even the cucumber and spring onions. And the sauce, of course.
Are they nice? Definitely. We both liked these.
Do they taste right? They really do. They’ve got it just right. 10/10 for accuracy (bearing in mind that it’s still going to taste like a crisp and not a hot duck dish, obviously).
Overall? I’m eating these right now. I’m not sure I’d pick them up in a shop over any of the other flavours, but that might just be because they’re unfamiliar. They’re definitely tasty. If you like duck, you should love them.
Flavour 5: Fish & Chips
If I’d entered this competition, this is probably what I would have suggested. I adore fish and chips, and they’re one of the most British things ever, like Walkers. So I opened the packet with optimism.
Smells like: Fish. They smell really fishy, with a bit of vinegar. I wouldn’t say they smell like nice fish though – just generic fish.
Tastes like: They’re very fishy, and you can taste vinegar and a bit of lemon, too. I don’t think the fish taste they’ve gone for is particularly appetising, though. Neither of us could taste chips, which is a bit rubbish considering it’s a potato-based snack. Surely that should have been the easy part?
Are they nice? They’re OK. But if real fish and chips tasted like this, I wouldn’t eat it – and I do. Frequently.
Do they taste right? The fish is definitely fishy. But no chips. So only half marks.
Overall? They’re not awful by any means, they’re just not great. Planbot liked them more than I did, but neither of us could see ourselves buying them.
Flavour 6: Onion Bhaji
I’m not a big fan of Indian food (mostly because of my sensitive tongue), so I didn’t expect to like these much at all. And since they were the only flavour left at my nearest Sainsbury’s (assuming they’d stocked the other 5 and sold out), it looks like other people share my reservations.
Smells like: Walking past an Indian restaurant. Mmmmmm.
Tastes like: According to Planbot, exactly like an onion bhaji. I’ve never had one, but I can confirm that they taste like a yummy Indian dish.
Are they nice? We both liked them, though I felt the spice would be too much for me over a whole pack. They’re pretty good though.
Do they taste right? Spot on.
Overall? We both enjoyed them a lot more than we were expecting to, and they’ve got the flavour just right. Having said that, I’m not sure this flavour is really suited to crisps. I can’t imagine eating them after my lunch, it’d be too much like another main course.
I really wanted to find a new go-to crisp for potato-based snackage. But I can’t imagine myself buying any of these, unless they were the only six flavours available. I’d never go for Crispy Duck over my beloved Cheese & Onion, for instance. Though that might be unfair, because I haven’t had the same exposure to the new flavours. Maybe they’ll grow on me.
Our predictions for which flavours we’d like the best were both correct, but I misjudged Onion Bhaji by predicting it’d be the worst. It was nowhere near as bad as Chilli & Chocolate, which got the lowest scores from both of us. It’s a shame, because I could see it working as a posher “Sensations”-style crisp flavour – with a completely different taste, obviously. It’s horrible, and the only one I wouldn’t recommend trying if you’re considering giving a few of these a test run.
Except C&C, the flavours are all OK. None of them are stand-out amazing, but they’re all edible, and if you could somehow not mentally compare them to the flavour you’ve been eating since you were a kid, they’re all pretty good. But, of course, most of the other flavours have an existing emotional connection, which makes it hard to love these interlopers.
Of course, these are only mine and Planbot’s opinions. I don’t like Salt & Vinegar flavour, and that’s doing pretty well for itself. So if you get the chance to, you should definitely sample these yourself, and vote. I’ve texted in my vote for Crispy Duck & Hoisin, and Planbot went for Fish & Chips. Not literally, unfortunately. We’re too full of crisps to have tea.
I’ll report back when we find out which flavour wins, but in the meantime, let me know what you think of any you’ve tried or would like to try. This is a nice example of an interactive promotion, and I’d like to see the right flavour win.