Okay, so, I have a confession to make. The novelty Lay's chips are really, really growing on me. Growing on me like an unstoppable fungus of flavor. Here are my tasting notes and serving suggestions.
CHEDDAR BACON MAC & CHEESE LAY'S – Clearly the shoo-in to win the competition as the low-hanging fruit, this was the only flavor my tasting buddies were all looking forward to. They are thin and crispy, with classic powdered cheese and Bac-o flavors, and I was even convinced I could detect the faint cardboardy taste of macaroni noodles. The aftertaste is mainly salt. These will go with anything, but I recommend crumbling them up as a crispy finishing topping for actual macaroni and cheese. Meta!
MANGO SALSA WAVY LAY'S – These are very thick-textured, even thicker than Ruffles chips, with an aggressive crunch. There is a significant initial nose of mango, in all of its fruity and turpentiney redolence, with following faintly spicy notes from the “salsa" powder. The aftertaste is reminiscent of plastic. I tried dipping these into spicy guacamole, and that combination worked out well, since the funkiness of the mango powder was smoothed out nicely by the avocado, and it kicked up the spice as well.
CAPPUCCINO LAY'S – Oh, cappuccino. Everyone was dreading you, and one of my tasters even spit you out. However, these chips are slowly becoming my freakish new obsession. They are thin and crispy, with an intense aroma of coffee, which is the first strong flavor to hit the tongue. One beat later, you also taste sugar, dairy, a hint of vanilla, and for some reason, a serious note of cinnamon. But damned if it doesn't taste just like a cappuccino! The finish contains just a whisper of salt and potato that reminds you of the incongruous fact that you are eating a chip. These things are a miracle of engineering, but they won’t go with a sandwich. Eat them plain, or with coffee, or with something sweet – I bet they’d be unbelievable crushed over chocolate ice cream, actually.
My secret cult favorite last year was the Chicken & Waffles, and this year, it is definitely the Cappuccino. There might be something a little bit wrong with me. Okay, a lot of things.
I received a question as to whether the Cappuccino Lays are, in fact, caffeinated. I laughed - then I checked the back of the bag. And I'll be damned, how about that: they anticipated this question. Non-caffeinated - but it does contain real milk ingredients.
PRO TIP FOR USE OF CAPPUCCINO CHIP LEFTOVERS: I baked Potato Chip Cookies, which are regular Tollhouse-style chocolate chip cookies, but with the addition of crumbled potato chips over the top before baking. They are always a sweet and salty masterpiece, but this time, I made them with the leftover Cappuccino chips, per the suggestion of a baker friend of mine. Pure genius: allow me to present Lay's Cappuccino Potato Chip Chocolate Chip Cookies. They were spectacular - chewy and buttery, chocolately and crispy, with just a hint of Cappuccino flavor and just the faintest whiff of Wrong.
WASABI GINGER KETTLE-COOKED LAY'S:
After my initial tasting of the first three flavors, finally found a bag of Wasabi Ginger Kettle Cooked Lay's, the last novelty Lay's flavor of 2014. Bottom line: they are surprisingly pleasant! Unlike the other flavors, these have no artificial aroma, giving off only the intoxicating scent of fried potato.
Being the kettle-cooked variety, the chips are aggressively crunchy, the shapes irregular and crumpled. The color is mostly blond, but with small green flecks that foreshadow the flavor.
When the chips hit the tongue, there is a fleeting sensation of pickled sushi ginger, which quickly gives way to the horseradish burn of wasabi. Then that flavor also fades, leaving the rich golden aftertaste of a good kettle chip.
I don't make sushi at home, but these would be amazing crushed up and added to a novelty roll of some kind. A friend suggested making a crispy avocado roll with this - the burn of the wasabi and the crisp of the chip juxtaposed with the cool unctuousness of the avocado would be sublime.
Also, as an aside, I should point out that the flash on my camera pulled a little bit of mischief with the bag, here. Kettle Cooked, Kettle Cocked, whatever.