The snack that makes you envy Canada

A brief history of ketchup chips

Hello, Snackers. Today on Snack Stack:

Ketchup Chips

Manufacturer photo / Snack Stack illustration

The basics

Potato chips but, you know, with a ketchup flavuor.

Find it in

Canada

The intel

These right here are one of Canada’s favourite snacks—and, yes, I’m going to use Canadian spellings to add extra colour to this post, at least until I give up, because it actually takes a tonne of attention and labour.

Like the spelling of words, snacks can vary widely between places and cultures that might seem remarkably similar. According to Statista, the most popular flavours of potato chip in the USA (other than plain), are barbecue, sour cream and onion, and salt and vinegar. Head just north, to the land of Tim Horton’s and the Tragically Hip, and things change. As of a few years ago, the most popular flavour of Ruffles in Canada was called All Dressed, but nothing quite captures the imagination like ketchup chips—they are “an iconic flavour,” according to Lay’s executive Katie Ceclan, interviewed by the Chicago Tribune’s Louisa Chu a few years back.

Ceclan says that Hostess (which spun off into Lay’s) developed the flavour in the 1970s “to mimic the taste of french fries and ketchup, and put it on a potato chip … It's almost a sweeter barbecue.” (NB: Around the same time, Hostess also tried out orange, cherry, and grape-flavoured potato chips, none of which lasted long.) So why didn’t it take in the USA, where there are a million other flavours available in every corner store? Ceclan speculates it’s a matter of varying national tastes:

“We tend to see in the United States some of the profiles that are a little more smoky, even tangy,” said Ceclan. “Think of the different barbecue flavors you might see that vary regionally.”

May I respectfully add a parallel possibility? Americans like their flavoured chips with strong and/or evocative flavours—flavours that can be marketed as bold (Hot Cheetos or even Cool Ranch Doritos, for which the “Cool” is essential) or that conjure something beyond “I am eating a potato right now” (barbecue, for example). The USA likes its quirky flavours to feel quirky and ketchup doesn’t offer that, although if any brand started marketing ketchup chips in the USA as a NEW INTRIGUING CANADIAN THING, with a flashy ad involving Drake dressed as a Mountie serving ketchup chips on a hockey stick … it might work. I await my royalty check.

Anyway, here’s a video of Irish people trying ketchup chips and doing their best Canadian impressions. (That preview image doesn’t do it justice; the video is charming and wholesome and funny.)

Get it here

Convenience stores and grocery stores across Canada or your favorite Canadian import store wherever you are. (Canadian import stores are totally a thing, don’t you have them in your city? Well, here’s an online version, which sells ketchup chips for a jarring $7.64 USD for just over 8 ounces.)

Will you like it? 

Probably!

Read more

Chicago Tribune: “Who makes the best ketchup chips? Yes, they’re a thing. And we tried 13 brands from Canada” (Bonus: I like how this story also ran in Canadian newspapers, but the headline was tweaked to be, basically, “The USA noticed us!! What do they think of us??”)

CBC: “7 Canadian snacks you can't get in the U.S. and the backstory on why”

The Takeout: “What Canadians understand about ketchup chips that Americans don’t

Chatelaine: “A Definitive Ranking Of Canada's Best Ketchup Chips”

Want another snack?

Don’t forget to check out the pantry (er, archives) and see what you’ve missed—and, if you’re not a paid subscriber, to see what you’re missing! Recent posts include a Dutch cow udder snack (with a cameo by a charismatic poet), a cotton candy-filled crepe from Thailand (with a seriously captivating “how it’s made” video), and a pollen candy from Iraq’s marshlands (with bonus notes on the region’s floating houses made of reeds).

Happy snacking!