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Taste This: Pringles

By Mike Breen · January 26th, 2011 · Lost in the Supermarket

The evolution of flavor represented in Americans’ diet over the course of U.S. history has gone from a timid, “lightly salted” hint to today’s loud barrage of often bewildering tastes.

During a recent grocery trip, I was in the snack aisle and was stopped dead in my tracks by an almost psychedelically colorful tower of products. It was the magical land of Pringles, standing out with gaudy insistency. Pringles have always been one of the more “vanilla” salty food snacks on the market. Not bland, per se, just simple. And in today’s “Everything! Now!” culture, that’s just not going to cut it.

In the founding days of the company, I envision Mr. Pringle (who hopefully looked exactly like the mustachioed imp on the packaging) gathering his employees together to explain his vision. “We shall make a more orderly chip, uniform in design and free of the usual chip imperfections! Oh, and we’re putting them in tennis ball cans.” After the stunned silence, the development team came up with the chip that has been an American junk-food staple ever since.

At some point, producing a potato chip that tasted like potatoes just wasn’t enough. Enouraged by the success of barbecue, Mr. Pringle, like a chips version of Willy Wonka, probably instructed his team to make Pringles in every flavor imaginable, leading to today’s overabundance of Pringles options.

My first sampling was Mexican Layered Dip Pringles from the company’ Restaurant Cravers line based on unhealthy appetizers like Mozzarella Sticks and Onion Blossoms.

I soon learned that there is no such thing as “subtlety” when it comes to Pringles’ more radical flavors. They resembled some sort of hot sauce-doused monstrosity you’d eat at Taco Bell after a weekend bender, leaving my mouth disoriented.

The dizzying flavor was more expected from Pringles’ “Xtreme” line of chips. The Xtreme cans feature an “edgy” design, targeting those 13-year-old kids looking for a starch for their balanced meal of Sour Patch Kids and Mountain Dew Baja Blast. Xtreme Pringles feature the slogan “Test Your Taste Buds!” Indeed, if you ever feel like your sense of taste has gone, Screamin’ Dill Pickle Pringles will let you know instantly.

I love pickles more than Snooki and Anna Nicole Smith combined, but it seems like Pringles magnifies its tastes as much as possible. These tasted like pickles marinated for 50 years and then injected with super-pickle steroids.

The flavors are fun, but it’s the kind of fun that’ll leave you with a stomach ache if you eat more than one (which, per the brand’s slogan “Once You Pop, You Can’t Stop,” is physically impossible). To be fair, I was warned. All of the Xtreme cans feature a freshness seal that reads, “Warning: Xtreme Flavors Inside.”

The warning is almost justified withthe Ragin’ Cajun Pringles. Again, the flavoring overkill makes it hard to distinguish exactly what flavor Pringles was going for (a blind taste test in which the taster must pinpoint the flavor inspiration would probably be revelatory). But after a few of the overly spicy Cajun chips, I could barely feel my tongue anyway.

My last sampling was the Pizza Pringles. On the can’s flavor seal was an ad for Pringles’ line of Multi Grain chips, as if to say, “These are really bad for you, so try a healthier alternative, fatty.” While still a strange mélange of flavors, the Pizza chips were like eating a saltine after the first three samples. They did somewhat taste like pizza, but more like the cardboard and cheese concoctions they serve in hospital cafeterias.

While it makes sense for companies to offer a wider variety of products to its customers, Pringles’ limitless offerings seem destined to confuse the marketplace. Just like the Internet and cable television, Pringles ridiculously huge selection disproves the old MTV slogan, “Too much is never enough.” More often than not, too much is just too much.

CONTACT MIKE BREEN: mbreen@citybeat.com



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