If precedent has taught us anything, it's that Taste Test favors the cuisine of Japan and Great Britain. (Sure, Germany gave us the cheeseburger in a can, but what else?) We devoted an entire month to strange foodstuffs from the former, and we giggled like schoolchildren while sampling the latter's spotted dick.
Our fascination with Japanese snack food makes sense, at least on the surface: The stuff we've taste-tested has generally been garishly decorated, covered in characters we couldn't read, and largely unknowable in nature until we bit in. It couldn't help but be exotic to us fanny-packed Americans, who tend to drool slackly onto our GOD DON'T MAKE NO TRASH T-shirts. But English food? Our ties to that country run deep; could our tastes really diverge so much?
If the batch of six different Walkers "flavour potato crisps" is any indication, yes. (We'll assess the totality of English food on this quick judgment—we are Americans, after all.) Oh, you Brits and your wacky flavors that make us recoil: Cajun Squirrel (huh?), Builder's Breakfast (wha?), Chilli & Chocolate (yes, with two Ls), Fish & Chips (chips-flavored chips?), Crispy Duck & Hoisin, and Onion Bhaji.
To be fair, these aren't staples of the Walkers brand, but part of the new "Do us a flavour" contest: Britons can vote for one of them to become the next official Walkers flavor. So it's not like lads and lasses in the UK walk the streets every day, stuffing their maws with duck-flavored potato chips, just like the U.S. isn't filled with people craving tortilla chips that taste like goddamn Mountain Dew. And if that Walkers logo looks familiar, that's because it is: The company is owned by Frito-Lay (itself owned by that purveyor of shitty soda, PepsiCo), and its logo is based on Lay's. So, by transitive property, these chips—er, crisps—are American products! (Although the Walkers website proudly proclaims they use only British potatoes. Pshaw, potatoes account for the very existence of one of our 50 states, dudes. You can't top that.)
But Walkers is no stranger to flavors odd to North American palates: Steak & Onion, Chilli & Lemon (again with the two Ls in chili?), Roast Chicken, Prawn Cocktail, Marmite (that horrible shit made from yeast extract, like vegemite), Worcester Sauce, and most offensive of all, Pickled Onion. Those must exist purely to prop up the English breath-mint industry. Altoids make so much sense now.
So Walkers, if you're looking for input from the Yanks, here's what we had to say about the six candidates for the next Walkers flavor:
Taste: The flavors obviously vary greatly, but the chips themselves have the look, feel, and crispness of your basic Lay's potato chip. The flavors themselves were unanimously disliked, some only mildly (Onion Bhaji wasn't popular, Cajun Squirrel had a few fans), others with searing white-hot hatred (Builder's Breakfast).
With the exceptions of the self-explanatory Chilli & Chocolate and Fish & Chips, all were greeted with confusion. Nobody knew what "onion bhaji" meant, though after some quick Internet searching, we learned it's a fried-onion dish that's a popular appetizer at Indian restaurants, at least in the UK. (Sort of like tortilla chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants here, maybe?) Then there was Builder's Breakfast: egg, bacon, sausage, beans, and some tomato sauce. Okay, sure, that makes sense. "A sound combination that fills your heart and stomach with joy," says the Walkers website, though our tasters disagreed vehemently.
But what the hell is a Cajun Squirrel? The Walkers website offered no flavor info, other than a couple of poor saps in furry squirrel outfits, complete with fake buck teeth and painted-on whiskers, next to text saying, "We believe in the right for a man to bare nuts." Uh… The packaging only makes vague references to "cajun flavour," so we're becoming convinced the people at Walkers actually have no idea what they're doing here. Although the squirrel bit may be a dig at some of our Southern brethren, who have been known to eat the li'l critters.
No matter the name, all of the chips tended to hit strong with one flavor, then exit with something different and milder. For instance, the Crispy Duck & Hoisin hit strong with duck, then left with a bit of plummy hoisin sauce. Builder's Breakfast punches you in the face with egg, in defiance of God Himself, then dares you to keep tasting its wretchedness. Only the Fish & Chips were fish all the way through.
• "It just tastes like barbecue." "Yeah, real light barbecue."
• [Tasha makes a very perplexed expression.] "It tastes a little of onion salt, a little of cumin, but not much else. It's more like naked potato than anything else."
• "Very onion-y aftertaste. It's got a little bit of a curry kick." "There's no good comeback to that! I can't say 'TMI' or anything." "Everything's anticlimactic after the pig lips."
• "One-dimensional onion taste—like Funyuns, but these are easier to eat."
• "So these are apparently the British version of Funyuns, as if that nastiness needed to be exported."
• "It tastes like salty nothing. No wonder everybody's getting a different flavor here. Any flavor is entirely in your head, based on what you think a bhaji is supposed to taste like."
Fish & Chips
• "I'm worried it's going to taste like fish-food flakes." "How would you know what fish food tastes like?"
• "Oh wow, I kinda like it… I'm not crazy about the aftertaste, but the first bite isn't bad."
• "This is all fish, and it's an abomination."
• "Ooh nasty—vinegar at first, then it all goes productively downhill."
• "They taste like cheap fish sticks. Overcooked cheap frozen fish sticks. Why would anyone do this to a chip, much less a chip-eater?"
• "It tastes like Filet-o-Fish smells."
• "OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!" [Winces.] "It made me gag really hard!"
• "A cruel-joke kind of chip. Like visiting the sea at low tide—fishy in a bad way. They should have leaned more toward salt and vinegar, or even a tartar-sauce flavor. Essence of fish was a bad decision."
• "These are spectacularly disgusting. Dead fish in crunchy portable form."
Crispy Duck & Hoisin
• "There's a little bit of plum going on."
• "I'm okay with this one." "It doesn't taste like a potato chip, though."
• "I got a blast of duck when I put it in my mouth, then it was all hoisin afterward."
• "It tastes like a Jolly Rancher." "A horrible, horrible Jolly Rancher."
• "This tastes like fish food smells."
• "I'm getting a sweet-rancid thing."
• "I'm not even sure what I'm tasting. It's just a weird, sweet nothingness."
• "They just taste like plum chips. I'm not getting duck at all. I'm fine with that, but I don't know what's worse, what I'm eating, or the meat-flavored alternative."
Chilli & Chocolate
• "It's a little bit of chocolate and a little bit of chili, but it's not overwhelming."
• "They smell exactly like itching powder."
• "Oh, this is not okay."
• "It just tastes really dull." "It tastes like licking a tire."
• "It tastes like rubber and dirt."
• "I think they get better as you go." "I think it's the opposite."
• "I would eat these." "No, it's just as bad."
• "My stomach's starting to feel a cumulative effect at this point."
• "These are probably the most intriguing. I keep going back for more even though I didn't really want them." "It's because you can't believe you're eating chili and chocolate potato chips, and you can't believe two strong flavors together equal such a weak one."
• "Moderately spicy. I don't think the chocolate added much to the flavor apart from some earthiness."
• "Mmm, vaguely spicy dust."
• "OH GOD! EGG! EGG!"
• "This is the only one that's overtly gross. Egg should never be an artificial flavoring—we learned that with the Breakfast Combos. It's impossible for fake egg to not smell and taste like feet."
• "I can smell the egg from here."
• "The worst by far."
• "Oh, feet, ugh!"
• "It's a little bit like a McMuffin." "Like a rotten McMuffin you found in the trash."
• "The hit of sulfur is overpowering. I couldn't manage taste any other flavors on this chip. After this, my stomach hurts."
• "Yeah, I really can't taste anything but slightly rotten eggs."
• "This is what I imagine clown farts smell like." "Do you spend a lot of time imagining what clown farts smell like?" "No, I'm with him. Stinky sulfur and beans, and it makes you laugh through the pain, because it's so bad."
• "No snack or chip should ever be egg-flavored, ever. No one should have to endure this."
• "Do they have a different word for squirrel in England? Maybe it means something else there." "Yeah, the British call filet mignon 'squirrel.'"
• "It tastes vaguely meat-ish."
• "It's kind of herby—I taste rosemary."
• "They taste like a barbecue rub."
• "My mouth is not a happy place to be right now."
• "Is this what squirrel tastes like? If so, I will eat the shit outta some squirrel."
• "Decidedly herbal but not overpowering. Hard to tell exactly what seasoning is in there, but rosemary is foremost for me. Possibly chives. The best of the lot."
• "These actually aren't too bad. My urge for regicide has subsided slightly."
• "Maybe I just don't hate these because I don't know what squirrel tastes like, so I don't know whether they failed as badly as they did with onions, fish, chocolate, and eggs. This just tastes like something meaty and spicy I've never tasted before. By comparison, it's gourmet awesomeness."
• [Several minutes after the Taste Test.] "I didn't think they were that bad, and then I just coughed, and it tasted like stale egg and barbecued squirrel."
Internet Eating Sensation Dave Chang tries a suicide batch of all the mashed-up chips:
Where to get them: In the UK, presumably everywhere that sells crisps. In the U.S., you'll have to visit eBay or the website britishdelights.com if you want to do this to yourself. If you just want to laugh at some crazy British people, though, we highly recommend exploring the utterly embarrassing Walkers site, where hapless Brits in ridiculous costumes are grimacing and cavorting in support of each flavor.