In November last year, snack food giant Herr’s announced a casting call for new potato chip flavors. The Nottingham, Pennsylvania-based company called upon a city near and dear to its heart—and its headquarters—to help them.
“For 75 years Herr’s has made Philadelphians’ preferred snack foods, and we are proud to be surrounded by many other signature Philly foods,” said chairman and CEO Ed Herr on Herr’s website. “With the launch of our Flavored by Philly chips, we are giving our fans the opportunity to blend Philadelphia-inspired flavors with their favorite hometown chip, and also share in our legacy to give back to the local community.”
Herr, alongside former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Mike Quick and chef Darlene Jones, judged the contest, which was open to all Philadelphians. After a few months of deliberation, the trio chose three finalist flavors: Wiz Wit, which embodied the classic Philadelphia cheesesteak with onions and cheese whiz; Long Hots & Sharp Provolone, two staple toppings of Philly hoagies such as the famous roast pork sandwich; and (215) Special Sauce, a combination of ketchup, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. The overall winner is decided by fan vote, which runs through August 5.
As a Philadelphian myself, I copped a bag of each (if you’re not in Pennsylvania, you can order the trio online) to see how these chip flavors stood up to their namesakes.
The Philadelphia cheesesteak is a sacred food item in the 215, so sacred, that it requires its own language to order. Walk up to a tourist spot like Pat’s or Geno’s in South Philly, and you better be prepared to order a “wiz wit”—a cheesesteak slathered in cheese “wiz” and topped “wit” onions. Luckily, other joints in the city won’t give you the stink eye if you order straightforwardly, and you’ll probably get a better cheesesteak (I recommend Dallesandro’s in Roxborough).
The Wiz Wit Herr’s package is a cheery orange-yellow and boasts the Philadelphia skyline on top. A photo of an authentic-looking cheesesteak and a ladle of cheese whiz sits front and center. When I pop open the bag, a puff of meat and cheese hits my nostrils. It’s a little strong, and the meatiness is unsettling, considering I know for a fact there’s no meat in the bag.
Upon the first crunch, it’s all cheese, like how a cheddar and sour cream chip tastes. But mid-chew, the eerie ribeye flavor takes over and only dissipates when onion comes at the backend of the bite and stays on my palate after I swallow.
I have to hand it to Herr’s. It does taste like a Philly cheesesteak. Just not a good Philly cheesesteak. While the onion is on point (unsurprising, considering the commonality of onion on chips), the cheese never reaches the tanginess of real whiz, and the fake meat flavor is discomforting. I check the ingredients list in hopes of an explanation. I see garlic powder, onion powder, salt, paprika, and a mysteriously unnamed “natural flavor” that is likely the meaty culprit.
Would I eat them again? Probably not. Would I recommend trying them? Only if you’re curious. Otherwise, skip them to save up for a plane ticket to Philly so you can eat a real cheesesteak.
Philadelphia is also known for its roast pork sandwiches, which fly under the culinary radar compared to the cheesesteak. Besides the obvious difference between pork and beef, the roast pork sandwich trades whiz for provolone and onions for various green veggies. Depending on the restaurant, you might see broccoli rabe, spinach, or long hots, which are Italian peppers typically roasted or fried.
I tear open the top of the package—green this time, picturing twin long hots and a chunk of provolone—and it smells like your typical jalapeño chip. I munch on one and immediately discern the provolone, though I’d classify it as mild rather than sharp.
Then comes the nip of the pepper, which is the perfect amount of spice. The provolone softens the blow but doesn’t overpower the heat. I’m surprised by how vegetal and fresh it tastes for a chip, and it’s quite pleasant. Yup, I like this one.
I have a single complaint, but it’s significant. There aren’t any long hots in the seasoning—just jalapeño. It feels like a cheap move, like Herr’s just used leftover spice from their jalapeño kettle chips. Regardless, this one is worth trying.
I have to be honest with you. I’ve never heard of Philadelphia special sauce in my decade living here. Neither has Google apparently, because the top result for the query “Philadelphia special sauce” is just a link to purchase the flavored Herr’s chips. But according to the bag, Gregory from the 215 submitted the flavor, so I can’t dispute their experience.
The special sauce is a mixture of ketchup, hot sauce, salt, and pepper—each prominently featured on the red package. But when I open the bag, all I get is ketchup. And I’m not talking about “dipping my fries” ketchup. I’m talking about “tap the bottom of the bottle and all its contents splash out, drowning your meal” ketchup.
The initial flavor is so overpoweringly sweet that I’m zealously relieved when the hot sauce kicks in at the end. That hot sauce pang is thanks to cayenne pepper, so it’s akin to how Frank’s Red Hot tastes. After finishing the bag, my fingers are crusted with red dust. If you’re a finger-licking kind of person, it’s right up your alley, but sadly it’s a detriment for me.
All in all, if you love ketchup, then you’ll love this chip. But if you’re meh on the tomato-based condiment, skip this flavor
Even though I only really liked one of the flavors, I had a blast trying them all. Potato chip companies aren’t out here dedicating entire flavors to specific cities or communities, so the fact that Herr’s did so is charming. If you turn over each package, you can read the contest finalists describe their connection to their respective flavors. The blurbs are so thoughtful that I almost forget it’s just a bag of chips.
Needless to say, I voted for Long Hots & Provolone to win it all. But I’m just a single vote—there’s still plenty of time to cast yours before August 5. The eventual winner receives $10,000; a year’s supply of Herr’s and a $10,000 donation to a Philadelphia non-profit of their choice.