Update, December 13, 2021: Myself and fellow staff writer Dennis Lee conducted a taste test of all three flavors of Illegal Chips, and boy was it... interesting. To start, we dove into the horse meat. We figured this one was as close to “normal” as possible so it would ease us into the rest. I thought the horse meat chips had a subtle barbecue taste and Lee said they had a “meaty smell.” He added that the chips had some hints of tomato and was not quite barbecue but he had trouble putting his finger on the exact taste. We both reached for more chips, so they tasted pretty good overall.
We then moved onto the maggot cheese, the flavor I had the most reservations about. “It smells like feet,” Lee said. To me it was not just feet, but sweaty feet, sweaty gym feet. Smell aside, Lee thought the feet-cheese chips tasted pretty good, noting the different aged cheeses used to make the flavor and probably also help to create the smell, which I, unfortunately, couldn’t get over. MSCHF definitely got the stinky cheese part of these right.
Finally, we left the most-hyped chip flavor for last. We braced ourselves for some mouth-numbing, mind-blowing potato chip eating. This one didn’t have a discernible smell, so the true test would be the actual taste. Immediately, Lee knew the szechuan peppercorn on the ingredient list is likely what would give that tingling sensation Scherer described. Eventually, Lee said he felt a “little electric, sort of tzzzz feeling that doesn’t go away.” As I munched and munched on multiple chips though, the sensation never arrived. The chip itself actually sort of reminded me of a ranch or sour cream and onion flavored chip, but nothing unique to it.
Overall, the chips were not as intensely flavored as I had anticipated, and Lee said he’d be fine just snacking on them.
Original post November 19, 2021: Horse meat, blowfish, and maggot cheese don’t sound like ingredients most people would be lining up at the grocery store for, but what if I told you that they’re all banned in the U.S.? Does the forbidden aspect suddenly make them more desirable? Can’t say it does anything for me, but hey I’m not here to judge (yet). I’ll even point you in the right direction to try those things (legally).
New York–based art collective MSCHF just dropped three limited-edition potato chip flavors meant to mimic the taste of horse meat, blowfish, and maggot cheese. The site’s manifesto reads, “Prohibitions create desire. The grass is always greener on the other side, and forbidden fruit tastes sweetest. Illegal Chips compiles the flavors the government doesn’t want you to try. And, buddy, do they ever taste good!” Do they really? I’m not convinced.
Josh Scherer, host of the YouTube channel Mythical Kitchen and mind behind the blowfish flavor of chips, was more than happy to discuss the development of this illegal flavor, which piqued my interest.
“With the blowfish chips, don’t be afraid, don’t be ginger,” advises Scherer. “Just eat them like you would a normal bag of chips because your mouth will get a nice numbing, tingling sensation.”
Scherer, someone who has also made chili cheese fries out of pork uterus and a breakfast burrito out of bull testicle bacon, did not want to screw this one up—an impressive amount of research went into the development of the blowfish flavor. Fugu, or poisonous blowfish, is a delicacy in Japan that only licensed professionals are allowed to work with, and because of this the FDA only allows it to be served in a handful of restaurants. Scherer spoke with one of these professionals, one of the biggest blowfish importers in the U.S., to nail the flavor.
Horse meat is not actually illegal to eat in the U.S. Buying, selling, and/or distributing horse meat is illegal—the full story is a bit complicated—but consuming the meat is not illegal on its own. And anyway, the horse meat flavor of chips from this brand does not contain actual horse meat. The FAQ page for the chips explains, “Illegal Chips use flavor science to recreate these tastes without using any of the restricted ingredients.” Scherer says to go in with an open mind with this flavor and jokingly suggests that people just “think of horses, think of the movie Seabiscuit with Tobey Maguire.”
The third flavor, Casu Marzu, or maggot cheese, is illegal everywhere. As with the blowfish flavor and the horse meat, the maggot cheese was developed with the help of flavor scientists, so no laws were broken in the creation of these chips. Scherer explained development of these illegal flavors is all about distilling down to what it would taste like. For example, with pufferfish they knew it is a white fish and would have flavors that go along with that.
If you’re feeling rebellious, you can purchase all three flavors of chips for $12 on the site and you get a bonus bag (which is just one of the three flavors chosen at random). As for what to take away from this, Scherer says, “I hope people just become more curious about food in general and researching their food.”
As of publication, my own order has shipped and is on its way. Stay tuned for a mouth-numbing experience.