There are no new ideas under the sun, especially in the world of flavor trends. When it comes to novelty foodstuffs, innovation tends to come in waves, with manufacturers scrambling to merge their products with the hip flavor du jour, be it bacon, pumpkin, salted caramel, or red velvet. Some of these trends stick around and become part of the food canon alongside standards like mint and barbecue, but most fade faster than you can scoff, “Ugh, another whipped-cream-flavored vodka?”
So it makes sense that occasionally a company might reach out to its consumer base in an attempt to get out ahead of such restrictive trendcasting. Mountain Dew and Doritos did it back in 2008—and again in 2010—with the “Dewmocracy” campaign, which asked snackers to guess and choose their favorite out of a lineup of new flavor candidates. And in 2009 over in the U.K., Walkers potato chips—sorry, crisps—held the “Do Us A Flavour” contest, which resulted in proposed flavor combos such as “Builder’s Breakfast” and “Cajun Squirrel.”
Now that same spirit of crowdsourced innovation has made its way to American shores via Walkers’ Stateside parent corporation, Frito-Lay. Lay’s “Do Us A Flavor” promotion ditches that pesky “u” in “flavor” and asks red-blooded Americans to propose the new flavors they’d like seasoning the red blood in their chip-clogged arteries. According to press materials, 3.8 million suggestions were submitted (only 3.5 million of which involved bacon, probably), and the three finalist flavors are now on shelves, ready to be subjected to the supposedly discriminating taste buds of American consumers, who will vote for their favorite via this cool thing Brenda over in marketing just heard about, called “social media.” The winner gets his or her flavor put into production and a cash prize of $1 million (or 1 percent of the flavor’s net sales, whichever is higher). But the real winner here is the American public, who will no longer be limited to a paltry 43 choices of Lay’s flavors; now they will also have the choice of either Sriracha, Chicken & Waffles, or Cheesy Garlic Bread, the way God and our founding fathers intended.
Given that democracy is one of the four pillars of Taste Test—the others being Japanese candy, bacon, and tummyaches—we obtained bags of all three Do Us A Flavor finalists, to serve as the inaugural snack to help christen our spanking new Taste Test Laboratories. (Oooh, shiny…) We subjected all three to the collective discriminating tastes of Onion, Inc., intending to elect and inaugurate one flavor as the ruler of our hearts, minds, and stomachs.
But alas, America remains a country divided, and the same conflicting ideologies and convictions that have made our political system such a sticky morass soured our well-intended flavor election, as co-worker turned against co-worker in the rush to extol one flavor as superior while rushing to deem another objectively inferior. Some proclaimed Sriracha a suitably spicy iteration of the beloved hot sauce, while others dismissed it as essentially a barbecue chip masquerading as something more. Some favorably compared Chicken & Waffles to the salty-sweet god that sits atop Hangover Mountain, the McGriddle, while others wrinkled their noses at its strong maple-y overtones. And some proclaimed Cheesy Garlic Bread a clear winner, while others thought it was merely a standard cheesy potato chip with an overabundance of garlic powder dumped on top. Things got so contentious, it seemed for a while like people might come to blows, if only our fingers weren’t too oil-slicked and our bodies too carb-laden to deliver a proper punch. We’re better off leaving this one to the American public to decide; Lord knows they always get it right.
- “Lay’s ‘Doritos-Flavored’ might be a more accurate name.”
- “Far too spicy. The flavor dusting gets caught in the back of my throat and makes me cough.”
- “The most palatable of the three, because these are the simplest to replicate. They tasted just like a solid barbecue chip. They did suffer from Lay’s thinness, though. The flavor would be much better on a Kettle Chip.”
- “Does not taste like sriracha. Way better with real sriracha on it.”
- “I liked these! They have a respectable but not overwhelming amount of heat, and a flavor that isn’t really sriracha sauce, but isn’t anything I’m familiar with from basic chips: not just a minor tweak on salt or vinegar or BBQ. I would serve these to friends and expect them to still be my friends at the end of the day.”
- “These are the chips I went back to when I needed to clear the taste of the other two out of my mouth.”
Chicken & Waffles
- “Heavy on the waffles. Light on the chicken. This is probably a good thing.”
- “Tastes just like a waffle, but the chicken is nowhere to be found! Interesting, but not for me.”
- “They smelled so strongly of Samoas Girl Scout Cookies—of which I’ve been eating a lot this week—that I couldn’t get that thought out of my head.”
- “I anticipated a strong maple flavor, but it actually wasn’t overpowering. Still, I wouldn’t eat this unless I was really, really hungry and they were the only thing around.”
- “Tastes like smoked syrup. Not very pleasing.”
- “These are disgusting. Too sweet, too mapley. Like licking crunchy bits of dried syrup off the maple-syrup bottle.”
- “If I wanted chips that tasted like maple syrup, I’d dip some chips in maple syrup. And then have myself committed.”
- “It’s like putting a McDonald’s hash brown inside a McGriddle, which sounds like pretty much the perfect food.”
Cheesy Garlic Bread
- “Nothing will ever compare to actual cheesy garlic bread. These were a sobering reminder of that fact.”
- “Definitely the best chip of the bunch. A clear winner.”
- “Pretty much a total failure for me, but I also think I just don’t like cheese-flavored chips, with the exception of Nacho Cheese Doritos. When you put that much powder on such a thin surface, it becomes unwieldy.”
- “The garlic is too potent and too fake-tasting. (Though I have no idea if it’s actual garlic.)”
- “Tastes a lot like T.G.I. Fridays Cheddar and Bacon Potato Skins, which is not a good thing.”
- “Too much cheese, not enough garlic. They just taste like mildly sour cheese chips. Like cheese chips left out in the sun until they taste vaguely of feet.”
Where to get them: All three flavors are on store shelves until May; the winner will go into production for the remainder of the year.
Audio: "Local Forest," Kevin MacLeod / Incompetech.com