Olestra potato chip taste test yields the early word on fake fat: 'Get real!'

HAPPY EATER

January 31, 1996|By ROB KASPER

DO POTATO CHIPS cooked in the new fat substitute, olestra, taste like good, greasy potato chips?

No way! Get real! Nuh-unh! That, in various forms of local language, is the negative conclusion reached by a panel of enthusiastic potato chip eaters from Baltimore. The panel consisted of myself and seven boys, ranging in age from 10 to 15. We ate the chips the way Americans are supposed to, while we were stretched out in front of a TV.

The chips and other products using the fat substitute won't be in grocery stores for several months. I got my sample potato chips from a taste-testing kit that Procter & Gamble, which hails its fat substitute as a breakthrough in snacking, sent to members of the nation's eating press. Also in the kit was a bag of potato chips cooked in vegetable oil. I broadened the sample by going down to Baltimore's Lexington Market, where chips are served by the scoop, and picked up two more types of chips. I bought some potato chips cooked in lard, Grandma Utz's, the chip of choice in our house. And I bought a bag of Utz chips cooked in cottonseed oil.

The informal potato chip tasting was part of a family deal. I told my two sons that their buddies could watch the football game at our house if everybody followed certain rules. Those rules were: No fighting. No feet on the furniture. And no sound on the TV until everybody gave me his opinion on the four different kinds of potato chips I would feed them.

It was a deal the guys jumped at. While they had occasional difficulties abiding by the feet and fracas provisions, the guys had no trouble attacking the chips. As both market researchers and parents of teen and preteen boys know, guys this age can put a serious hurting on bags of snacks. These guys are like a school of bluefish, when they get a morsel in their sights, the chance of leftovers is small.

The site of the tasting was the family room of our home. The tasting was conducted a few minutes before kickoff of the Super Bowl on Sunday. The chips were placed in unmarked bowls and were not identified until the tasting was over.

As the guys ate each chip, I wrote down their reactions, which included grunts as well as words.

The chips cooked in lard were the crowd favorite. "Awesome," said one 15-year-old. The cottonseed-cooked chips were "OK" and finished second. The chips cooked in vegetable oil, were "not that good," and finished third.

The olestra chips finished last. They received several grunts of disapproval as well as comments of "Not that good." "Bland." "A light potato chip." Summoning up the wisdom of his 11 years, Brian, one of the tasters pronounced: "It doesn't taste like the traditional American potato chip."

I didn't like the olestra chips either.

I didn't like the initial taste. There was not enough grease or salt there. I also did not care for its starchy aftertaste. It reminded me of the taste that lingers in your mouth if you eat a piece of raw potato.

I think the most telling verdict on the newfangled chips was the speed at which the chips were consumed by the guys.

After the tasting portion of the evening had ended, all the chips were dumped into bowls. The bowls filled with chips cooked in lard and in cottonseed oil quickly emptied. Next to go were the chips cooked in vegetable oil.

Finally, reluctantly, the roomful of vigorous eaters was able to finish off the small bag of the chips cooked in olestra.

I will let other folks debate whether cooking foods in olestra is good or bad for the American diet.

I will concentrate on taste. When I want something nutritious, I will eat a raw carrot. And when I want a good, tasty snack, I'll reach for something salty and sinful. For me that still is a potato chip cooked in lard, not olestra.

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