Crunch­ing to­wards vic­tory

In her lat­est Potato Chat col­umn Niki Bez­zant, writer, edi­tor and keen foodie, dis­cusses her role as head judge for the Pota­toes NZ best crisp com­pe­ti­tion:

NZ Grower - - Election 2017 -

Did you know that Ki­wis spend $150 mil­lion a year on potato crisps? That’s a lot of crunch­ing and rustling… and a lot of pota­toes.

Last month was quite potato-cen­tric for me, in­clud­ing as it did my role as head judge in the in­au­gu­ral Best Crisp Com­pe­ti­tion, and my at­ten­dance and speak­ing at the Pota­toes NZ con­fer­ence in Pukekohe.

As a not-so-se­cret lover of potato crisps, it did feel like a bit of a ca­reer peak to be asked to judge these awards. Of all the food judg­ing I’ve done – and there has been a wide range – this was the most en­joy­able. This could have been be­cause of the rel­a­tively small num­ber of en­tries. With most food com­pe­ti­tions, the first few tastes, no mat­ter what the food is, are fan­tas­tic; the ap­peal tends to fade when you get to sam­ple 23. In this case, al­most ev­ery bite was a plea­sure, and there was no spit­ting (yes, just like with wine tast­ing) re­quired.

De­spite the mod­est vol­ume of en­tries, it was a very high stan­dard of prod­uct. And it was fas­ci­nat­ing to dis­cover the quite sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences be­tween the crisps, even when they are nom­i­nally the same flavour. In the end I was re­ally pleased that the judges’ choice for over­all win­ner – the Cop­per Ket­tle Ready Salted – was the same as the Peo­ple’s Choice. The peo­ple, in this case, be­ing the at­ten­dees at the Pota­toes NZ con­fer­ence. I reckon these peo­ple – in­dus­try in­sid­ers and grow­ers – are in a po­si­tion to judge a good crisp.

As a crisp eater (not of­ten, I has­ten to add; as with most peo­ple, I find it im­pos­si­ble to eat just a few chips, so don’t buy them un­less I know I’m go­ing to be shar­ing the bag) I am a tra­di­tion­al­ist. I re­ally pre­fer the plain, salted crisp above all oth­ers. But ac­cord­ing to Chris Clar­idge, Pota­toes NZ chief ex­ec­u­tive, in a story pub­lished last year, the growth in crisp sales in New Zealand is be­ing driven by the fancy flavours. There’s no short­age of these; in the Awards we tasted sweet chilli rel­ish flavoured crisps, along with ap­ple cider vine­gar and other ex­otic va­ri­eties. I’ve tasted lamb and mint sauce crisps (not a fan) and smoked pa­prika crisps (these are more-ish). Re­cently I spot­ted im­ported crisps in Bloody Mary flavour. Ap­par­ently, like craft beer, the crisp mar­ket is be­com­ing more so­phis­ti­cated.

With my health hat on, I need to point out that potato crisps are never go­ing to be health food. Claims of less fat, healthy oil, et cetera, are tech­ni­cally ac­cu­rate, but they don’t ren­der the crisps any less fat­ten­ing, sadly. A potato crisp is a per­fect food storm of carbs, salt and fat, which is ob­vi­ously what makes it so ir­re­sistible.

So the best we can do, if we are crisp lovers (and who isn’t?) is to prac­tice mod­er­a­tion as much as pos­si­ble. As I said, I reg­u­larly ab­stain from crisps, but when I buy them I never eat them straight from the bag. I put the serv­ing I want to eat in a bowl, then close the bag and put it away. Then I sit down and savour those crunchy, crispy wafers, rel­ish­ing the salt on my tongue and the crunch un­der my teeth. Mmmm. I’m keen to try some of those win­ning crisps again soon. And I’m al­ready look­ing for­ward to next year’s awards.

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