Po-tay-to po-tah-to, a chip's a chip.

Nina Friend
March 14, 2018

It’s true that potato chips are really good. It’s also true that potato chips aren’t the healthiest snack food in the supermarket. But is it true that some potato chips are better for you than others?

Some people think that kettle chips, which often taste more potato-like and therefore more “natural,” are healthier than their non-kettle-cooked counterparts. In honor of National Potato Chip Day today, we decided to dig a bit deeper into the bag and find out what the deal is with kettle chips.

© Gothamist

According to Laura Merritt, the Vice President of Marketing for Snyder’s Lance, which owns Kettle Brand Chips and Cape Cod Chips, the primary difference between a kettle chip and a regular potato chip is the way they’re each cooked. Regular potato chips are made through a process called continuous fry. In this method, potatoes are fried on a conveyor belt as they move through hot oil, which remains at a constant temperature.

Kettle chips are created through a more old-fashioned approach called batch cooking. In this process, cold potatoes are stirred into an oil-filled kettle. The process repeats as another bunch of potatoes gets dumped in and stirred, and so on. As each new batch of cold potatoes enters the vat, the temperature of the oil drops. The cooler oil slows down the cooking time, which leads to some chips that are darker and some that have weird, imperfect shapes.

© JOHN KERNICK

These contrasting frying methods yield potato chips that look and taste different from one another, even when the ingredients used to produce both types of chips are similar.

Take Lay’s as an example, since this mega-brand offers regular potato chips as well as kettle-style chips. Lay’s Classic potato chips, which are paper-thin and whiteish-yellow, have an almost buttery quality. They melt in your mouth and the salt propels you to grab another handful. The ingredients label on this bag of chips includes “Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Sunflower, Corn and/or Canola Oil), and Salt.” There are 160 calories per serving and 10 grams of total fat.

Lay’s Kettle Cooked Original potato chips have a browner, more golden hue. They’re thicker than the classic potato chips and their sides tend to flip up, which results in a crunchier, crispier chewing experience. These chips are made with nearly the same ingredients as their regular potato chip cousins – the only difference on the label is “sea salt” instead of “salt.” There are 150 calories per serving and 9 grams of total fat.

Photo: Roderick Chen / Getty

This Lay’s comparison only speaks to one maker, but other brands’ kettle chip products contain similar nutrition facts. For instance, Kettle Brand’s classic flavor, Potato Chips with Sea Salt, contains “Potatoes, safflower and/or sunflower and/or canola oil, sea salt.” There are 150 calories per serving and 9 grams of total fat. Sound familiar?

Cape Cod Chips’ Original flavor has an analogous ingredient makeup – “Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Contains One or More of the Following: Canola Oil, Safflower Oil, and/or Sunflower Oil), Salt” – but actually tops out at the least fattening with 140 calories per serving and 8 grams of total fat.

Chris Mirro / Eyeem/Getty Images

Merritt, who works on both Kettle Brand and Cape Cod Chips, says, “No matter how you slice them, potato chips are really meant to be an indulgence, which is why they’re so delicious.” Lots of people ask her whether kettle chips are healthier than regular potato chips, but Merritt says, “All potato chips are pretty similar.”

While some brands offer products that are “better” for you because they’re cooked in avocado oil, made without preservatives, or contain less fat, the facts are undeniable: a chip’s a chip. And we're okay with that. 

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Courtesy of Kettle Brand

For innovative ways to cook with potato chips, check out this story.