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This is a story about a potato chip that’s supposed to taste like a cheesesteak. No, really.
There’s no meat and no cheese in the chip, but it’s one of three limited-run flavors that Herr’s debuted in mid-June, after the company collected pitches from everyday Philadelphians last year through its “Flavored by Philly” contest.
Over 6,200 folks put suggestions forward, per a press release, and the Chester County-based snack company narrowed down a set of finalists: “(215) Special Sauce,” “Long Hots with Sharp Provolone,” and “Wiz Wit.”
Now, it’s up to the people to taste and decide which flavor screams “Philadelphia” the loudest (and the tastiest). The competition offers $10,000 to the person whose brainstormed flavor gets the most online votes before Aug. 5, plus the chance to choose a local nonprofit to also receive $10,000. All three finalists get a year’s supply of Herr’s products.
So… how did the company do in translating these Philly-focused tastes into potato chips?
At Billy Penn’s weekly brunch gathering, we served all of the chip flavors and discussed the merits and demerits of each one with our colleagues from across WHYY. We asked each person who tried them to write a word or phrase they’d use to describe the flavor, and vote for their favorite on a very official clipboard survey. Read on to find out how we rated the contenders.
(215) Special Sauce: ‘Giving breakfast sammie…’
The brainchild of contestant Gregory D., the (215) Special Sauce chips are an homage to “most popular condiment request” in Philly corner stores, a mix of salt, pepper, ketchup, and hot sauce, according to the blurb on the back of the bag. “The taste is so good there have even been songs written about it,” it says. (See: “4 Wings” by Philly rapper Tierra Whack).
The flavor combo drew perhaps the most mixed feedback from our intrepid brunchtime taste-testers. Clipboard descriptions ranged from “amazing, bold, inspired” to “alarming/heartburn” to “just tastes like ketchup.” (PSA to ketchup lovers: Herr’s actually does already make a ketchup-flavored ripple chip.) A WHYY editor compared the flavor to spicy ketchup on breakfast sandwiches.
“The Special Sauce [flavor] makes me feel weird,” said BP reporter Michaela.
Mostly, folks were confused by the name. (If you Google “Philly special sauce,” pretty much all of the results are related to this specific chip.)
BP investigative reporter Lizzy had never had or heard of the condiment combo before, but the chips made her into a convert.
“I like when I have a potato chip where there’s a real flavor, and not just potato,” she said. “Now I’m gonna get [the sauce combination] on my sandwiches, because I really like it.”
Long Hots with Sharp Provolone: ‘Subtle and safe’
Herr’s contestant Ryan R. pitched this flavor, which aims to mimic the flavor of the local hoagie staples. It “delivers a bold roasted pepper flavor combined with notes of provolone cheese in the background and a mild heat that builds with each chip,” the back-of-bag blurb says.
A first impression upon cracking open the bag: “I’ve never seen a potato chip with such a smell,” BP director Danya remarked.
All in all, our samplers found the actual taste of the chips to be — as one person wrote in their sole clipboard comment — “inoffensive,” but “nothing exciting.”
Other pieces of feedback included “spicy and good,” “subtle and safe,” “well balanced!”, and “Primo’s-esque.”
For some people, the spice wasn’t quite enough. “Weak,” one person wrote. Lizzy didn’t find the taste very thrilling at first, but said it got better as she ate more of the chips and the provolone became more noticable.
This makes sense — hot pepper-flavored chips are way less of a novelty than beef or ketchup. As one taste-tester wrote in their description, it was “closest to normal.”
Wiz Wit: ‘Beefy air’
The “Wiz Wit” chip is a shoutout to contestant Shannon A.’s favorite childhood memories of family drives in pursuit of great cheesesteaks. The chip combines “cheesy onion flavor, with a bit of meat to match the cheesy goodness that oozes out of the back of your roll after your first bite,” per its description on the back of the bag.
There was some mixed feedback on this one. One clipboard survey respondent — who chose the flavor as their favorite of the three — called it “good, cheesy, tangy.” Some others called it “artificial,” “worrisome,” and “meh…”
The biggest point of debate was whether the chip actually tastes like beef.
WHYY grant writer Zillah, BP reporter Jordan, and WHYY politics reporter Katie tasted only the cheese. Jess, the BP development manager, thought the same at first — but felt differently a few seconds later.
“I’m not getting beef, like, on my tongue,” Jess said, “but the air in my mouth now feels kind of beefy … I don’t like that. Beef air.” (It’s a little unclear where any meat flavor would come from — per the ingredients list on the back of the bag, the chips have no animal-derived ingredients. Including cheese…?)
One person described the flavor on our clipboard survey as “smartfood popcorn cheese flavor.” Another: “Grill scrapings.”
TV producer Sarah argued that the flavor just didn’t match the texture and flimsiness of a potato chip. Perhaps it would work better on something sturdier, she suggested, like a tortilla chip.
“Maybe a Wiz Wit Dorito would be good,” Sarah said. “But Wiz Wit Herr’s… very bad.”
And the winner is…
In our clearly very scientific and totally-not-chaotic (read: completely non-scientific and kinda chaotic) taste test, the Long Hots flavor came out the clear winner.
Throughout our brunch gathering, our taste-testers continuously noted that the flavors of long hots and provolone cheese are simply the best suited for a potato chip, while also being less overwhelming than the (215) Special Sauce variety and nowhere near as weird as a cheesesteak chip. And out of the 14 people who left written feedback on our clipboards, well over half picked it as their fave. (Wiz Wit got two votes, and Special Sauce got three.)
Want to decide for yourself? Herr’s said on social media that the chips should be available wherever Herr’s chips are typically sold — we found them at Wawa. There’s a QR code on the back of each bag that will lead you to a webpage where you can vote.