A few weeks ago, I went to Las Vegas for a bachelorette party. On such occasions, it is important to be on your best snack game: You're constantly shuttling from club to club and have little time left in between for a proper meal. Any self-respecting bachelorette party needs to have the essentials in their suite at all times: Smart Pop, donuts, leftover Taco Bell.
And, of course, chips. This is where I come in. While some people have a sweet tooth and others love soda, my vice is salt. I even consider myself something of a chip connoisseur; I've had crab-flavored Lays in Russia, yogurt and mint Doritos in Turkey, and cappuccino chips in New York. But in Vegas, when one of the women in our group opened the refrigerator and lamented the fact that we were out of Pringles, I had to ask her to repeat herself. Excuse me, cold Pringles?
Oh, how naïve I was.
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Pringles are what you might traditionally describe as your standard chip, kind of the Nissan Altima of the snackiverse. They're nothing fancy, but will get you where you're going in a completely respectable fashion. In BuzzFeed's definitive ranking of chips, Pringles came in at 13 out of 22 — nothing to get too excited about, but also far from being the worst chip. As Uproxx puts it, "Pringles aren't flashy. They're not going to wow anyone at a party." Personally they remind me a bit of eating a salted square of tissue paper, which is somehow not altogether an unpleasant experience.
Now cold Pringles are another story. The difference is subtle but all-important: To put a perfectly chilled Pringle in your mouth is like getting goosebumps in the sun, or noticing the first autumn briskness in a breeze at the end of summer. It's cold, but in a way that is almost fragile, so you're tempted to warm the chip's bowed shape in your mouth for a moment pre-crunch, the way you might the last sliver of an ice cube. The not-quite-unpleasant papery quality of the standard room temperature Pringle vanishes under the tongue's observation of that unexpected, but almost unnoticeable, sensation of coldness.
There's even a bit of science behind why cold Pringles taste great. Potato chips have basically no water in them, meaning that the molecules most prone to telegraphing a temperature change to your mouth are MIA. When storing chips in the freezer, for example, "the amount of frozen water is small enough that it doesn't change the structure, taste, or nutritional content of the chip whatsoever, nor does it freeze the chip solid," Lifehacker reports. It's almost as if chips were meant to be chilled.
Or that Pringles are, anyway. After my discovery in Las Vegas, I realized I had to learn if all chips are better cold. What if I'd been living a lie my whole life? In the interest of eliminating variables, I decided to test several different chips at room temperature, chilled to 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the fridge, and chilled to 0 degrees Fahrenheit in the freezer. I picked a variety to test: original Pringles, ranch Pringles, nacho cheese Doritos, barbecue Lays, salt and vinegar Lays, Cheetos, and Hint of Lime Tostitos.
It was immediately clear that part of the Pringle's gustatory advantage over competing chips was in its paper-thin dimensions. The thicker chips, like Doritos and Tostitos, fared less well in progressively cold temperatures; while Pringles seemed to get crisper when chilled, chunkier chips gave the impression of being duller, almost stale, when eaten at a low temperature. Cheetos, meanwhile, had the opposite problem: I think due to mostly being air, there wasn't much to get cold in a Cheeto, and the temperature change was barely detectable when it was eaten out of the fridge. Only after several hours in the freezer did the Cheetos finally get cold, after which they just tasted like, well, cold Cheetos.
The thinner chips absorbed the cold better, but the flavors didn't hold up under refrigeration. Barbecue Lays, while one of my favorite chips at room temperature, were disorienting when cold; smoky barbecue is a taste that, if anything, is associated with being hot, not very cold. Salt and vinegar, another Lays I quite like on their own, became unbalanced in the fridge, with the vinegar becoming more noticeable — unpleasantly so — as the saltiness faded.
Only the Pringles held up in texture, amount of coldness, and flavor. If anything, the ranch Pringles were even better than the original flavor, particularly at the lowest temperature, with the garlic and onion flavors still popping despite the freeze. Since flavors tend to be more apparent in our mouths when food is warm, the ranch chips might have improved when chilled because the otherwise overwhelming ranchiness of the Pringles was toned down a notch or two, with the remaining zestiness coming off as refreshing, rather than artificial.
The same effect could be observed in the original flavor, which had its underlying papery taste erased after a few hours in the fridge. However the original Pringles also veered into becoming overly chilled to the point that the coldness was no longer subtle, and became the dominating sensation during snacking: I am eating very cold chips. There is something special about Pringles being just lightly cooled that makes them a superior refrigerated treat, a perfect — and dare I say it, even genius — melding of width and flavor and temperature.
Still, room temperature acolytes might try to tell you that there is nothing special about slightly-chilled Pringles, that aside from tasting "sort of cold," they aren't a noticeably different snack.
To that I say: Go ahead and eat your lukewarm Pringles. While cold Pringles might not exactly be one of the steps to culinary nirvana, I still can't wait to pop that first canister on a hot day this summer and cool down with their chilly crispness. I, too, was once a nonbeliever. Now? Consider me a convert.
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