Thursday, March 10, 2016

Lay's Flavor Swap: Flamin' Hot vs. Fiery Roasted Habanero

First up: It's a common misconception, based on other pepper names such as JalapeƱo, to think that Habanero also has a tilde over the "n".  Guess what?  It doesn't.  It was news to me a few years ago, and now, it's possibly news to you too.  The more you know.

Anyway, as you may already know, the latest Lay's flavor competition thing is the Flavor Swap.  8 flavors are paired off and going head to head.  It's up to us, the consumer whores, to dutifully buy bags of all 8 flavors, try them, and vote for one or the other on the internet.

The last pair was the only one that was the Kettle Cooked variety, all the rest are just regular-texture Lay's potato chips.  No Wavy flavors for us, I guess.

Moving right along, my palate cleanser is once again a 20 oz. bottle of Mountain Dew.  I'm thinking of sticking with this, to be honest, just because I get one every Thursday anyway, and I value consistency.  Using the same palate cleanser for all four flavor swaps just makes sense to me.

Before we begin, a note about my expectations going into this one: Whenever I see something produced by a large food company for the mass market that throws the words "Habanero", "Ghost Pepper", or a synonym of "spicy" (such as "Flamin' Hot") around, I prepare to be underwhelmed.  Spicy things are awesome and all, and for the most part I can handle the heat, but food companies always dilute it down so as to not zorch the average Joe who buys a bag.  It's with these mixed hopes and expectations that I opened the bags and tried the chips.

Fiery Roasted Habanero

Flavor-wise, they're pretty good.  However, I was correct to expect disappointment on the spice side.  There is a decent kick, and a bit of a building heat, but nothing remotely close to the heat of an Habanero pepper.  This level of heat could have been done with a less spicy pepper.  In terms of what I expect from Lay's, though, it's right on the mark.  Spicy, but not prohibitively so.

It's just that, when I see the word "habanero" in the name, I expect it to be a lot more spicy.

Looking at the ingredients list, we find "Habanero Chile Peppers"[sic] below a mountain of different oils, presumably added to dilute the capsaicin down to "average American can handle this" levels.  To give them credit, they seem to have struck a careful balance where there's still a decent kick, but it's not like eating a fresh Habanero pepper.

These are probably best for smaller snacks, especially if you're not terribly used to spicy food.

Flamin' Hot

Well, I opened the bag and fire didn't come out, therefore I'm disappointed.

Now, to be serious, my actual thoughts.  These chips are an alarming shade of red, which I guess is supposed to add to the experience.  However, the name makes me expect them to be spicy, and while they do have a little bit of kick, it's nowhere near the level of the habanero chips.  I even gave my mouth time to recover from the habanero chips.  Looking at the ingredients, the only thing that suggests any level of spice at all is a horribly generic "extractives of red pepper".  Which red pepper?  A lot of peppers are red.  Be more specific!

They taste pretty good though.  There's a noticeable tomato flavor, and a lower kick level that's just enough to get your tongue tingling without being overwhelming.  I could probably snack on them all evening.  They're actually a decent "cooldown" chip to eat after having some of the Fiery Roasted Habanero chips.

The Verdict

I'm going to have to go with the Fiery Roasted Habanero chips.  The Flamin' Hot chips don't earn their name, whereas the Fiery Roasted Habanero chips stick more closely to the objective of being spicy.  It may be diluted, but it still packs a punch for those less used to the spice level, and it's a pleasant heat for those of us more used to it.

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