The following is a guide to how I rate things here at the Chipster:
0 to ½ Stars: Chips in this category reflect products that are not only disappointing and below average, but actively unpleasant/disgusting/frustrating to eat. Whatever their flaws may be, their culinarity inferiority is an aggravation to the senses, including the sense of “I can’t believe I just spent money on that, and I wish I could claim those calories back with a rusty scalpel!” Avoid these!
1 Star: These chips are definitely sub-par, and we actively suggest that you avoid them for deficiencies that make them inferior to average mass-market potato chips such as Lays. There are worse experiences out there, but these generally fail to satisfy and should be avoided.
1 ½ stars: This ranking is reserved for some chips which may exhibit some good qualities (excellent texture, a clever flavor), but still fail to satisfy in enough ways that I still would generally recommend against them. They might still be worthwhile for purchase by a consumer who has a specific taste or appeal (high quality texture, a specific flavor) that this particular chip will satisfy.
2 Stars: This is my ‘average score.’ These are chips that are overall ok; some are unimaginative but solidly conceived, others have some clever flavor or texture but are weighed down by flaws. In any case, we wouldn’t recommend you go out of your way to try them out, but nor would we recommend against them.
2 ½ stars: These are a cut above average, and generally indicate a pleasing or innovative experience, even though they don’t quite succeed in wowing. Often these chips meet a particular niche appeal (“I want chips that taste like pickels!”) which they fulfill admirably, even though they are unimpressive in other respects.
3 Stars: Three-stars chips are good, and are worth going out and trying at least once, in our humble estimation. They usually feature some combination of solid design with flavorful innovation, although at the 3 star level they usually don’t excel at both at once. Some of these feature brilliant flavors or texture that are detracted only slightly by some minor flaws. Still, these are all definitely worthy a go!
3½ to 4 Stars: Chips with these ratings exemplify the height of the art of chip making, generally combining virtuosic flavor with high production values in texture, shape, and so forth. These chips are liable to become a staple in the cabinet if you let them grow on you. The 3 ½ star rating is usually reserved for such products that are excellent, but either have some niggling flaw or somewhat lower (though still more than adequate) production quality that does not prevent them from being a highly pleasing experience in their own right.
As you may note, a 2 out 4 is basically an ‘average’ passing grade, or a grade school C. Your average bag of super market potato chips is probably a 2 out 4. Receiving such a grade is neither an indictment or an endorsement.
My Biases- or How I Arrive at my Ratings
While I try to fairly describe all of the qualities and flaws of the products I review here, any one's experience of a food item is going to be inevitably subjective. For that reason, I felt that I should spell out, in order of importance, exactly what things matter more to me as a reviewer than others. Knowing these biases, you can then pick apart my reviews and say to yourself- “well, unlike Sea-bass, I don’t like chips with heavy flavoring, so I might find these more fun than he did.” So without further ado, a list in order of importance of how I evaluate chips, followed by a more detailed breakdown:
3. Shape & Visual Appeal
4. Health/Ingredients (not technically factored into reviews, with some subtle exceptions)
I think the biggie here is that most ‘indie’ chip producers seeking to make the most traditional/elite/BAMF chips produce kettle-cooked chips with a plainly superior texture, so I imagine it follows that most chip aficionados will care more about the quality of the texture than flavoring. Well, I love good texture as much as anybody else, but to me good-texture is less interesting (and more easily reproduced on a consistent basis, as evidenced by the abundance of kettle-cooked chips on grocery store shelves these days) than really compelling flavoring. In general I prefer more spicy, more intense levels of flavoring, but I recognize that there is a happy medium in between certain extremes.
Texture is still important, of course- thick, crunchier chips with an irregular shapes and lots of air bubbles are going to be more fun than damp, thin chips that disintegrate quickly without leaving any impression. So good texture is a crucial quality, but average-textured chips with an interesting flavoring will still beat well-textured chips with a boring flavor any day in my book.
As for healthiness, my ratings are not affected by the nutritional value (or generally, lack thereof) of the chips, with the rare exception for chips that are particularly more healthy than others (baked chips), or feature a plentitude of organic ingredients. I still expect baked and organic chips to taste good, just not in exactly the same way as conventional chips. I am considering instituting a ‘Health’ score completely independent of the rating system if there is interest in such (let me know!), but for now rest assured that no chips are being hit for being particularly unhealthy, just that some of the healthier ones are being evaluated a little differently.
Very Mild: Spice-phobes and small children should have no problem with these, thes spiciness of these chips is more suggested than real.
Mild: These have a very mild spicy flavor, but it's not strong enought to really threaten most palettes.
Moderate: These are reasonably spicy, but still should be comfortably within the tolerance levels of the average consumer. Probably should be avoided by the spiciness-averse, however.
Hot: These chips actually pack some heat. Chips at this level start to prove really satisfying for the spice-seekers who have not already invaded Dune.
Flaming Hot: These chips will cause you pain. Only for dedicated masochists.