A real sign of summer is a craving for something salty. The sea air seems to generate it, and the thought of a picnic gets us salivating. Nothing will do but the bursting of salt and spicy flavours, heavy cheese and onion, the noisy crunch between our teeth. Dip into hummus, grated carrot with lemon juice or mayo, thinly sliced cucumber sprinkled with vinegar and salt, poor man’s caviar – baked aubergine mousse (see Gordon Ramsay’s demo on YouTube) - or pea or broad bean purée. Even into melted chocolate.
But what about the fashionable crisp sandwich? A slathering of butter on thick bread sprinkled with crisps, with the top slice pressed down so they can’t escape. Bliss. Crisps make a useful topping too. Crumble them onto soups, a fried, poached or scrambled egg, and serve with crusty bread and a green salad for a simple supper.
There is some protein in crisps, usually 6-7% so they are quite satisfying. Unfortunately, they have an average of 30% fat so need to be kept in the treats column of our diet ledger.
The dried cheese flavouring for many of the crisps we tasted is made by the Carbery Group in Ballineen, Co Cork. Most Irish crisps made our Top 8. A few non-Irish slipped in too. All but one of the samples were labelled gluten free, so check in case of intolerances.
Joe’s Farm Crisps Potato Medley 70g €4
We pay more for the least number of ingredients here, with three types of potato (white, pink and purple), sunflower oil and Irish sea salt at a very low 0.261%. Delicious in sourdough for a luxury crisp sandwich, they taste of potatoes and are not overwhelmed by salt. Made in Killeagh, Co Cork, a top local product in a resealable bag. Good root veg crisps too. From Bradleys, Roughty Foodie, Rocketman, Cork, and SuperValu.
Keogh’s Mature Irish cheese & onion 125g €2.79
A rich cheese flavour is balanced with onion, paprika and salt, not too high at 0.96%. No MSG but still with plenty of delicious umami flavours. A decent crunch, substantial enough for dipping. Tasters approved. Sugars 2.1% come mainly from added lactose, the sugar in milk. ‘From crop to crisp’, produced in Ireland.
Marks & Spencer Paprika 150g €2.30
We tasted some 10% lower-fat versions of this brand which were good, but we especially liked the gentle paprika flavour and colour of this one for dipping into hummus or pea purée. The texture holds well for substantial mixtures. The lack of cheese made for a lightness liked by tasters. Salt is a lowish 0.88% with 1.5% sugars. A good all rounder for a fair price. Produced in Britain.
SuperValu Thai sweet chilli flavour 125g €1.40
Well-balanced flavours of Thai chilli, red pepper and quite a lot of tomato with spices. Salt content is average at 0.98%. Nicely substantial, crisp and crunchy texture which is good for dipping. Not labelled gluten free. Made in Co Armagh.
O’Donnells Ballymaloe relish & cheddar cheese flavour 125g €2.54
A definite flavour of relish dominates providing a nice sweet and vinegary sourness balanced with the cheddar flavour and tomato which gives the crisps a red colour. Crisp and crunchy texture liked by all. Salt at 1.4% is high enough. Adult tasters liked these more than the children. Other good flavours in the range too. Produced in Co Meath.
Tayto Bistro mature Irish cheddar cheese and spring onion flavour 135g €2
Flavour enhancers E621 (monosodium glutamate) and E635 (disodium ribonucleotide) made tasters a little wary. But there has been much discussion about MSG, with little evidence of problems unless consumed in large quantities. Both of these provide the umami flavour loved by many. Salt at 1.6% is high enough. This is balanced by high 4.4% sugars from added dextrose.
Dunnes Stores Simply Better Vintage Irish cheddar & red onion 125g €1.69
Lighter in texture than many samples, the cheese and onion flavours are subtle, but at 1.6% the crisps are quite salty. There is a slightly vinegar-like acidity, perhaps from the addition of citric acid which is not balanced by what is a high enough 3.1% sugars mainly in the red- onion seasoning. Made in Co Antrim.
Aldi Specially Selected black pepper & sea salt 150g €1.69
Plenty of vibrant black pepper flavour which lingers. Salt content at 1% is balanced by 1% sugars from maltodextrin, a polysaccharide which adds sweetness, but in large quantities can affect blood-sugar levels. Substantial, crisp and crunchy, good for dipping into hummus and with a tomato salad. Made in Britain.