The History And Science Behind Salt And Vinegar Chips

One constant we can always count on when perusing the chip aisle is that new and limited-time chip flavors will be fighting for your attention. From wacky to inspired, potato chip companies love to push the envelope. But the old standbys, like plain, barbecue, and sour cream and onion are still the most popular, with salt and vinegar — perhaps the most polarizing flavor — taking the fourth spot.

Salt and vinegar chips' origins trace back to the mid-20th century when flavor experimentation began to take off. The tangy snack quickly became a staple before gaining popularity worldwide. The robust combination of salt and vinegar creates a particular taste that stimulates the taste buds in a unique way. The acidity of the vinegar paired with the saltiness creates a sharp, tangy flavor that many snack lovers find irresistible, as we found when we tested and ranked 13 salt and vinegar chips

The history of salt and vinegar chips

The history of salt and vinegar chips begins in the 1950s, during a time when the snack industry was booming and culinary experimentation was on the rise. Potato chips had been a beloved snack since the 19th century, with George Crum's creation often cited as the origin of the potato chip in the 1850s, though this has been disputed. It wasn't until the 1950s that flavored chips began to make their mark. The Irish company Tayto is credited with pioneering the first seasoned potato chips with their cheese and onion flavor crisps, and later, salt and vinegar. 

Salt and vinegar chips became a beloved flavor in the United Kingdom, where the combination of tangy vinegar and savory salt resonated with the British palate, which had a long-standing appreciation for the pairing in fish and chips. The success of Tayto's flavored chips inspired other manufacturers to create their own versions. The popularity of salt and vinegar chips eventually crossed the Atlantic, with North American companies adding the flavor to their product lines after flavored chips made their way to U.S. shelves in the 1970s. 

The science behind salt and vinegar chips

Introducing the salt component to salt and vinegar chips makes sense, but what about vinegar? Pouring the liquid onto chips would cause them to be mushy, of course, so vinegar must first be made into a dry ingredient. Today's chip manufacturers have different methods of doing this. Some use a method in which vinegar is sprayed onto a flavorless powder called maltodextrin, while others opt for sodium diacetate. The resulting dry product can then be used to flavor the chips. These options are the primary ways the salt and vinegar flavoring makes it onto the chip, but to add unique flair to the product companies use other additions, including various acids like citric and lactic, which is the reason some salt and vinegar chips are more acidic than others. Some brands include lactose for added creaminess.

Although this flavor combo might be divisive, those who love the salt and vinegar potato chip have plenty of brands to choose from. And, considering its enduring popularity, it's unlikely that these will disappear anytime soon.