The Fascinating Origin Of Salt And Vinegar Chips

When you walk down the chip aisle in any modern grocery store, you are bombarded by hundreds of options. New flavors are released all the time, like Ruffle's scarily realistic chili cheese chips or Lay's mouth-puckering dill pickle flavored crisps. But one tried and true classic remains on the shelves year after year, and is available from almost all the major brands, from Pringles to Utz — the classic salt and vinegar chip. 

This zinging flavor combo seems like it has been around as long as potato chips themselves, and in some ways it has been. On the other hand, a complicated journey of culinary science had to have taken place to give us what we now know as the classic salt and vinny potato chip. We'll delve into the recent, and not-so-recent, past of the beloved crisp, and why it will never be taken off of grocery store shelves. 

Chip shop origins

While in America we use the term chips to describe those delightfully crispy, pre-packaged, thinly-sliced potatoes, across the pond, chips are closer to what we'd call fries. Fish and chips is a quintessentially British cuisine pairing that is now available throughout much of the world (the side of mushy peas has yet to steal hearts 'round the globe). According to Historic UK, the first fish and chips shop, or "chippy" originated in 1860s England, though the proprietor remains disputed.

Potatoes were an affordable staple, and just so happened to be delicious when submerged in piping hot oil, but two condiments stood to make them an even more delicious treat — salt and vinegar. The salt brought out the flavor of the potatoes and oil, while the vinegar cut through the heavy grease of the dish, adding brightness and dimension, says FryMax. This became the go-to pairing for chips, and is still a popular choice to this day in England and elsewhere. So when it came time to give plain chips a boost with flavor, salt and vinegar became an obvious combo.

A go-to flavor combo

In conversation with The Guardian, Linda Miller recalls her and a friend in 1950s Essex being inspired to douse their Smith's crisps with the traditional chip pairing of salt and malt vinegar. While it made the chips a bit soggy, they were blown away by how delicious it was. Not long after, Fox News reports that Irish crisp maker Joe "Spud" Murphy developed a technology that allowed him to season chips. His premiere flavor was cheese and onion, but it makes sense that he created salt and vinegar shortly after.

The acidic bite of tangy vinegar, punchy salt, napkin-staining oil, and that signature crunch that comes with each chip is iconic and totally addictive. According to a survey conducted by Statista, 48 million folks in the U.S. rank salt & vinegar as their most-eaten crisp flavor, so we don't expect these chips to disappear from grocery stores any time soon.