The Untold Truth Of Zapp's Potato Chips

If you've ever popped open a bag of Zapp's potato chips, you know the instant appeal of this tempting snack that screams with the flavors of the Big Easy. These kettle-cooked chips (now produced by snack giant Utz) had their humble start in Gramercy, Louisiana in 1985, as noted by Southern Living – and they've been beloved in New Orleans and around the country ever since.

So what's so special about Zapp's? It's all about the flavors. These heavily seasoned crispy taters offer a variety of unique tastes, from the famous Voodoo, (laced with onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, and turmeric) to Spicy Cajun Crawtators, tossed in similar spices combined with a natural hickory smoke flavor that tastes like it came right from the Bayou. Not to mention the Cajun Dill Gator-Tator flavor and the good old fashioned Mesquite Bar-B-Que.

Zapp's potato chips pretty accurately represent the palates of a part of the country known for the big, bold flavors of dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans and rice, so it's no wonder they are considered a Louisiana treasure. But there's much more to know about this delicious snack.

Born in the heart of Louisiana

The story of how Zapp's potato chips got their start goes back to the 1980s, when, according to Southern Living, Zapp's founder Ron Zappe and his wife relocated to Louisiana from Houston. Zappe was an industrial engineer who had been working in the Texas oil world, but found himself bankrupt when that industry imploded. Having arrived in their new state, one day the Zappes shared a bag of store-bought kettle-fried potato chips manufactured in their old state of Texas. Zappe loved the chips so much that he started scheming about producing a similar product in Louisiana.

"My wife, Anne, thought I'd gone nuts,” Zappe said, according to his obituary in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "But I told her, 'No, not nuts, chips.”'

Zappe was eager to get to work, but having recently declared bankruptcy, local banks were not eager to grant him a loan for his business idea. "I asked 10 banks for a loan to begin the venture and they all laughed me out of the office,” he told Southern Living. "The 11th finally gave me my start. I never gave up. That's the secret.”

From a Chevy dealership to potato chip factory

When the 11th bank finally gave Zappe a loan of $150,000 (per Southern Living), he quickly got to work converting a former Chevrolet dealership in Gramercy, Louisiana into a plant to manufacture his namesake chips. As with the kettle-cooked variety he and his wife had previously tasted, Zappe decided to make a thick-cut chip fried in peanut oil. He decided to place the equipment needed to make each batch out on the (former) showroom floor, and turned Zapp's industrial plant into a local Gramercy attraction (times were slower then).

"Teenagers would park outside, watch us like a movie, and do a lot of kissing,” he told Oprah Winfrey during an appearance on her show in 1997, according to Southern Living.

As a businessman, Zappe exhibited unusual flair and dedication to promoting his chips, handing out free samples at busy intersections, as well as coming up with a 1-800-HOT-CHIP hotline for those urgent kettle chip questions. And his tactics worked: Over the years, the chips substantially grew in popularity.

The secret to these chips is in the spices

The truth of what makes Zapp's potato chips so unique lies in the spices. The once boutique chip maker, which was sold to snack food behemoth Utz in 2011, is known for its variety of uniquely — and heavily — seasoned potatoes. In addition to Voodoo and Spicy Cajun Crawtators, the brand's other offerings include Evil Eye (rich in umami flavors thanks to ingredients such as tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce), Mesquite Bar-B-Que, and a bold Salt & Vinegar.

With flavors like these, and the extra crunchy texture of the kettle-cooked style, it isn't hard to understand why consumers and food bloggers alike consistently sing Zapp's praises. It's no small feat to be named the best potato chip ever by cookbook author and food obsessive J. Kenji López-Alt. He proclaimed to Serious Eats, "My favorite brand of chips in the whole wide world is Zapp's." In evaluating every flavor for the article, López-Alt declared Spicy Cajun Crawtators as "the company's most successful flavor by far."

More about Zapp's creative packaging

Louisiana residents are not known for being shrinking violets. After all, this is a state that boasts the most colorful and creative Mardi Gras parades in the world, featuring some of the most explosively creative costumes you could think of. Residents also deck themselves out for the city's common second line parades, which are roving brass brands that typically mark a special occasion or are sometimes done just for the fun of it. 

So it should come as no surprise that the state's home-grown potato chip brand has some of the funkiest and most creative packaging we've ever seen on a snack food. Most of the flavors come in shiny bags featuring vertical stripes of white and bright colors decorated with the iconic fleur-de-lis symbol, while the Voodoo flavor comes in a black bag bedazzled with colorful, pin-stuck voodoo dolls. The designs are so inspirational that some people have even created Halloween or Mardi Gras costumes inspired by the chips' distinctive packaging (as seen on Facebook).

Where to buy Zapp's potato chips

So now that you've read all about Zapp's potato chips and how delicious they are, you might be craving a bag of that salty, crunchy goodness. And you're in luck since they're pretty easy to find nowadays. Prior to 2011, when Zapp's was bought by Utz Snacks, the chip solely remained a regional delicacy, unavailable at stores outside the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Florida. But these days, Zapp's bags are much easier to find, sold at major grocery chains across the country, as well as many smaller, local stores. And of course, there's always the good old internet, where you can buy directly from Utz. 

If you're up for a home cooking challenge, there are also lots of dedicated Zapp's fans that have attempted to DIY the chip right at home. We're not sure we love this blog's take on the recipe, cooking the chips in a microwave, but with a hot deep-fryer full of peanut oil and a spice mix of your choice, you could create a pretty tasty kettle chip batch of your own.