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Crisps

Crisps are thin slices of fried potato, often salted or seasoned, which are said to have been invented in the 19th century. A customer of the chef George Crum, established in New York State, twice refused to eat the chips he had been served. So, the chef decided to stop chopping potatoes and instead to slice them as thinly as possible before frying and salting them. The result was a real success and his recipe spread all over the United States.
Chips
© Shutterstock / Foodpictures Vitelotte

From chips to crisps

Legend has it that crisps were invented in 1853 in the United States. Cornelius Vanderbild, a customer of the chef George Crum, né George Speck, established in New York State, twice refused to eat the chips he had been served. Some versions of the story say that he found them too thick; others state that they were not crispy enough. So, George Crum decided to stop chopping potatoes and instead to slice them as thinly as possible before frying and salting them. The result was a real success and his recipe spread all over the United States. A few years earlier, in 1824, a recipe book called The Virginia Housewife had already explained how to fry thin potato slices until they turned crispy.

With advances in technology, crisp manufacturing developed in the early 20th century in the United States, then gradually in Europe, which led to the snack becoming increasingly popular. A machine for peeling potatoes was invented in 1925, then came the hermetically-sealed bag for optimal preservation and easier distribution. From the 1950s onwards, crisps started to be flavoured and seasoned. Cheese, onion and vinegar were the first flavourings used. Given today’s weight and health problems, some manufacturers have lowered the salt and fat content, whilst food engineers are doing their best to create the ideal crisp shape that will appeal to customers.

From slices to packet

Once potatoes have been delivered to the factory, they are peeled in automatic drums, then washed and sliced thinly. To remove excess starch, they are washed again, then dried and some potatoes are even dyed. The slices of potato are immersed in oil in fryers at a temperature below the oil boiling point (176.6°C to 190.5°C). After cooking for two or three minutes, they are taken out of the fryers. To obtain less fatty crisps, the potatoes are steamed before frying, which reduces oil absorption. The crisps are salted, seasoned and placed on a wire mesh surface to drain off excess oil. Overcooked and non-standard crisps are removed. The better quality crisps are then packed in bags and, during the packaging process, nitrogen is added to protect and preserve the crisps for longer. To ensure a high-quality product, crisps are checked throughout the manufacturing process for their salt content, seasoning, texture, colour and taste.

Paprika, cheese or herbs?

Crisps are thin slices of fried potato, generally salted or seasoned. In Switzerland, they are often enjoyed as an appetiser, a snack or a side dish at barbecues and picnics. Their taste may be enhanced with various flavours or spices such as paprika, garlic and fine herbs, cheese, onion, vinegar, bacon, sour cream, chilli pepper, herbs or crab. They can also be smooth, ridged or curved, and vary in thickness. Some are less fatty, less salty or free from chemical additives. Crisps in Switzerland are known for being very thin and crispy. Paprika is the most popular flavour and accounts for 45% of crisps produced by the largest Swiss manufacturer, whereas ready salted crisps only account for 25%. As a comparison, 90% of crisps in Italy are ready salted.

Croustilles

Crisps are called croustilles in Quebec.