I’ve been thinking about crisps. That’s not an unusual thing for me to do. Yesterday, however, I found myself thinking about the language of crisps. I bought myself some Salt and Vinegar crisps. And I suddenly realised that I hadn’t had good, old-fashioned Salt and Vinegar crisps for quite some time.
Whilst bog-standard Salt and Vinegar flavour is rapidly becoming an endangered species, Maldon Sea Salt and Cider Vinegar appears to be flourishing. As does Caramelised Onion and Balsamic Vinegar. And Vintage Cheddar and Onion Chutney. It seems that crisps are suddenly luxury goods. And crisp companies are using words that tell us as much.
Take Anglesey Sea Salt flavour, for example. That salt came from the wilds of North Wales, and it was hand-collected by an ex-fisherman called Gwilym. He wears a fetching woolen hat to protect him from the elements, and has a lovely wife. His way of life is as simple and pure as the salt he collects. He loves his work and he does it for you, dear consumer.
Now consider the Lightly Salted crisp. That crisp was salted. But it was not salted like all the other crisps in this cruel world. It was salted lightly and tenderly; with love and with care. Whoever salted it closed their eyes, took a deep breath, looked at the sky and thought of you. And whoever made Sunday Best Roast Chicken flavour… they were thinking of you too. That wasn’t any old chicken. It’s very likely that your own mother cooked it. Take a sniff of Smoked Monterey Chili with Goats Cheese and you’re on holiday in Mexico, right? Did you notice that Prawn Cocktail got a Michelin-starred upgrade to Lobster Cocktail with little discernable change in taste?
So why is all this linguistic potato-porn happening? The crisp companies must think it’s just so much more seductive this way. Those cleverly selected words let us know where our food came from and how it was made. A proper noun here, an alluring gastro-adjective there and we’re projecting all kinds of narrative fantasies onto those crisps. But I’m starting to think it may have gone a little too far.
A well-known posh crisp manufacturer’s website tells me that ‘each crisp take(s) you on a flavour journey, a sensory experience which leaves you with a new and improved perception of taste appreciation’. That’s smashing. But I was just after a bag of crisps, not a life-affirming gustatory revolution. Because it doesn’t matter where my salt came from, or how my vinegar was poured, it’s still salt and vinegar. And they’re still just crisps.
So maybe it’s time to make the language that accompanies Britain’s favourite snack as plain as the crisps used to be when I was a kid. I’ll be stumping for good old Salt and Vinegar next time.