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Bet You Can Eat Just One

February 01, 1996|LAURIE OCHOA

It arrived in a shiny silver packet, the sort of thing you might imagine in the snack cabinet of the space shuttle. It was a lunchbox-sized bag of fat-free potato chips made with Olean, the Proctor & Gamble brand of the fat replacement olestra. With it was a companion bag of what was described on the label as "Regular Potato Chips" . . . the control chips. Our mission in the Times Food section: to taste and compare.

But first we wanted to buy our own control chips. While impressed with P&G's scary efficiency--the morning after the Food and Drug Administration announced that it would approve the use of olestra, a press kit and sample chips arrived via Federal Express in our office--we didn't like the company's idea of fatty chips (too much like Styrofoam). Finally, with bags of Ruffles and Lay's opened for comparison, we took our first taste of Olean chips.

"Oh, these are good," said one of the tasters. Not everyone was as enthusiastic. "There's a fishy taste," one person said over the crunching of chips. "It's got a weird finish," said someone else.

"The texture is true," one thoughtful taster commented, "but the flavor is false."

"It's got the proper mouth-feel," said one of our new interns straight from the California Culinary Academy, "but it finishes like a baked product."

"It's not greasy enough," said our staff chile expert.

Ten minutes into the tasting many of us noticed that our mouths had acquired an odd waxy coating--not the sort of thing that makes you want to go for another chip. And a lot of people in the room kept rereading the warning label about side effects, wondering whether three or four chips would bring on symptoms.

We agreed that the Olean chips were better than the majority of the low- and nonfat chips on the market. The initial flavor and texture of the chip were good; then things began to deteriorate. For reasons that only a food chemist can explain, we felt that the chips didn't taste fried enough--there was more raw potato flavor than good old grease and salt.

"Well," concluded one taster, "I think I'll stick to my regular old chips."

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