Technically speaking, Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles are flawless. The chips are pleasingly thick, but not excessively so. Through superior engineering, they eliminate the two most common drawbacks of packaged potato chips, namely greasiness and staleness. And while they don’t taste strongly of potatoes, they have a flavor that food scientists refer to as high-amplitude, meaning that every note is knitted together to produce a distinctive bloom, like Hellmann’s mayonnaise or Coke or a decently aged Barolo.
These chips also excel at what brewers call sessionability — the degree to which a substance incites you to consume more of it. Consider Nacho Cheese Doritos, another Frito-Lay staple: The first few bites are blindingly flavorful, but a half-dozen chips later I begin to feel like I’m chewing on cheesy insulation. Worse yet, for me this sensation comes on suddenly, curdling into a sickening sense of shame. By comparison, Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles tolerate and even encourage overindulgence, and they bring on the feeling of satiety gradually, without undue alarm, in the manner of actual food.
The scientific wizardry behind Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles’ “proprietary blend of real Cheddar, other cheeses and real sour cream” is reduced on the ingredients list to the phrase “natural and artificial flavor” — it is entirely possible that if all the ingredients were listed, their number would balloon from around 30 to more than 100. And growing scientific consensus tells us that processed foods should be eaten, well, hardly ever.
But to enjoy Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles is to revel in the human-made, in the old Enlightenment project of our scientific conquest of nature. The marketing of so-called artisanal foods has traditionally prioritized narrative; the stories of our food have become so paramount that fussing about flavor is coming to seem almost gauche. Ruffles, by contrast, invite a purely aesthetic appreciation. The “Cheddar” and “potato” on the bag are mere starting points. The chips’ magnificently artificial flavoring is not a simulacrum of nature but an improvement on it, as fantastical and engineered as an unmanned satellite. They are perfect, fully realized objects, requiring no context or elucidation. They promise nothing except sensory gratification, and I like that about them.
Alex Halberstadt, “Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles”, The New York Times Magazine (21 August 2016), 21.