Saturday, October 18, 2008
Calbee Three Cheese Potato Chips
There are a great many things that the Japanese have taken and adapted to suit their tastes which have presented an equally good, but unique, take on a Western favorite or improved upon it. One of the things which has been a disaster by and large has been cheese. Japan's markets are full of packets of processed cheese and most of the Japanese people I've known don't cook with actual cheese. It's essentially a cheese wasteland of Velveeta-philes, though there is no actual Velveeta in Japan, curiously enough.
Given the tastes in Japan toward cheese run more toward the processed end of the cheese spectrum than the matured cheddar end, any cheese-flavored product has to be approached with trepidation. That said, hope springs eternal so I picked up this back of "three cheese" chips. If you look at the outside of the bag, it shows little glossy bits of melted cheese on the outside of the chips. While these dabs of cheese look plastic-like and hard, they are actually very soft. If you run your finger across one, it rubs off easily. It's more like a wet paste that is flung over the chips than melted cheese.
The real chips, as opposed to the illustrated ones on the bag, have very few of the cheese globs on them. They are also lightly coated with an orange powder. The chips smell like chips with the vaguest hint of cheesiness. They are decently crispy and have a vague cheese flavor which resembles, unsurprisingly, processed cheese. Think "Kraft Singles" and you have a good idea of the flavor. If you are careful and put the side of the chip with cheese blobs and powder directly on your tongue, you get a stronger cheese taste. Also, the chips near the bottom of the bag are cheesier than those near the top. The ones at the top are serviceable, but are more plain-tasting chips.
The front of the bag claims that there is Cheddar, Emmantal (Swiss), and Gouda cheese on the chips. The truth is on the back where it lists the ingredient as "cheese powder" derived from these three cheeses. There are also some sweeteners (e.g., Stevia) and the usual gang of chemicals in flavored chips.
The overall taste of the chips is artificial. It's more about chemistry conveying a hint of cheesy tang, than actual cheese flavor. They aren't bad, but they aren't great. They're certainly not worth the 450 calories you'll consume if you put away the whole bag. Calbee is one of the best chip makers in Japan and I'd go for one of their bags of "salt" (plain) chips over these if I were in the market for a salted snack accompaniment to a sandwich.