Sunday, October 12, 2008

Nageya (ナげや) Potato Ring Snack

The bag is showing (and telling) you that you can put them on your finger. It doesn't tell you that this isn't really a good idea unless you like powdery stuff all over your fingers.

The three most popular flavors of salted snack food in Japan are seaweed, "salt", and consomme. Of those three, the only one which has a powerful flavor is seaweed. I'm not sure how or why consomme came to be such a big flavor, but it is essentially a chicken (or, on rarer occasions, beef) flavoring dusted on the snack food. Consomme is the happy medium for people who find the plain flavors too boring and the seaweed too gross. It's saltier and carries a meaty flavor (referred to as "umami" by the Japanese and food snobs around the world who think "savory" and "meaty" aren't good enough terms for them).

I actually tried two varieties of "potato ring snack" by Tohato in small bags which I could pick up for about 45 cents (50 yen) each. Tohato, incidentally, is the purveyor of many salted snack foods in ring form including some fairly hot and spicy habanero rings. The company has been around since the early 50's and it's raisin cookies ("All Raisin") are staples in most Japanese markets and convenience stores. I used to eat the All Raisin cookies regularly when I first arrived in Japan because I thought they were relatively healthy. Then, I learned how to read some Japanese and realized otherwise.

The company's name relates to the word for "dove" in Japanese ("hato") and the company was involved in some sort of golf course related funny business in the first part of this century. Their slogan is "a good heart", though I imagine consumption of their products leads to anything but.

The plain variety of these is called "Poteko" (ポテコ) was bland and unremarkable. They weren't salty enough and simply were like eating crunchy nothingness. The consomme flavor was heavily dusted with salty meat and vegetable flavored powder. Imagine crushing up a consomme soup cube and sprinkling it all over a salty potato ring thing. They even smell like powdered (chicken? beef?) soup.

The first bite carries a heavy hit of the flavoring. It seems almost chemical. As is often the case with these things, subsequent bites are less intense as your tongue becomes less sensitive to the flavors. You also start to pick up on some sweetness mixed in with the salt. A look at the ingredients reveals the presence of the artificial sweetener Sucralose. If you couldn't work out the fact that these are a processed snack by the fact that they are rings, the fact that potato granules and flakes are ingredients would give you a clue. There's also a whole lot of powdered flavoring in it including onion and tomato powder, and beef extract.

These are relatively tasty and you get a lot of rings (29 grams/1 oz.) in the bag for 157 calories. However, if you're looking at weight rather than the number of rings, these are pretty bad for you even compared to a similar bag of chips. A 1-ounce bag of Lay's potato chips is 130 calories and has 10 grams of fat so you pay a bit more in calories for these rings and they are rather inferior to Lay's chips. The ring style of them makes you feel like you're eating a lot more though than you feel you're getting in a small bag of chips, so you do get the psychological benefit of feeling like you're stuffing yourself with salty goodness.

These are pleasant and I might pick a bag up again if I was in the mood for something savory and nothing else looked especially good. I'd avoid the plain version at all costs unless I was in the mood for crispy cardboard rings, but these are not bad at all.


Anonymous said...

I've tried the consomme ones before, i didn't particularly like it. They seem too like the store-brand chips in quality. I think you forgot about usushio, which is another common flavour for japanese savoury snacks.

Orchid64 said...

Usishio is what I tend to call "plain" since "salt" isn't so much a flavor to me. I know in Japan that they call plain chips salt flavor, but my old American habits die hard. ;-)