In Defense of Plain Lay’s, a Chip That Isn’t Plain at All

Classic Lay’s potato chips, often referred to as “plain” Lay’s, aren’t plain in the same way that we describe bland food. That would be an insult. They’re not the dull, milquetoast, suburban neighbors of potato chips that people often make them out to be. Classic Lay’s are actually full of flavor, and that flavor, friends, is fat.

I’ll repeat once again: Fat is a flavor. It’s a unique taste that’s somewhat indescribable, but it is nonetheless a gloriously decadent sensation. We taste pure fat in a deliciously marbled ribeye steak, pork belly, and fresh avocados. Fat is, as Perdue University found, the sixth taste, and we need to acknowledge it as such. Like sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami, fat deserves its own wedge on the flavor wheel. Lay’s embody this flavor sensation; it’s why people so often label them as greasy. They taste of the oil in which they were fried. Grease and fat are interlinked, and it’s the prominent descriptor people attribute to this classic potato chip. Once you understand this, you realize that Lay’s aren’t plain at all. They’re actually fat flavored. 

Sometimes fat gets lost among the other flavors, but when it exists singularly, boy is it ever-present. Bread and butter. Olive oil and pasta. Or take Barberton fried chicken, a Serbian style of fried chicken made famous in Barberton, Ohio. The chicken is fried in beef tallow with, get this, no seasoning. To some, that might seem incredibly dull, but to others, it’s the best fried chicken in America. The fat permeates every crevasse in the chicken, and explodes in your mouth with a powerful, unadulterated taste. Here, fat is put on a pedestal instead of being muffled with other ingredients. 

Another example: My sandwich of choice here in Los Angeles has no condiments on it whatsoever. It has been dubbed “the sandwich” at Roma Market in Los Angeles. It is simply crusty Sicilian bread, mortadella, capicola, salami, some provolone, and a drizzle of olive oil. There is no tanginess. No sharp mustard, sweet ketchup, or sour pickles. The fat content in the Italian meats and the olive oil shine bright. Without other flavors in the way, the sandwich achieves a unique unctuousness by allowing you to savor the unadorned deli meat and oil. Fat, once again, is the star of the show.

OK, Danny, now you’re rambling. What does this all weird, fetishizing fat talk have to do with Lay’s Classic chips?

Guys, I’m getting there.

Here’s my point: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people who do prefer their sandwiches to be sloppy, dripping wet with red wine vinegar, mustard, pickles, onions, and the like. That’s delicious, too. A balance of sweet, sour, salty, and umami is a decidedly great thing. But singular, fatty foods have a place in the food world. It scratches a very particular itch. That itch is the craving of a simple sebaceousness. Sometimes, you just want to taste one thing: a steak without sauce or plain vanilla ice cream. And Classic Lay’s scratch that same itch right in the middle of your back with a big hand-sized claw. They are simply well-oiled potato chips, and by embracing the sixth taste, fat, they have become iconic.

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I know that Lay’s are salted, too. Salt and fat together are an impressive combination. Think, again, of a nicely seared ribeye steak. The steak itself is meaty umami, but a properly seared and salted fat cap almost outshines the meat itself—the way it hangs on your tongue and dissolves in your mouth is a delicious event. When you combine salt and fat together, they make a formidable duo. We are all puddy in the hands of salt and fat, unable to reject their qualitative, tasty seduction.

Now, I know that many people argue that Lay’s potato chips are too greasy, but I find that greasiness to be their strength. Greasy doesn’t always equal bad. Just think about a sloppy burger, a cheap slice of pepperoni pizza, or an oily, greased up diner breakfast plate of eggs cooked in rendered bacon fat. 

Lay’s labels their plain chips as Classic, and that’s exactly right. They’re exemplary in their simplicity. There’s no off-putting citric acid. No milk solids or preserving agents. There aren’t chemicals and artificial flavor compounds getting in the way of their pure, absolute taste. Lay’s Classic chips are just potatoes, oil, and salt. I like wild flavor combinations, new tastes, spicy foods, and exciting new products as much as the next food freak. But, sometimes, you crave a little simplicity. Sometimes, all you need is fat. 

About the Author

Danny Palumbo

Danny is a comedian, cook, and food writer living in Los Angeles. He loves gas station eggs, canned sardines, and Easter candy. He also passionately believes that all the best chips come from Pennsylvania (Herr's!). If you can't understand Danny when he talks, it's because he's from Pittsburgh.

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  • The problem with Classic Lay’s potato chips is the low quality of the potatoes. In every bag, I will find many chips that have either green or black spots on them. Higher quality potato chip brands have almost no discolored chips in each bag. I do agree that the flavor is good, and that and the low price keep me coming back despite the low quality potatoes.

    • I’m with you here. When you have a thick, fresh-cut tasting chip it’s really wonderful. Lays are good strictly not because of quality ingredients, but because they’re greasy and that’s kind of it.

  • Classic lays are perfectly delicious. By themselves or in a sandwich (my favorite way to make your sandwich crunchy). Their taste is a fatty, salty and always hits the spot when I need that combo.