Pop chips

Corina allowed me to sample a new variety of snack food today, the ‘pop chip’ or more specifically, Trader Joe’s barbeque Popped Potato Chips.  They were quite delicious and light, and I did enjoy stealing quite a few of them.  But the label, with its claims of ‘never fried. never baked.’ left me a little confused.  Just how exactly were these things cooked?  Can potatoes really ‘pop’?  That just doesn’t even make sense.

Pop Chips’ website describes their chips as natural ingredients like potatoes and whole grain rice with heat and pressure applied.  Evidently it is this heat and pressure that pops the chips.  Still, I was confused.  How does the application of heat, even under pressure, cause something to ‘pop’?

A few more careful observations shed some light on the subject.  First under the ingredient list of the pop chips is some type of flour.  In the case of potato chips, it’s potato flour: in the case of rice chips, rice flour. So the actual substance to be ‘popped’ is not a sliver or slice of potato – it’s a dough made with flour and some type of oil (usually sunflower oil).  Now, while this oil is not nearly as heavy as that used for frying, it is the consistency of the dough that allows it to fluff or puff up or ‘pop’ when heat is applied.  In addition, the rice variety also contains yeast, to further add air and fluff to the chip.

Now, my final contention and question.  The definition of baking is ‘to cook (food) with dry heat, especially in an oven.’  While I am not sure if the heat applied to the popped chips is ‘dry’, I am unclear as to why these chips are not considered baked.  The distinction may not qualify as false advertising, but it is certainly misleading.  And while I may nto understand the dynamics of ‘popping’ that require the use of pressure, a bit better explanation of the process on the website might be in order.  After all, despite the simplicity of the ingredients, I doubt it’s something I’ll be able to accurately replicate in my own kitchen.



  1. Alex said,

    March 18, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    I had a similar question for Leo about the difference between baking and broiling, since both happen in an oven and the only difference is if the heat is generated on both sides or just above (the heat gets everywhere, obviously). Cooking is silly.

  2. sedgehammer said,

    March 18, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    Broil: 1. to cook by direct heat, as on a gridiron over the heat or in an oven under the heat; grill: to broil a steak.
    2. to scorch; make very hot.

    So it looks like broiling is a subcategory of baking…

    Also there’s the idea of baking being different than cooking (I.e., baked goods) but if so, how do you ever bake a chicken?

  3. Mike Adams said,

    August 20, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    What about pressure cooker?

    I just had one of this yummies. I’m wondering if you put a dollop into a pressure cooker. I’m thinking of a popcorn kernel. It ‘pops’ because the water inside the starch boils and expands. The expanding breaks through the kernel’s shell and the starch expands amazing amounts when cooked. What I don’t understand is how to keep the chip from burning inside the pressure cooker.

    Notice the ingredients is specifically potato starch?

  4. Diana said,

    January 26, 2011 at 5:02 am

    Actually the French Culinary Institute did a blog post about this subject…

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