Martin Lewis: The UK's best salt 'n' vinegar crisps, a data-Crunch of 46 types
The joy of good salt 'n' vinegar is you bite them, and they bite back – the flavour needs to be strong, sharp, and leave your tongue feeling like sandpaper. So it's time to focus MSE's data-Crunching expertise (honed on finding top savings, cards, and discounts) on to the ultimate investigative challenge... finding the UK's best salt 'n' vinegar crisps (of 46 brands tested).
There's a story behind why I did this, but that can wait till later. I don't want to write like one of those awful clickbait articles where you scroll for pages to find the interesting bit, so before we give the full rankings, the big picture...
The Salt 'n' Vinegar Taste Test winner is...
To do this, we did a blind taste test. The tasters were me, 18 MSE Towers S&V-loving team members and Mini MSE, my then 10, now just turned 11-year-old daughter Sapphire (getting her to come into work – and eat lots of crisps – got me serious daddy points).
So now I need to be plain (well, you never need to be plain, if the good lord had meant crisps to be plain, salt 'n' vinegar would never have been invented). While we've aimed to objectively examine prices, packet colours, calories and more, the two key factors, overall recommend-ability and strength of flavour, are subjective. And taste is personal, so you may disagree with our results, but I at least hope this may help guide some towards new brands to try that may just be your winner.
Of course, some crisps have recognisable shapes and textures, but during the blind-tasting we were surprised how often we got it wrong. Now (in)famously among us is MSE Petar's loud, determined "that is definitely a Kettle Chip" proclamation, which turned out later to be both a damp squib and a 'Morrisons The Best'. Equally surprising was how many times tasters were unaware they were ranking their pre-expected favourites poorly.
I should note that my personal top pick was also the overall winner, and also by far the most opted for top pick (the modal average if you like) as it was actually top pick for eight out of our 20 tasters.
Now to rank all 46 brands…
In true MSE style, we've done a serious data-Crunch, so much so, the best way to lay it out is via this MSE Salt 'n' Vinegar PDF, available to download (or if you need a more accessible version, there's this Word doc), where we go through the scores, cost per crisp, calories, whether they're gluten-free and more.
Five charts & stats on how it stacks up
1. More expensive doesn't mean better...
Not the first time I've written those words, but I wasn't expecting to ever write it about crisps. Of course it may just be that those of us who frequent MSE Towers don't have refined tastes, but based on cost per portion, the cheaper crisps outpunched the more expensive.
We divided the crisps into five categories based on cost per portion – either based on an individual packet or a portion size for a sharing bag.
2. Strength matters
We also got people to rank on strength, and perhaps not surprisingly with a piquant flavour like salt 'n' vinegar, the top two for strength were the same as the top two overall, while Discos danced itself into third place.
... and some honourable munch-ions
3. Wine vinegar is far from sour…
Breaking the crisps down into vinegar type, there was a clear winner.
4. Salt and vinegar crisps packets are… blue
Years ago mega-crisp maker Walkers broke the convention and turned salt 'n' vinegar packets green after, at least when I was growing it, it had always been blue. Yet it doesn't seem to have persuaded others. The tribal feud between pack colours has a clear winner of the 46 brands we looked at...
Yet it's interesting to see how this isn't necessarily matched by perceptions, especially among younger folk…
5. The quirks we discovered
So you've got the main conclusions, but there are a few more interesting quirks and titbits about our taste test we can confirm...
- Most crisp best-befores expire on a Saturday. This is due to the manufacturing working week. Walkers, as an example, start their manufacturing week on a Sunday, so all of its crisps will expire on a Saturday. PS: Do remember best-befores don't mean you can't eat it afterwards.
- We tried to avoid tastebud overload – 46 is a lot of crisps to taste! We were worried about this, so we spread all the tasters around the table, all starting at different points, and all moving clockwise, to try and ensure there was no 'starting' bias.
- I'm not sure what to say about Tayto. Many people, especially from Ireland, asked me to ensure we included them – saying they were easy winners. I was excited to try, and at the end of the blind test, asked which they were. Then I found that I, like many others, had scored them lowly (though Tayto Craft did much better). Not sure what happened there, but our Irish contingent swore blind Taytos tasted better years ago. Sorry.
Update one hour after blog published: Many on social media are now telling me we used Tayto Northern Ireland (well it is a UK taste test) and they're not the same as Tayto's Republic of Ireland apparently (I've not fact-checked) but if correct it may explain the discrepancy between reputation and result.
- "That's cheese and onion, surely?" There was almost revolt among the tasters that a pack of cheese and onion had been slipped in (heaven forbid). It hadn't been (MSE Olivia, who organised the taste test for me, would never have done such a thing), it just turned out many found Pipers Burrow Hill Cider Vinegar & Sea Salt tasted cheese and oniony. Turns out, our taste buds weren't the only ones to find that...
I've long been an S&V lover – we all know it is the superior crisp flavour – alongside its beloved cousins, pickled onion and Worcestershire sauce. And certainly many leagues above pretenders to the throne such as cheese and onion (I feel dirty just having written those words).
In September, I suddenly felt the urgent need for a S&V hit during a frantic day (I'm sure you know the feeling). Turning my head in all directions, the only food store near was M&S. I braved it, nipped in, and grabbed the best looking bag – not expecting much – as posh crisps aren't really me. Yet I was stunned, mouth agape (that was probably the flavour). I tweeted this:
(Indeed to back that up, now I'm pleased to say that crisp made it to the ultimate tier in our test.)
That Twitter post had 2,300,000 views, nearly 8,000 likes and, most importantly, 2,000 responses, with many sharing their own favourites – of which Co-op crisps (our 2nd place) certainly was the most recommended. So I decided to put it to the test to separate the men from the McCoy's.
There was no shortage of volunteers in MSE Towers – it's this type of hardcore, investigative consumer journalism we live for. So a couple of Wednesdays later, gathered round a long table, we sacrificed our increasingly numbed tastebuds and started scoring. I hope you've enjoyed the results.
None of this could've happened without MSE Olivia, who sourced the crisps (we allowed the firms to sauce them), organised the test, and uncomplainingly (she is an S&V lover too) did a host of ludicrous calculations and graphics for me. Big hat tip and thanks to her.