National Potato Chip Day
National Potato Chip Day celebrates potato chips, America's #1 snack food, which also makes up more than a third of the world's savory snacks market. But potato chips are not just snacks—they are eaten at meals too. They consist of thin slices of potatoes that are fried, baked, kettle-cooked, or air fried. They are usually salted and come in flavors such as plain or original, barbecue, sour cream & onion, oil & vinegar, ranch, cheddar cheese, and hot or spicy. They may be shaped in a regular, circular manner, or be wavy (crinkle cut). Two common chip dips are ranch and sour cream & onion.
Food historians believe potato chips date to at least 1817, when William Kitchiner, an English doctor, released The Cook's Oracle, which had a recipe titled "potatoes fried in slices." Later editions of Kitchiner's book titled the recipe "potatoes fried in slices or shavings," and similar recipes appeared in books shortly after. It's possible, though, that potato chips predate Kitchiner's recipe and were made in a variety of ways by numerous cooks over the centuries prior.
The most prominent stories related to the origin of potato chips, however, are contested by food historians. The most common account says that Chef George Crum (George Speck) created potato chips at Moon's Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York, on August 24, 1853. According to lore, a customer—sometimes listed as business magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, which is very unlikely—was unsatisfied with his french fries and kept sending them back, saying they weren't sliced thin enough and didn't have enough salt. Eventually, Crum decided to be a bit facetious; he fried paper-thin potatoes until they were crispy and put an overabundance of salt on them. He imagined he was taking it too far, but the customer loved them. He kept the recipe, and other customers soon loved them too, and they became a staple on the restaurant's menu. Then other restaurants started making them. This story didn't take hold during Crum's lifetime, even though he was well-known for his other dishes, and it didn't even appear in his obituary, making it dubious.
Another account claims that Crum's sister, Catherine Adkins Wicks, was the real inventor of the potato chip—that she was the one who sliced the potatoes extra thin, or that she accidentally dropped a potato slice in a pot of boiling fat and had an epiphany after pulling it out. Another account credits Hiram S. Thomas, a prominent African American hotelier, as the "inventor of Saratoga chips." Indeed, Thomas ran Moon's Lake House, but not until the 1890s, which was decades after chips were invented. Another person credited is Emeline Jones, who worked with Thomas at Moon's Lake House early in her career, but who likely wasn't there when chips were first made. More recent stories posit that potato chips started at Moon's Lake House, but predated Crum and Wicks. For example, a New York Herald article from 1849 speaks of the "fame of 'Eliza, the cook' for crisping potatoes" at Moon's Lake House. Regardless of the veracity of the stories, Saratoga Springs has embraced their chip past. Saratoga chips was a name for potato chips well into the twentieth century, and Saratoga Chips is a brand still on the market today.
Potato chips were mass-produced and sold in wax paper bags in the early twentieth century. Lay's gained popularity as a national brand in the 1940s. The first flavored or seasoned potato chips came in the 1950s. Cheese & Onion were manufactured by the Irish chip company Tayto in 1954, and that same year barbecue chips became the first flavored chips made in the United States. Salt & Vinegar went on the market in 1967.
National Potato Chip Day has been observed at least since 1996. It has been embraced and promoted by companies that manufacture potato chips, such as Utz, SpudLove, and Lay's. Utz changed their look on the day, hosted a sweepstake, and offered free shipping for online chip purchases. SpudLove hosted a social media giveaway, and Lay's gave away thousands of free bags of potato chips in New York City.
How to Observe National Potato Chip Day
Eat potato chips for a snack, or with lunch, dinner, or even breakfast! Buy a bag of your favorite brand, have some at a restaurant, try some of the many flavors, and eat them with dip. You could make homemade chips or make a recipe that contains chips. Host a potato chip party and have a chip tasting contest. Check if any potato chip brands are celebrating the day and offering any specials. You could also read a book about potato chips, such as Crunch!: A History of the Great American Potato Chip, or watch "Chip Dynasties," an episode of The Food That Built America.