Crunching the Numbers Behind Pringles

Pringles potato chips started life as a relatively low-rung brand of snack released by Procter and Gamble (P&G). That was before all the celebrity endorsements and some catchy advertisements. The odd, saddle-shaped chips were officially invented in 1968, and began to see international circulation by the early 1970s. They’ve often been hailed as a dieter’s friend, but are they really?

Pringles as Diet Snacks

Unfortunately, no. They might taste light and airy, but the process that they have to go through to attain their shape and taste makes them quite heavy on calories – they are technically junk food.  As you can see from the chart below, Pringles Originals are rather fattening.  Pringles Fat Free have fewer calories, but more or less the same amounts of sodium and carbs.

These numbers are based on a 1oz. serving, or about 14 Original chips or 15 of the Fat Free variety.

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How Pringles Began

The iconic Pringles saddle shape actually came about as an attempt to create a potato chip and packaging combination that wouldn’t break chips, or let too much air in and allow them to get stale. The shape was developed by Fredric Bauer, a chemist employed by P&G in the 1960s.

Bauer worked out that by using dried potato flakes and flour, and pressing them into a specific shape, he could stack the resulting chips in a tube-shaped tin. The shape itself is called a hyperbolic paraboloid, and while it looks simple to make, the exact ratio of the curves of the sides was reportedly worked out by a supercomputer.

Despite his excellent application of mathematics, Bauer was unable to make the chips taste any good, and so the project was put on ice for a few years until taken over by Alexander Liepa. Liepa is credited as the inventor of Pringles on the patent, even though Bauer created the recognized shape.

Recently, P&G sold Pringles for a reported $1.5 billion to Diamond Foods. The company, huge sellers of soap and other vanity products, decided to go a different direction and to ditch the chip.

Here are a few fun facts about Pringles:

Original Title and Slogan

Pringles’ original slogan and name was “Pringles Newfangled Potato Chips.” Unfortunately, the FDA ruled that they were not allowed to call their product “chips” as they contained only 42% potato. They were changed to “crisps”, but this caused problems in the UK as this is what chips are called there.

The original slogan, before “Once you pop, you can’t stop,” was “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop.” Both are used interchangeably in the United States.

Foreign Flavors

In the U.S., you might find original, BBQ, sour cream and onion, and a few other flavors, but specialty markets and limited releases of Pringles have included a wide assortment of different flavors: paprika, Cajun, onion blossom, cheeseburger (recalled), lemon, cheesy fries, mozzarella cheese stick, chili cheese dog, honey mustard, seaweed, blueberry, prawn cocktail, and many more.

Pringles also released (in selected markets) various whole-grain versions of their chips in response to consumer calls for healthier snacks.  They also experimented with replacing some of the wheat flour with vegetables such as broccoli and carrot, but these did not get past the market research stage.

A Pioneered Process

Regular chips are made by slicing whole potatoes and frying them. Pringles, on the other hand, are made from potatoes that are cooked, mashed completely, dehydrated, flaked, reconstituted into a dough, pressed into uniform shape, fried, seasoned, then packaged in a can to keep them safe and preserve their freshness. All that for a chip!  Contrary to popular belief, they are indeed fried and not baked.

While this process was unique in 1968 when the chips were developed, many snack food companies now use this same process to produce various low-cost potato or other starch-based snacks.

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