Back in 2009, Britain’s Supreme Court had to decide an unusual question – is a “Pringle” a potato chip? That’s because potato chips (called crisps in Britain) and “similar products made from the potato, or from potato flour,” are subject to taxes. In the end, the high court ruled that Pringle’s are indeed potato chips and its then-owner Procter & Gamble owed nearly $160 million in back taxes. That’s despite the fact that in the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1975 ruled that Pringles couldn’t be marketed as “potato chips” because they failed to meet the technical definition. So what is a Pringle?
Who invented Pringles? Back in the 1950s, Procter & Gamble was into producing edible oils. And they were always trying to solve the same frequent customer complaints for chip makers – broken, stale, and greasy chips. In 1956, they decided to just create their own “perfect potato chip.” The task was given to food chemist Fredric Baur, who spent two years developing saddle-shaped chips from fried dough, and selected a tubular can as the chips’ container. The saddle-shape of Pringles chips is mathematically known as a “hyperbolic paraboloid.” However, Baur could not figure out how to make the chips taste good and P&G abandoned the idea. Fast forward to the mid-’60s, and P&G was again on the hunt for new products and decided to revisit Baur’s chip concept. P&G researcher Alexander Liepa restarted Baur’s work and succeeded in improving the taste.
What’s in a Pringle? Pringles are made of 42% dried potato flakes, along with vegetable oil, rice flour, wheat starch, maltodextrin, salt, and dextrose making up the other 58%. The granulated potato powder gets combined with oil, water, and a “top secret mixture” that results in a potatoey paste.
How do Pringles get their unique shape?Once the potato dough is formed, it is then poured through a funnel onto a conveyor belt. On the belt, it is spread into a thin sheet and then passed through a machine that cuts out oval-shaped slices or “dough-vals” as they are called by Pringles’ factory workers.
How to cook a Pringle:The dough slices are simply placed inside the saddle-shaped mold and passed through a sheet of oil until they are slightly brown in color. The total frying time lasts just 15 seconds. After the chips are fried in molds, they are blown dry to make sure any excess oil is removed. The chips then travel through a conveyor belt while the seasoning is sprinkled on them. Unlike the traditional chips that are tossed in a barrel with seasoning to form a uniform coating on all sides, Pringles are seasoned on just one side. Gene Wolfe, a well-known science fiction and fantasy novel writer, helped develop the machine that cooks them. Wolfe was a mechanical engineer at P&G before pivoting into the world of writing.
Where did the name come from? The origin of the Pringles name is a long-standing mystery. Some think it is an homage to a noted potato-related device inventor, Mark Pringle of Amsterdam, New York. There’s another theory that they could be named for two P&G advertising employees, both of whom lived on Pringle Drive in Ohio.
Pringles were a flop until the 1980s:Pringles premiered in Evansville, Indiana, in 1968. The chips were dubbed “Pringles Newfangled Potato Chips” but they proved to be too strange for American consumers. Company executives apparently argued for years over shelving the chips but somehow the snack managed to stay on shelves. Then, in the 1980s, with a tweaked flavor and flashy new marketing campaign, “Fever for the Flavor of Pringles”, the chips suddenly took off. Check out this ad HERE for a little trip back in time! By the late 1990s, Pringles had become a $1 billion a year brand. Today, Pringles is among the top-10 best-selling snack brands in the US.
Chip or not a chip? Following complaints by other chip makers that Pringles weren’t technically made from potatoes, in 1975, the FDA ruled that the company could only use the word “chip” in their product name within the phrase: “potato chips made from dried potatoes” Instead, Pringles decided to just use the term “crisps.”
Inventor buried in a Pringles Can:Baur, the man who developed the initial concept for Pringles and designed the iconic canister, was extremely proud of his creation’s success. So proud, in fact, that when he died in May 2008, his family honored his wishes to be buried in a Pringles can. “My siblings and I briefly debated what flavor to use,” his son told TIME in 2008, “but I said, ‘Look, we need to use the original.'” (Sources: Mashed, TastingTable, New York Times)