Steal vs. Splurge: Can These Cheaper Brands of Chocolate-Potato Chips Stack up to ROYCE’?April 24, 2017
Note: as of publishing, Jack n’ Jill Calbee Chocolate Potato Chips is no longer available in stores.
Chocolate and potato chips may well be the two greatest edible creations known to mankind, albeit from two different universes (the former generally used in sweet, decadent applications, e.g. candy and desserts; the latter generally salty and treated as a casual snack)—until some brilliant mind decided to do the previously unthinkable and combine the two together. Say what!? While combining the sweet and the savory is nothing new (or rare, these days), in the realm of unconventional things that just work, the chocolate-potato chip union ranks high up as one of our most favorite ever. Although the history of the combination is unclear, one brand in particular is known for executing it especially well: ROYCE’ Chocolate, a premium chocolate company from Hokkaido, Japan who sells it through six branches in the metro. Like most of the products on their lineup however, these chips do not come cheap. A box containing 190g of the stuff will set you back by P630—making it a little out of reach as a regular purchase.
Thankfully we’ve found two other brands that offer similar treats—one from Bourbon, a well-known snack brand from Japan, another from the partner venture between Calbee, another Japanese snack brand and our very own Jack n’ Jill—that offer a similar treat, but for much less. Could they be the ROYCE’ dupes our hearts (and stomachs) have been yearning for? Or is the money saved at least proportional to the difference in the level of enjoyment?
ROYCE’ Potato Chip Chocolate
P630/190g = P3.32/g
Available at ROYCE’ outlets in Metro Manila
ROYCE’ is considered a classic for a reason—these things are SUBLIME from the outside-in. First you are greeted by the smooth, matte-but-glossy surface of properly tempered milk chocolate. This is the real stuff, folks, made with actual cacao butter as opposed to vegetable oil fillers. Its buttery melt is unmatched, and while this is milk chocolate, it’s no mass-market gunk—you still have the caramel-y, fruity depth of cacao weaving through the creaminess. (At this point I feel compelled to point out that yes, real good milk chocolate exists.)
But the potato chips underneath are equally delicious: ridged (always the superior potato chip cut cut, I must argue) and at the right thickness, seasoned just enough that the flavor of the potato comes through, and properly fried to make for a solid crunch (the wavy shape really helps!). The chocolate works its way between humps, and they together they fuse beautifully—the creamy, sweet chocolate brings out the saltiness of the chip and vice versa. Even the ratio of the chocolate to the chip is spot on—somewhere around a perfect 1:1, or at least enough that you get to enjoy both with equal impact. This isn’t just chocolate with potato chip or potato chip with chocolate. Nope, this is its own category. ROYCE’ successfully melds the components into one singular sensation, and it is absolutely delicious.
The one downside is that you have to keep these things refrigerated—with the chocolate’s high cacao butter content, it melts pretty fast—which makes it a mess to eat especially around this time of the year here in the Philippines. (And though melty chocolate-stained fingers does hold its own appeal, it also makes the chips feel extremely greasy. This is not exactly the kind of munchable that you can just lug around anywhere.
P88/36g = P2.44/g
Available at the Yamazaki Grocery, Little Tokyo, Makati
Our mid-ranged steal comes in a tub, so plus points for portability. We’ll be honest though: it’s no ROYCE’. It goes by a different style, with smaller chips ridden with much tinier ruffles. While each chip comes enrobed on both sides (not just one side, as with ROYCE’) with “chocolate” that feels quite firm even at room temperature, this “chocolate” feels much greasier on the tongue, with less of the fine, milky depth of ROYCE’ and more of a one-note, straightforward sweetness. (It is unclear whether they use real chocolate as it isn’t specified whether the “vegetable oil” listed in the ingredients pertains just to the oil the chips are fried in, or actually mixed into the chocolate as the filler that defines compound chocolate. Going by what we’ve tasted though, we have a hunch it is the compound stuff.)
And rather than ROYCE’s straightforward fried potato, the chip base underneath (seemingly of the reconstructed style, made from dehydrated potatoes) take on a puffier consistency (we’d compare them to local Criss Cross potato chips) that makes them feel lighter alright, but also makes for a less satisfying crunch. You still get a good balance of salty and sweet if that’s your thing, but don’t expect them to even come close to the original.
Considering how far it compares to ROYCE’ in quality despite the price per gram being quite slim, you might as well save your cash for the real thing.
Jack n’ Jill Calbee Chocolate Potato
Note: this product is no longer available.
P42/65g = P0.65/g
Previously available at 7-Eleven stores
The cheapest bag of the bunch comes via the well-known Japanese potato chip brand Calbee in partnership with local snack brand Jack n’ Jill, and can be bought exclusively from 7-Eleven stores. (Take note that Calbee in Japan did in fact release a special chocolate potato chip in collaboration with ROYCE’ in the past, but going by the fact that the Philippine version makes no mention of the chocolate company on the package, we’re assuming this version is different.) We are huge fans of Calbee chips in general… but we will admit this wasn’t our favorite. Now the potato component is excellent—wavy ridges (with the similar actual potato-based potato chip style of ROYCE’s) that pack the right amount of saltiness and a satisfying crunch—which is not at all surprising coming from a company known for potato chips. But you get a very sparse amount of “chocolate”—heck, the ingredient list reveals that this is hydrogenated fat-based compound chocolate, made with palm and fish (!) oils to be exact—that comes as a translucent “glaze” rather than the prominent stripes shown on the packaging. So while it delivers enough of the sweetness that marks the sweet-and-salty snack, there isn’t much actual chocolate flavor to even really justify its identity as a chocolate potato chip. We’re not too crazy about the fishy aftertaste that comes with it, either.
Although radically cheap compared to the previous two (and fine as a standalone snack), you are mostly just getting what you paid for.
At three different price points, it’s not surprising that you get three very different products. Unsurprisingly, ROYCE’s version does rank as the best of the three, and the other two hardly come close. But its luxe quality calls for pausing, thinking, and really savoring the moment to best be appreciated—which begs the question of the identity of potato chips, and how most people tend to enjoy them. Shouldn’t potato chips be a casual eat that doesn’t require much thinking so you can put your mind to other things (e.g. the ideal gas equation as you cruise through your Chemistry homework; the meaning of life; Cole Sprouse’s perfect smirk as Riverdale plays onscreen) as you crunch through every handful? If you’re into these for just some semblance of chocolate + potato or sweet + salty for relatively mindless consumption—and to be clear, there is nothing wrong with that (it is in many ways part and parcel of what makes the potato chip-eating process so good, I would argue)—then no, the price point won’t feel justified at all, and you are better off with one of the cheaper alternatives. And between Jaga Choco and Calbee, the latter provides a much better chip base and some semblance of chocolate that still can satisfy, especially when eaten piece after piece in succession.
On the other hand, you could argue that ROYCE’s version is no mere snack, even bordering on crossing over to the realm of dessert, and is best consumed with the same level of full-on awareness and sensitivity as if you were savoring a sweet treat. If doing so is something you do value, we say go for ROYCE’ and relish the moment. Take delight in the chocolate as it releases its flavor notes and coats the tongue in its creamy embrace; feel the pop of salt as it transitions over to the chip; chew, but slowly, really feeling every single potato starch granule and oil molecule as you press it between the teeth. Doing so you’ll find that each piece goes a long way.
Okay, but how about a compromise? ROYCE’ entices with excellent potato chips and excellent chocolate. Between the two components however, the latter is rarer gem—in the sense that the discrepancy between the high-end and the cheap stuff is much bigger when it comes to chocolate than when it comes to potato chips. So for a taste of ROYCE’ for a fraction of the price, you could go for their standalone, pure chocolate bar (P320/115g) for melting and get a cheaper (but just-as-good) brand of similar-style potato chips, such as Ruffles or Lays’ Wavy if you can find it, that you can dip into it. It won’t be exactly the same, but it’ll still make for the sweet-salty, rich-and-crispy, topnotch-chocolate experience ROYCE’ provides.