Did the US or the UK invent crisps? Here's the curious story behind their creation

The United States and the United Kingdom share a love of crisps, but who invented this salty snack first?

Crisps United Kingdom United States
© Aleksandr Zubkov / GETTYIMAGES
Crisps United Kingdom United States

Who invented the crisp? You may not ask yourself this often, but next time you rip open a bag of your favourite crunchy potato slices, spare a moment to think of the man who first created this delicious snack - or at least, so the legend goes.

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The story involves a disgruntled chef and a demanding client, and resulted in one of the world’s most popular savoury snack options. The perfect pick-me-up, salty, crunchy and ideal for sharing or eating on the go, this snack quickly became a family favourite. But how was it invented?

A disgruntled chef and his fussy boss

The story of the chip’s birth dates back to the 19th century. George Crum, a chef of Native and African American descent, was working at Moon’s Lake House in the resort town of Saratoga Springs, New York. One day in 1853, he was pushed to the end of his tether when his employer sent the food he had prepared back to the kitchen.

His boss, the railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, claimed that his fried potatoes were much too thick. Crum, frustrated by this fussiness, decided to send a message back to the dining room by cutting teeny-tiny strips of potatoes that he fried to a - well, a crisp.Vanderbilt, far from taking this as the foody middle finger it was supposed to be, loved the crunchy potato slivers!

The spread of the crisp

Other patrons started asking for Crum’s ‘Saratoga Chips’ and the snack became a firm favourite far beyond New York. In 1860 Crum opened his very own restaurant where guests were welcomed with a basket of crisps, or ‘potato chips’, on each table. Crum ran his joint for over 30 years before taking his retirement. American Heritage magazine dubbed him ‘the Edison of grease’.

America vs the United Kingdom

America eats around 1.85 billion pounds of potato chips per year, according to Smithsonian magazine, while the UK is said to consume more crisps than the rest of Europe put together. And it seems there’s even competition between the US and UK over who really first invented the crisp.

An English doctor’s recipe for potato slices may pre-date Crum, according to History.com:

Food historians suggest they go back to at least 1817 when an English doctor named William Kitchiner came out with the first edition of his pioneering cookbook, 'The Cook’s Oracle', published in both British and American editions. One recipe, ‘potatoes fried in slices,’ sounds remarkably like today’s potato chip. Later revisions referred to the dish as ‘potatoes fried in slices or shavings.’

Al Capone’s surprising crisp connection

In 1926, a California business woman named Laura Scudder started using wax-paper bags to pack portions of crisps. Her crisp ‘packets’ included a ‘freshness’ date and a surprisingly effective tagline: ‘The Noisiest Chips in the World’.

Her idea allowed for the mass production of crisps - spearheaded by Leonard Japp, a Chinese chef. Rumour has it, his number one client was none other than Al Capone. The famous gangster reportedly tasted the salty snack on a visit to Saratoga and decided he wanted to sell crisps in his speak-easies.

So there we have it, the slightly complicated history behind the simple crisp. Next time you’re with friends and there are crisps on the table, you'll be able to chip in with some great fried potato facts.

Read more:

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Sources used:

Smithsonian: How the Potato Chip Took Over America

History.com: Who Invented the Potato Chip?

Mirror: 9 things you didn’t know about the crisps you are eating at lunchtime

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