It’s no secret that Canadians love their ketchup chips. The crunchy, thinly sliced fried potatoes, doused in a tangy reddish powder, have been a favourite flavour since the early 1980s, sparking snack attacks and staining fingers across the nation. It’s bewildering that a Heritage Minute hasn’t been created for Canada’s signature snack.
But what’s the story behind ketchup chips? French fries and ketchup have gone hand-in-hand since the early 1800s, but the duo really became BFFs in the 1940s with the rise of fast food and drive-ins at the time.
Inspired by this classic combo, adding ketchup-flavoured seasoning to potato chips came to be sometime in the 1970s. Each chip was dusted with tomato powder, garlic, onion and spices, infusing smoky, salty and sweet flavours with a tart bite into every crunch. Since then, millions of chip bags have been torn open and devoured by hungry hordes of Canadians, who can’t get enough of this quirky and addictive ketchup-y flavour.
Although a quintessential Canadian snack, the origins of ketchup chips are mired in mystery, with no one stepping forward to officially take the credit. At its simplest, it’s believed that this red-powdered snack was first invented by Hostess Potato Chips in the early 1970s, and sold exclusively to the Canadian market. The newfangled flavour was a huge hit in the Great White North, triggering a ketchup chip craze to erupt from coast-to-coast.
Digging deeper, it appears that the story could be more complicated. An American company in Pennsylvania, Herr’s Snacks, has reportedly been making ketchup-flavoured chips since the early 1980s. A decade later, the Heinz Ketchup company got on board with Herr’s, realizing that potato chips and ketchup seasoning makes a killer combo. They’ve since blended the brands to create Herr’s Heinz Ketchup Flavoured Potato Chips.
The bottom line? Although ketchup chips likely hold dual citizenship, it’s definitely a Canadian classic to the core. While the flavour tends to be scarce south of the border, Canadian store shelves are almost always well-stocked with bags of this favourite Canuck snack. Plus, smaller Canadian-owned companies are jumping on the ketchup wagon and making their own versions.
Featured on Food Network Canada’s Food Factory, the Covered Bridge Potato Chip Factory in New Brunswick uses their grandmother’s recipe to make their chips, but revamped the recipe to include Homestyle Ketchup Chips. Made with Russet Potatoes, these ultra crunchy chips are dusted with tomato powder and other goodness, making it a favourite Canadian brand.
Nowadays, Canadians can do more than rip open a bag, as chip lovers are taking ketchup-style snacking to the next level. For one, the ketchup-y powder makes a sensational seasoning for many other tasty snacks, and it’s easy to make in your home kitchen. With this homemade ketchup chip flavouring, you can spice up everything from popcorn to roasted potatoes to squash, without adding artificial flavours and colours.
Short on time? You can also buy ready-to-go ketchup seasoning from the Covered Bridge Potato Chip Factory (along with bags of chips too!). Or just crush up some ketchup chips and use the bits as a crunchy topping for hot dogs or other mains. For more adventurous home chefs, why not try making a batch of Ketchup Chips Chicken Strips? The crispy batter of crushed ketchup chips transforms routine pub grub into a tangy and sweet dish.
The verdict? Ketchup chips hold a special place in the history and hearts of our delicious nation — but we’re still waiting on that Heritage Minute!
For more Canuck eats, check out these 45 Canadian Comfort Food Recipes.