The vault of flavors
Entering the Pringles flavor vault, I was shocked by the sheer quantity of options. It's an overload. The flavors -- in dust form -- sat in bags and buckets on the shelves, like a prism of powder kegs, ready to be turned into fireworks.
Or, you know, Loaded Baked Potato crisps.
And this excess makes sense. If Pringles is known for anything -- other than making it ridiculously hard to eat the chips at the bottom of the cans -- it's the dizzying array of flavors. Aside from stalwarts like BBQ and Pizza, Pringles has idiosyncratic offerings like Hot Diggity Dog and Sriracha, joining international-only flavors like Britain's Roast Chicken & Herbs, Thailand's Salt & Seaweed, and Japan's Bruschetta.
I eyed the barrels and bags containing powdered versions of bacon, roast chicken, guacamole, and mustard with wonder and a little intimidation. Some were secret flavors that will not be named, since I signed some nondisclosure papers. But I'm pretty sure one contained the ashes of the Ark of the Covenant.
Stalking the vault's aisles were Pringles' in-house flavor alchemists, Peggy Schenke and Jay Henry -- self-described "work husband and wife" with nearly 70 years of large-scale flavoring experience between them. As I browsed the powders, the duo talked shop.
"I think we finally have it right," Henry said.
"The Fuego? I hope so," Schenke added, with a hint of exasperation.
They were working on a new flavor targeted at Latin America, where, as Schenke described it, "they want a lot of heat." Sometimes they tinker with a flavor for years before it gets through R&D and onto an actual production line. Recently, they developed a special, extra-fiery seasoning to sate the equatorial need for spice, called "Fuego." It's hotter than the inside of a Chrysler in June.
The duo treats these crisps like an artisanal baker would treat their speciality babka. Honey Mustard Pringles don't come from an age-old, guarded family recipe. But to hear them talk about flavors so personally, with such investment, you might think they do.
"Yes, there will sometimes be flavors we work on for year -- like our babies," Henry said, "only to have them die an unceremonious death. Hopefully the one you are about to make isn't one of them."
I was eager to create the greatest Pringle baby of all time. Or at least something edible. My fresh-from-the-saddle canvasses were in hand, now all I needed to do was paint my masterpiece(s).