Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Baked v/s fried wafers. Is either healthier?

Everybody loves potato chips or potato crisps or wafers [as we call them in India]. Not many people know how they came to be invented. It’s an interesting story.

In the summer of 1853, Native American George Crum was employed as a chef at an elegant resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. One dinner guest found Crum's French fries too thick for his liking and rejected the order. Crum decided to rile the guest by producing fries too thin and crisp to skewer with a fork. The plan backfired. The guest was ecstatic over the browned, paper-thin potatoes, and other diners began requesting Crum's potato chips.

Thus, was born the wafer as we know it today. It’s a great snack, kids love it, adults love it, eating a bowl of wafers with a cold beer is one of life’s simpler pleasures for me.

The fact that wafers are delicious, addictive and universally loved and eaten is borne out by the announcement by PepsiCo just a few days ago. PepsiCo’s global potato chip portfolio has grown to more than $10 billion in annual retail sales in 2011. This was anchored by Lay's, the world's largest food brand and the No. 1 potato chip brand globally. Wafers are sold by PepsiCo in a variety of local flavours. The current best-sellers included Lay's Magic Masala in India, Lay's Red Caviar in Russia, Lay's Numb & Spicy Hot Pot in China. This, as I have said, is just PepsiCo’s market. There are countless other manufacturers. Suffice to say, it’s a huge market for simple fried potato. 

Lays Classic - Fried wafers

According to many, wafers make you fat. In fact, they say everything fried is bad as it makes you fat and clogs your arteries. How truly horrible that is. Who wants to be fat, we all want to be slim and sexy. So, to meet this demand, our wafer manufacturers developed a brand new product, “baked wafers”. Now you can eat to your heart’s content and not get fat. Life is wonderful again.

Needless to say, PepsiCo has launched baked wafers in India. To help sell these baked wafers they have an advertising campaign. It has good looking slim 20 something models literally devouring, as in stuffing their faces,  these delicious baked wafers. Have a look at the commercial if you have not seen it. The new wafers have 50% less fat. Interesting, I thought, and went out to buy a packet of both Lays Classic [the horrible fried stuff] in `American Style Cream & Onion’ flavour and the new Lays Baked in `Cream, Herb & Onion’ flavour with 50% less fat than fried wafers, which, apparently, I could eat to gay abandon.

The new baked wafers

Here is what I found.

The packet of Lays Classic has a miserly 60 grams of wafers and costs Rs 20/-. If my mathematics is correct this means that a kilo of wafers should cost you a staggering Rs. 333/-. Be that as it may. That is not the point I wish to make. A quick glance of the ingredients reveals basically 3 ingredients, potato, oil and flavours such as salt sugar and condiments. As you know, ingredients have to be listed in descending order of quantity so the biggest quantity is listed first and the smallest quantity last. So Lays Classic primarily has potato and oil. Nothing wrong with this. What more could you expect from a potato wafer?

Ingredients in fried wafers

Price of fried wafers

The packet of Lays baked weighs in at a slightly more substantial 67 grams and costs Rs. 30/- . Once again, if my mathematics is correct this means that a kilo of wafers should cost you an eye popping Rs. 447/-. The ingredients are indeed strange. Baked potato wafers contain, from highest to lowest, 47% potato flakes, then wheat flour, then starch then oil and lastly all the flavourings and condiments. Potato wafers and wheat flour? Are you eating a wafer or a chapatti? Is this really what you wanted to buy? No fresh potato in baked potato wafers, no sir, just some choice dry potato flakes mixed with wheat flour, sounds delicious? Not to me!

Ingredients of baked wafers

Price of baked wafers

Now the most interesting part. How much healthier is a baked wafer than a fried wafer.  To determine this you need to understand a couple of concepts. Calories are what give us energy. Therefore, if you eat more calories than you expend, you put on weight. Calories are found in fat, in protein and in carbohydrates. They may be many more calories in a given quantity of fat as opposed to a comparable quantity of carbohydrates. So, if you want to lose weight you need to expend more calories than you ingest. However, saying that baked wafers have 50% less fat than fried wafers and thereby implying or suggesting that eating baked wafers is somehow at least twice as healthy is less unhealthy or is a huge leap of faith. This kind of statement, though technically correct, is, according to me, grossly misleading.

Do have a careful look at the nutrition information. 100 grams of fried wafers contain 549 calories and 34 grams of fat. 100 grams of baked wafers contain marginally less calories i.e. 459 and, yes, half the fat at just 15.4 grams. Here lies the rub. Even though you have half the fat, you do not have half the calories. You have just 16% less calories, so, you are just fooling yourself by eating baked wafers and thinking that by eating them you are consuming have the calories, thus they are not fattening. It must be said that yes, you do consume half the fat but by no stretch of imagination is the calorific value 50% less.

Fried wafers 34 grams fat 549 calories

Baked wafers 15.4 grams fat 459 calories

If you ask me, PepsiCo are technically correct, the baked wafers do have 50% less fat. Where there is a lot of stuff left unsaid is that (i) just because baked wafers have 50% less fat it does not automatically follow that baked wafers do not have 50% less calories, though PepsiCo would like you to believe that, and (ii) baked wafers are not fresh potato but some hybrid product conceived in a lab which is a mix of potato flakes and wheat.

Stick with real fried potato wafers. Just eat a few less.

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