Search
  • Husky & Onigunsô

Best Japanese Potato Chips (and Weirdest)

Updated: Sep 25

Japanese Potato Chips Ranked from Best to Worst


Seven bags of Japanese potato chips.

Potato chips might be my biggest vice in my life. But Japanese chips didn’t impress me much when I went to Japan for the first time, back in 2006. I guess it’s typical to favor your hometown food. However, aside from the three Cs – chips, chocolate, and cheese – I think Japan does most foods better than my native Norway.


So, why were the Japanese chips so exceptionally average? For one, chips are not dominating the Japanese snack marked as much as in Norway. This might explain why the assortment of Japanese chips have taken its time to grow.


Only the last decade or so have kettle fried chips, popped chips, and more inventive chips types become standard fare in supermarkets and convenience stores all over Japan. These days, the chips market in Japan is more exciting than ever.


I will get into the differences of Japanese and Norwegian chips before getting to the chips ranking, but you can skip directly to the ranking right now if you are not interested in the reflections of a potato chips addict: Skip to the list of best and weirdest Japanese chips



The Northern Potato Chips Revolution


I am surely biased when arguing that Norwegian potato chips are the best in the world. One thing is for sure, however, the chips I have brought with me to Japan has never failed to impress Japanese chips eaters.


40 years ago in Norway, you would only find average chips in the stores, like Lays or Walkers. But a sudden change came about in 1990, when a small independent chips factory started a chips revolution.


The company was called Sørlandschips («Southland Chips» or «Southern Chips»), and their introducing of thicker and crispier chips changed the Norwegian chips market forever after.


Following the emergence and success of Sørlandschips, the Norwegian marked exploded with new and exciting variants and flavors of potato chips. Then, in 2006, I went to study abroad in Japan. As far as the Japanese chips market went, it was like being back in Norway in 1989.



Japanese Potato Chips Versus the World


In 2006, it didn’t take me more than a weekend or two to realize that Japanese chips were not for me. They had some fun novelty chips, like super-spicy palette-killers, or tangy fish-flavored chips, but the most popular variants were bland and similar in taste. The chips themselves, were of the crunchless cardboard kind that hadn’t changed in the last 50 years.


The only salty snack that excited me in Japanese convenience stores in the mid 2000s, was a box of potato sticks called Jagabee, made by a company called Calbee. At this time, Calbee were mostly known for a wheat-based, shrimp-flavored snack called Kappa Ebisen. Little did anyone know that this company would grow to become the leading Japanese potato chips producer 15 years later.


In Japan, the most popular and most sold potato chips flavors have always been Consommé and Nori-Shio (Seaweed & Salt). Consommé always strikes me as the Japanese equivalent to BBQ-flavored potato chips, while Nori-Shio is a little bit like Sour Cream & Onion, with a definite hint of tang, or ocean, or salt water if you will.


Skipping forward to 2021, and the Japanese potato chips market is in the early stages of its own revolution. Five years ago, we could notice a serious increase in import of exiting chips from the outside world. This seems to have lit a spark in Japanese chips producers, who are now spewing out new variants and flavors every month.


I am not going to list them all, since new flavors come and go faster than cherry blossoms in Japan. But before I move on to the list, I think it’s only fair to state that my favorite potato chips flavors in Norway are Paprika (a little similar to Lays BBQ), Crème Fraiche & Onion, and Sea Salt & Vinegar.


Best Japanese Potato Chips | The Finalists

Can you guess which five we love and which three we Fear?


  • Calbee Kataage – Black Pepper

  • Calbee Kataage – Grilled Seaweed

  • Calbee Pizza Potato Mentai Mayo – Cod Roe/Mayo/Pizza

  • Calbee Natsu Potato – Umeboshi (Sour Plum)

  • Koikeya Karamucho – Hot Chili

  • Terra Foods Yakijaga – Yuzu Koshô (Citrus/Chili/Salt)

  • Bourbon Jaga Choko Bitter – Dark Chocolate

  • Yamayoshi Wasabeef – Wasabi & Beef



And without further ado, here is our ranking of Japan’s best potato chips, followed by a listing of three strange potato chips that will not find their way to our table again. Unless we want to have some fun with some visitors from abroad, that is.



5. Bourbon Jaga Choko Bitter – Dark Chocolate


You can’t really go wrong with chocolate-covered potato snacks. One of the most popular snacks on the Norwegian market is a product akin to chocolate covered Bugles called Smash. They are salty, sweet, crispy, and addictive like heroin.


In Japan, they do the same thing to ruffled chips, and it works like a charm. My favorite type is the one with dark chocolate, since I’m not a big fan of Japanese milk chocolate. Jaga Choko Bitter is a very nice treat, though. The sweet and bitter flavors of the chocolate are balanced to perfection with the lightly salted chips.


The only thing I will criticize about Jaga Choko Bitter is that the chocolate coating is a bit heavy. You heard me! But how can it be too much chocolate you say? Well, I prefer my chips crunchy. These chips are so covered in chocolate that they feel a little soggy from the first bite.


Sidenote: There is another very similar product on the Japanese market that has a better chocolate/chips-balance than Jaga Choko. But it is a rather upscale brand which is not found in most supermarkets and convenience stores, so we chose to exclude it from our list. They’re called Royce Potato Chips Chocolate.


The chocolate ratio on the chips is nitpicking of course. Jaga Choko Bitter is still my fifth favorite chips in all of Japan. The consistency is never a problem when the flavor is as heavenly as this. Thank God the containers are tiny. Overeating Smash is a recurring trauma I don’t care to relive.



A bag of Japanese potato chips. Terra Foods Yakijaga – Yuzu Koshô

4. Terra Foods Yakijaga – Yuzu Koshô (Citrus/Chili/Salt)


In later years, popped chips has popped-up around the world as a healthy alternative for potato chips-addicts. Admittedly, they can be quite satisfying, and this Japanese variant is no exception.


In fact, it is quite the stroke of genius from Terra Foods, since Yuzu Koshô is an underused flavor in the Japanese chips market. It fits perfectly with the airy and delicate popped chips texture.


In case you were wondering, Yuzu Koshô is a popular Japanese seasoning, which is made of chili, salt, and yuzu peel. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit that resembles lime in appearance and taste.


Popped chips is not so common in Japan, though. It is far between the shops that carry these tasty treats, but a good place to start your hunt is Natural Lawson. This subdivision of Lawson convenience stores focuses on organic, healthy, and environmentally friendly products, and Yakijaga fits the profile like a glove.



A bag of Japanese potato chips: Yamayoshi Wasabeef – Wasabi & Beef.

3. Yamayoshi Wasabeef – Wasabi & Beef


It might be surprising to some, but the second runner-up in our potato chips ranking is Wasabeef, or wasabi and beef flavored chips. It’s an age-old best-seller in Japan, and with good reason. The combination of classic, lightly salted chips, with a hint of wasabi, is a match made in heaven.


As mentioned, Nori-Shio (seaweed salt) and Consommé are the two best-selling chips flavors in Japan, but none of these impressed my Scandinavian taste buds. Both struck me as over-traditional and too similar to Lays Classic or BBQ-flavored chips, whereas Wasabeef is a perfect blend of old and new.


For it is an old-school chip. Aside from the wasabi seasoning, this feels very much like biting into classic Lays, or Norway’s Maarud classic salt. The crunch, salt/oil ratio, and thickness are almost identical to these classic chips, but then comes the wasabi kick and turns the unexciting formula into something exhilarating.


I am sure, though, that Wasabeef is as common to Japanese chips consumers as classic salt is to my native countrymen, but these flavors stuck around and became classics for a reason. And the same is the case with Wasabeef.


The balance is key. The wasabi is far from overpowering but balanced very nicely on top of the classic chips, not so much as to take away that familiar taste that chips lovers have craved since the dawn of the potato chip. For this reason, even those who struggle with wasabi might find Wasabeef palatable, or even addictive.



A bag of Japanese potato chips: Calbee Natsu Potato – Umeboshi (Sour Plum)

2. Calbee Natsu Potato – Umeboshi (Sour Plum)


Hold on to your lower jaws, for here comes the biggest surprise on our list: Ruffled umeboshi chips rocks!!! It is the best thing I have found in Japan to satisfy my craving for sour cream and onion, or vinegar flavored potato chips.


Back in Norway, these used to be my go-to snacks for my weekend binge watch of Japanese films and anime. In Japan, however, I have yet to come across a sour cream and onion chip that satisfies my addiction. And the vinegar flavored options are just to tame to entice anything other than the much feared chip-dependency-distress, aka CDD-syndrome.


After living about a year in Japan, I was in fact suffering a hefty CDD-depression, but then came Natsu Potato Umeboshi along and saved my summer. Note: «Natsu» is the Japanese word for «summer», which means that this chips is limited-edition and can only be bought in the summer in Japan.


Safe to say, the crunch, the flavor, the ruffles, the sour and salt balance all click and makes this one of the most addictive chips on the Japanese market. This is not a novelty chips, it’s the real deal!


Why is Umeboshi a summer-flavor? Check out our Tokyo Summer Survival Guide to find out!




1. Calbee Kataage – Black Pepper


And the winner of our Japanese potato chips ranking is… A new school chips with a classic flavor. Calbee’s Kataage series has actually been around since the 90s, which makes it sort of a pioneering line of kettle fried chips. Black Pepper is the best of the series, in our opinion.


The balance of these chips is the kind that classics are made of, which is to say the perfect blend of familiar favorite flavors with an exciting new twist. Not only is this a chips that is impossible to tire of, I believe it is the only Japanese chips that is on level with the absolute best chips I have found in America and Norway.


A bag of Japanese potato chips: Calbee Kataage – Black Pepper.

I have no doubt that this would sell well all over the world. The crunch is hefty, the thickness and bite of the chips is very satisfying, and the pepper kick is just a little bit stronger than your average salt and pepper chips, which makes it feel innovative and fresh.


I don’t really need to say much more about this chip. It goes well with everything. It is great for drinking, and a nice condiment for BBQ. It serves nicely as a small meal between lunch and dinner, on cheat days of course, but in Japan, those are more common than health days. But that is a topic for another blog post.


Our post about Culture Shocks in Japan has more fun facts about health in Japan!



Weirdest Japanese Potato Chips


And now for something completely different. We couldn’t make a Japanese chips ranking without getting into some weird stuff. Granted, I find many so-called weird Japanese items and phenomenons to be greatly exaggerated for click-bait purposes. So, why not follow the trend, right?


Joking aside, the following chips can definitely be labeled as eccentric to foreign palates, but more importantly, they did not deliver the satisfaction that us chips addicts are constantly looking to appease.



A bag of Japanese potato chips: Koikeya Karamucho – Hot Chili.

3. Koikeya Karamucho – Hot Chili


Many potato chips-lovers will probably protest about this one, because Koikeya Karmucho is a Japanese chips classic. All chip explorers have tried this when they came to Japan. To be honest, it was one of the few chips that excited me slightly when I first flew over to Japan.


The novelty quickly wore off, however. The hot chili chips from Koikeya are fun for a little while, but the flavor isn’t really well-balanced. It’s spicy for sure, but no challenge for spice-lovers, and the flavor lacks depth. It is just hot, dry, and with a strange aftertaste which I can only describe as a hint of Chinese factory floors.


I might be strict, but when you have been exploring the flavor forests of potato chips for a lifetime, your taste buds become both picky and pompous, like some sort of potato chips wine taster. «Be a lamb and bring me a bag of that 2019 Lays sour cream and onion from the chips cellar will you darling. I do so enjoy that American vintage.»



A bag of Japanese potato chips: Calbee Kataage – Grilled Seaweed.

2. Calbee Kataage – Grilled Seaweed


As big a fan as I am of Calbee, and this is the foreigner in me speaking with all the prejudice I can muster, I feel they screwed the pooch with this Seaweed flavoring. And I have nothing against seaweed. I sometimes eat dried seaweed when I want a healthy chips alternative. But these chips taste too much of seawater for my taste.


As for Calbee’s Grilled Seaweed, the chew, texture, and crunch are very nice, but the seaweed flavor is overpowering. I mean, when all I can think, for every bite I take, is «dang, that’s some tangy chips», then the balance might be a little off. A few adjustments might have made it killer, though. Tone down the seaweed and add some shallot or paprika flavor, and it might make a killer chips.



A bag of Japanese potato chips: Calbee Pizza Potato Mentai Mayo – Cod Roe/Mayo/Pizza.

1. Calbee Pizza Potato Mentai Mayo – Cod Roe/Mayo/Pizza


Once more, this might be the ignorant foreigner in me speaking, but I honestly feel that it’s rather my inner potato chip puritan speaking… I suspect that the idea for this chip came along on a very late evening, from a Calbee creative crew hopped up on Red Bull and Highballs.


Or maybe they just ordered some overtime pizza from Dominos and fell in love with the cod roe and mayonnaise flavor of the month. It might speak to palates of butter lovers, because this doesn’t taste one iota like cod roe. It rather tastes like butter-fried chili seasoning.


Now, that might not sound so bad, and indeed it was no problem gobbling down a handful or two, but it also did not satisfy on any level. I am sure there are some cod roe connoisseurs or butter boys that might love this, but to me it was neither crazy enough, nor enticing my taste buds. I guess I would describe these chips as bland, which I’m guessing is the polar opposite of what they were going for.



Japanese Potato Chips Ranking Takeaway

In sum, here are our two lists:



5 Best Japanese Potato Chips


  1. Calbee Kataage – Black Pepper

  2. Calbee Natsu Potato – Umeboshi (Sour Plum)

  3. Yamayoshi Wasabeef – Wasabi & Beef

  4. Terra Foods Yakijaga – Yuzu Koshô (Citrus/Chili/Salt)

  5. Jaga Choko Bitter – Dark Chocolate



3 Weirdest Japanese Potato Chips


  1. Calbee Pizza Potato Mentai Mayo – Cod Roe/Mayo/Pizza

  2. Calbee Kataage – Grilled Seaweed

  3. Koikeya Karamucho – Hot Chili



Check out our potato chips taste test on YouTube for more details about Japanese chips :)

63 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All