Storing chips long-term isn’t exactly a priority for most of us, who tend to inhale the entire bag within a day or two. If, however, you get overly ambitious and buy the family size, you may find yourself with a sad, stale, half-full bag of chips within a week or two — that is, unless you seal ’em up tight and stick them in the freezer.
Yes, the freezer. Fans of this practice claim that it prevents opened chips from going stale for months at a time. Though food chemists aren’t entirely sure why this works, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that it does — for everything from tortilla chips to potato chips.
I first tried this trick a few months ago, after I noticed that a friend kept tortilla chips in the freezer and they never went stale. Fascinated, I soon discovered other people enthusiastically recommending the practice on Reddit, Twitter and the general blogosphere, so I decided to try it myself.
I saw the same results. Maybe my chips will go stale someday, but I’m still waiting.
Storing chips in the freezer makes some amount of intuitive sense — chips are supposed to be sealed and stored in a cool, dry place, and what location in your house is cooler or drier than your freezer? If you live in a particularly warm or humid climate, your freezer or refrigerator may be the only place in your house that’s cool or dry at all.
And as with storing a bottle of vodka or gin in your freezer to keep cool, tossing a bag of chips in there won’t result in a fully-frozen product the next time you feel like indulging. According to Bob Jones, the president of Jones’ Potato Chips, chips don’t freeze in the usual sense — they just get very cold.
Jones says that most of the moisture content is cooked out of the potato, so there’s hardly any water left to freeze. “When you put [potato chips] in the freezer, the water content is very low and it probably just freezes the residual water,” adds Sally Mitchell of the American Chemical Society. Mitchell tells us that she and her colleagues theorised that freezing the tiny amount of water in the chips prevents the starch from retrograding, which is related to the staling process.
The amount of frozen water is small enough that it doesn’t change the structure, taste, or nutritional content of the chip whatsoever, nor does it freeze the chip solid.
Unless you seal them improperly, they will come out the same way that they went in. Make sure that they’re in the original packaging or in another airtight container, like a Ziploc bag. The less air that reaches the chips, the better. You can eat the chips straight from the freezer or set them on the counter for a few minutes to bring them to room temperature. Some people actually love the taste of cold chips, but that’s largely up to personal preference.
This is one of those bizarre, mysterious tricks that doesn’t seem like it should work as well as it does — until you try it.