What are Ready Salted Crisps? The Quirky History of “A Packet of Ready Salted”

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ready salted vs salt and shake crisps

If you've travelled in the UK or watched a lot of British TV, you may have encountered “ready salted crisps” and wondered what they are, or how they got their name. Why do they bother to specify “ready salted”? Does anyone even sell unsalted crisps? Why don't they just call them plain, or original?

What are Ready Salted Crisps?

Walker's Ready Salted Crisps

Ready salted crisps are what most Americans would call “original potato chips” or “classic potato chips”. They're just plain crisps with a bit of salt for flavour.

Walkers is easily one of the most popular varieties, but other brands include Golden Wonder, Seabrook, Ten Acre, and Kolak – along with a variety of own brand (aka “store brand”) ready salted crisps like Coop and Waitrose. The links above paragraph go to Amazon UK, but most listings have at least one seller willing to deliver to the US.

We've included US-specific links below:

 

Why Are They Called Ready Salted Crisps?

Walkers Salt & Shake Crisps

Older Brits and expats will remember a time when crisps weren't salted by default. Instead, they came with a little blue packet of salt that you'd use to season the crisps to your desired level of saltiness (or skip the salt entirely). This was generally done by dumping in the amount of salt you like, then closing the packet of crisps and shaking it to distribute the salt evenly.

The wonderful thing about salt and shake crisps is that you can adjust the salt levels. Most crisps use far more salt than we should really be eating, and that's particularly problematic for some with health concerns. Of course, crisps are not a health food in any sense of the word – but a little less salt would make them slightly less unhealthy.

The not-so-wonderful thing about salt and shake crisps is that the salt doesn't always stick to the crisps, and it can be uneven – sort of like adding popcorn seasoning without a bit of butter first. A lot of the salt ends up in the bottom of the bag, and some crisps end up with less flavour. Some people like that, but it's clear most people have come to appreciate the convenience of the ready salted variety. 

When most crisps are manufactured, they're fried and then salted soon after. When they're fresh out of the oil, salt and other seasonings stick to the chip nicely, and you don't have to worry about all the salt ending up at the bottom of the packet. It's a simpler, more consistent flavour and a lot of people prefer that. 

Keen to try salt and shake crisps?

 

Ready Salted Crisps on British Television

The 80s-90s British television series Watching

If you watch a lot of British TV, it's not uncommon to hear someone refer to ready salted crisps – especially in a pub. If you hear someone asking for a “packet of ready salted”, they're asking for the British equivalent of a bag of original Lay's potato chips.

Some examples of shows where you might have heard this include:

  • Watching – This delightfully innocent 80s-90s comedy focuses on a birdwatcher, Malcolm, and his Liverpudlian girlfriend, Brenda. It ran for 7 seasons, and they spent quite a lot of that time in their local pub, The Grapes. It's not available streaming, but if you have a region-free DVD player, you can get the DVD HERE
  • Little Britain – In Season 1, Episode 8, there's a school scene where students are getting a dressing down for poor performance – and one of the questions involved “red for ready salted, blue for salt and vinegar”. You can stream this one HERE.
  • Green Wing – In Series 1, Episode 4 of this medical comedy, there's a scene where two of the doctors are putting bags of crisps in the MRI machine in hopes of finding one with 20 quid inside. After finishing the prawn cocktail, he moves on to the ready salted. You can stream it HERE

 

Curious About Other British Snacks?

You can read about other British snacks – cakes, biscuits, and crisps – here

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