Sunday 14 May 2023

Walkers Max Punchy Paprika

Until I launched British Crisps, I was completely unaware of the venom that some people had reserved for Walkers. Personally, I've always been fond of Walkers and, in fact, I had planned to launch British Crisps with a review of their iconic Cheese & Onion flavour. But I got diverted by a few oddities instead, and Walkers still haven't featured. Until now. And, hopefully, everyone will be able to get on board and agree that Walkers Max Punchy Paprika are legendary icons.

The Walkers Max range was launched in early 1999 and, originally, was positioned as a lean, low-fat option in the ridged crisps market. And Punchy Paprika was there from the very start, although its original name was the virtually identical Punching Paprika.

Walkers, keen to push their Max range to a larger audience, did the sensible thing and tinkered with their recipe in 2001 to put them firmly in the full-fat category. And it was around this time that I first encountered their Paprika variety.

I was in my very first job and, yes, my mother still packed my lunchbox for me. Anyway, there's no shame in that, 19 year old males are ridiculously childish, hence why it's such a fun time in their lives. Getting back on track, one day I discovered a packet of Max Paprika in my lunchbox and was intrigued by its intense, duck yolk orange packaging.

This was impressive enough, but then the taste came and I was smitten, like a silly teenage romance. They became a regular in my lunchbox for a few months and then they just disappeared. Perhaps my parents stopped buying them, maybe I was being a flippant teenager.

And it took a cool 20 years until I decided to get back on the Max Paprika train. By now, of course, they were called Punching Paprika and I was much older, with devious grey hairs springing up with no abandon, but more importantly I was much wiser.

So, what would Punching Paprika have in store for me? Would I fall in love with it all over again? Would I realise why I dumped it in the first place? Or would I suddenly agree with the naysayers and label Walkers as mainstream garbage? Thankfully, in a move which sent the nostalgic part of my heart soaring to the heavens, it was a rekindled romance.

I certainly don't look like I did when I was 19 and neither does a packet of Punching Paprika. It wouldn't be untrue, however, to say that we've grown to be more refined. As the range name suggests, Walkers Max are all about the impact. And it starts at the very top of the packet where an industrial MAX logo bestrides the packaging like a colossus. Whilst not quite as orange as it used to be, the packet now combines a gorgeous burnt orange (almost teetering on rust) section battling against an interlocking black panel. It all clicks perfectly within a heartbeat of entering your visual system.

With the packet in your hands, you're powerless to stop diving in and seeing what the crispsmiths at Walkers have manufactured at their potato lathes. Oh, and although it's a standard size packet, it's still bigger than most at 50g, giving you plenty of bang for your cost of living crisis buck at £1.

Now, I'll get the one Vauxhall Conference gripe out of the way: the crunch is not to the MAX. It's a pleasurable, soft crunch but it doesn't fulfil the MAXim that Walkers have set their table with. A big, bad crunch would have solidified their MAX credentials. But, worry not, as the flavour will knock your socks off.

The first bite may deceive you, with only a hint of paprika in the air. But, by the second bite, winds of paprika will be swirling around your mouth as your taste buds dance an umami cha-cha-cha. It's sweet, it's smoky and it's given extra depth of flavour thanks to the presence of tomato and onion seasonings. And the strong, defined ridges of these crisps certainly have plenty of seasoning, dusted liberally with an earthy red coating of flavoursome promise.

Such was the moreish power of these Punchy Paprika crisps, I was convinced that MSG was conjuring its dark magic in my mouth. But, no, Punchy Paprika are upfront, good old fashioned, salt of the earth potatoes who give you everything they have. There's a slightly oily edge, if that sort of thing tends to make your nose crinkle up, but it's a world away from anything that oil companies unleash in the ocean.

Walkers Max Punchy Paprika deliver in almost every department and act as a fine example of why Walkers got into the crisp game. I managed to go two decades between eating a packet of Punchy Paprika and it feels like one of the most idiotic things I've ever done. I shall not be making that mistake again. And these crisps will be returning to my lunchbox once more.

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