You Can Take the Boy Out of Pennsylvania, but You Can’t Take the Snacks Out of the Boy

I’ve often said that a big part of who you are is determined by when and where you where born. Well who knew it applied to my weakness for potato chips and pretzels.

I try to eat healthy, but I have to admit that I find it quite difficult to walk past our kitchen cabinets without opening them up and grabbing a handful of chips or pretzels. It doesn’t matter if it’s 8 in the morning, or if I’m heading upstairs for bed at night; I just can’t resist them. (That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this blog from my upstairs bedroom; otherwise I’d be having some chips after every paragraph.)

Well apparently, Pennsylvania is the snack capital of the world, especially when it comes to chips and pretzels; there is an unusually high concentration of snack-food producers in the state.

Hanover, PA, and a few counties surrounding it, is the biggest producer of America’s favorite guilty pleasures. More potato chips (and pretzels, candy, ice cream, and chocolate) are produced over these few counties than anywhere else on Earth.

An Atlas Obscura article offers some valid reasons as to why these snacks are so popular in Pennsylvania:

  • Pennsylvania has the highest percentage of German-Americans in the US, so isn’t it just logical that the pretzel, a German import, would take root there?
  • Chocolate, well, Philadelphia was a key port in the slave trade, taking on sugar from the Caribbean and manufacturing it a bit west of the city during its booming economic decades.
  • Dairy was and remains a huge industry in Pennsylvania, and the summers are brutally hot, so, sure, ice cream.
  • Pennsylvania’s soil, slightly acidic, combines with an intensely humid climate to create ideal growing conditions for potatoes.

Today, the potato chip scene in Pennsylvania is not like other places. A survey of the state’s supermarkets found that Frito-Lay, the nation’s biggest chip maker, led in display quantity fewer than one in 10 times. In its place are several PA based chip companies. Three of these PA-based companies have gone national – Herr’s, Wise, and Utz.

I also learned that I’ve got to be more discerning when choosing my potato chips, since some of them are made with animal lard – a big no-no as a vegan. (I know, I know, there’s no health benefits to chips whatsoever, but I still have my standards…)

I’m also going to be on the lookout for darker chips; those aren’t burnt chips, they just come from a potato with more sugar content, which caramelized and darkened in the hot oil. That sounds quite appealing, and may explain why I’ve always been a fan of Wise potato chips, since they always seemed to be a little well done.

(It’s embarrassing to admit, but a couple of hours ago, after reading the Atlas Obscura article, I started searching online where to buy Wise chips, since they are not as widely distributed as other national brands. Fortunately, it looks like the local Target sells them – I may be making a visit in the next couple of days  hours.)

As to the other snacks PA is famous for, the state produces 80 percent of the country’s pretzels, and is home to brands like Snyder’s of Hanover and Auntie Anne’s. The hard pretzel was invented in central Pennsylvania.


Ice cream has a long history in Pennsylvania, too: Breyer’s, Mister Softee, the Choco Taco, and Bassetts, which bills itself as the oldest ice creamery in the country, are all Pennsylvanian companies.


As for chocolate, what more needs to be said than Hershey, PA?


As for other snacks, if you’ve never had Tastykake, you don’t know what you are missing.


And birch beer is a Pennsylvania product as well.


So we’ve got your snacking needs covered.

I’m sure this doesn’t make us the healthiest state in the country, but sometimes you just need a burnt potato chip or a powdered mini-donut, especially if you’re from Pennsylvania.

P.S. This video was just on Ellen’s show today; this girl must be from Pennsylvania:

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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