Potato chips – Half Full? Half Empty?

3 min read

After a tiring week of dealing with various curveballs that life threw at me, I plopped down onto my sofa and was all ready to be a couch potato. This is my favourite time of the week when I can forget all my worries and just immerse myself in the world of Netflix. Armed with a myriad of potato chips, I was all ready to tackle the trending shows one by one, starting with this chart-topping film. 

Eerie music played and the air around me started to get a little tense when suddenly, “AHHHHH!” To my horror, the bag of chips that I had just ripped apart was only half-filled with chips. Wait, this couldn’t be right. I went on to open the next few bags of chips, and all of them were half-empty. Surely, someone would have realized that they are paying for air-filled bags of chips and complained, right? Why is there so much air in different bags of chips? Do they help the chips in any way?

Tons of questions flew across my mind. Perhaps the air in the bag of chips cushions the chips against any impact during transporting or storage. If so, chips companies could have improved the packaging to prevent the consumers from opening a pack of broken and crumbled chips. So, what’s with the air in the bag of chips? 

Upset and annoyed after getting “cheated” by my half-empty potato chip bags, I went on a quest to find out what the air in the bags actually helps with. To my pleasant surprise, the air indeed serves a very important function that has kept chips lovers satisfied throughout the years.

The “air” in our bags of chips is nitrogen gas. Odourless, colourless and most importantly, inert, this special gas helps to keep the chips in the bag fresh and crispy. For those of us that have been taught to keep our biscuits, cookies and chips in airtight containers to prevent them from being “Lau Hong (leak wind)”, this is the reason why nitrogen gas is pumped into the bags of chips. By pumping nitrogen gas into food packaging, the atmospheric air in the packaging will be exuded. Oxygen in our atmospheric air is highly reactive and will react with specific food molecules on these kinds of tidbits, causing them to lose their freshness or even causing the food to spoil. In addition, our atmospheric air contains water vapour or moisture too. This will cause food like potato chips to lose its crispiness over time when exposed. 

Well, now we all know why our potato chip bags are half-empty. Instead of being a sulky consumer, I should probably be more optimistic and say that the bags are half-full instead. After this insightful research, I was somehow grateful that my bags of chips stayed fresh and crispy because of the “air” in them. Now, back to investing my emotions and time on Netflix!

Written by See Eng Sheng
Illustrations by Lim Daphne

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