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Crispy home-made potato chips



ROMA -’MATOKELO Nthejane and her team at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub are happy to introduce some crispy, crunchy, mouth-watering, home-made potato chips. Yes, Lesotho’s own Masimba! Not too long ago, Nthejane and her team noted something interesting about potatoes in general, and potato chips in particular. They are terribly popular! There is nothing you can’t make out them. To drive this point home about potatoes, one potato enthusiast put it this way, “you can boil ’em, mash ’em, cook ’em in a stew … fry ‘em, scallop ‘em, even make potato flour from ‘em for baked goods. You can make potato pancake … even potato vodka!” Who among you, dear readers, can stand here and tell us that she or he hasn’t lined up for a share of “French Fries”? That would not be the truest thing ever said. And, of course, you can turn ‘em into lip-smacking potato chips— which is what Nthejane and the team are doing already. For something as popular as potato chips, it was only a matter of time before the NUL Innovation Hub took notice. It did. “Our company being incubated under the NUL Innovation Hub is called Superfoods,” Nthejane said. “From that name, you can imagine that we must be into all kinds of good foods. And here is a few: “We bake and sell innovative sorghum-based muesli, biscuits and rusks. We make popular wheat products including health breads.” Now they are exploring the gargantuan (extremely big, lol) potato chips market. Let us learn a thing or two about potato chips and see why Nthejane and company decided it was the best thing to get into. Potato chips are wildly popular! No doubt you, the dear reader, always munch them at least once a month, your budget permitting. However, where exactly do they come from? All things that dominate our lives as much as potato chips have some legendary, almost romantic, stories associated with how they come to be. Here is what we found: “By the late 19th century, a popular version of the story attributed the dish to George Crum, a cook at Moon’s Lake House who was trying to appease an unhappy customer on August 24, 1853. The customer kept sending back his French-fried potatoes, complaining that they were too thick, too “soggy”, or not salted enough. Frustrated, Crum sliced several potatoes extremely thin, fried them to a crisp, and seasoned them with extra salt. To his surprise, the customer loved them. They soon came to be called “Saratoga Chips.” Yep! As we rightly predicted, the stories of origin would be so romantic. As regards the truthfulness of the story, we are not so sure… but who cares? The reality is that potato chips are here with us to enjoy. Indeed as the legendarily crispy delicacies go down our throats, the stories of origin do not matter anymore. Aware that they were entering a $31.2 billion global market of potato chips, Nthejane and company did not want to leave their production to chance. “There were a number of questions to ask,” she said. “For instance, what potatoes are best for this product? Are there likely local suppliers? What processing methods would be suitable for large-scale production in future? Are there specific kinds of seasonings that people would love?” Such questions guided them into the lab. Like any manufacturing business, they were met with an undesirable reality of the “devil in the detail” proverb. Yes, with manufacturing, “the devil is in the detail” is the truest phrase ever said. She said they had to move from one potato type to another and from one potato supplier to another in search of the best potatoes for the job. Then they set up a manufacturing method which included cutting them into the right, flaky shapes and cooking them. Then they went through a sensory analysis by asking people to comment on what they thought could be done to improve them. One of the most amazing things about potato chips (and the most successful products in general) is that when it comes to taste and seasons, people just wanted things to be kept simple. Let the oil be moderate. Let the salt be just enough. Put a bit of vinegar, some spices or just salt. Work on its appearance. Do a little of this, a little of that. Moderation is key for the best products. In the end came a product that has kept droves of NUL and NULIS students flocking to the NUL Innovation Hub. “We are in the process of expanding to the outside world but some of the products are already available at the NUL Innovation Hub, Falimahang General Café at Ha-Thetsane, Ha-Lesia, and Roma Fruits and Veg, near the NUL main gate, Roma.” We can’t end this story without quoting A. A. Milne: “What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of a fellow.” Well, this sounds like the right quote to end this story. What do you think? Own Correspondent

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