A Chip Off The Old...Watermelon? - Modernist Cuisine

A Chip Off The Old…Watermelon?

MCNovember 5, 2010

The joy of breaking into a fresh bag of potato chips is universal. It’s hard to resist losing yourself to bite after bite of salty, crunchy fried starch. In most grocery stores, novel alternatives such as beet, yam, and cassava chips have become commonplace. But until now, the common denominator in all of these variations has been a high starch content.

As the starchy main ingredient is deep-fried, the gelatinization of the starch gives structure and crunch to the resulting chips. However, that same inherently high starch content produces a much less exciting side effect — namely, all of these chips tend to taste bland before seasoning. Sweet, tart, and naturally moist vegetation tends to burn, shrink, or fall apart when deep-fried naked. But what if you were able to impart the structural advantages of high starch content to plant foods that possess zippier flavor profiles? Can chips made from less starchy plants be stabilized enough to withstand the deep-frying process? If so, which plants yield the best results?

To see how far we could take this premise, we tested a variety of fruits and vegetables with typically high water contents. Ultimately, we found that watermelon produced the most striking results. The method we chose to impregnate the starch into the watermelon is the same technique used in many Modernist kitchens to impregnate or concentrate intense flavors: vacuum compression.

Johnny slices and vacuum seals a sliver of watermelon dipped in the slurry.

We started by slicing watermelon to a thickness of about one millimeter using a meat slicer. Then we brushed on a slurry made of starch and water, vacuum sealed the slices, and let them rest for about 30 minutes.

Max demonstrates the vacuum compression process.

After the watermelon slices were given sufficient time to be impregnated with the starch, they were patted dry and deep-fried.

Johnny and Max deep-fry and enjoy an entirely new type of chip.

The result was amazing: A light, crispy chip loaded with the concentrated flavor of watermelon. Apple, jalapeño, and dill pickle were some of the other successful results we achieved with this method.

What would you like to see made into a chip? Leave a comment and let us know!

13 Responses to “A Chip Off The Old…Watermelon?”

    • Johnny Zhu


      You’re right the starch is flavor neutral. To answer Shane’s question, we use a starch made by National Starch called “Crisp Coat”. But, I imagine any starch would work as long as it was effectively “impregnated” into the chip.

    • Johnny Zhu


      I would say the only modernist technology that you would need for this technique is a vacuum sealer. And even that can be acquired in most kitchen stores. A simple store bought Food Saver vacuum sealer should be sufficiently capable of compressing the starch into the watermelon.


  1. To expand on this thought why do vegetables with such lower starch content such as carrots, parsnips, sunchokes, even sweet potatoes crisp well in the fryer with out any processing or manipulation. Could it be that fiber plays a key role in fryabilty?

    • Johnny Zhu


      You bring up a good point. A plant’s fiber and sugar content certainly does contribute siginficantly to the “fry-ability” of a chip. This is why things like apples and sunchokes don’t necessarily need added starch to crisp. But in terms of things that a chef can control in order to improve the crispiness of a chip, we found that starch is the best variable. This is because, first, it is very difficult to impregnate a plant with fiber, and second. sugar would throw off flavor neutrality.


  2. I’d be really curious to see if this works on citrus or squash. (pumpkin chip anyone?)

    I assume since it works on watermelon it also works on honeydew melon…

    How well does this process preserve other flavors into the chip? For instance, a julienned onion/sliced mushroom base soaked in thinned ketchup with fresh ground mustard seed, to make chips that you can put on the bottom of a cheeseburger like some do with onion rings. (i.e. ketchup and mustard flavor on both sides, but only slippery on top)

    Also, how about centrifugal mixers followed by a drying oven as a replacement for the vacuum? Centrifugal mixers probably wouldn’t be as effective as the vacuum, but the mixers would cut out the plastics and should make the recipes scalable for restaurant use.

    Does using pre-gelatinized starch help at all with mixing different foods into a single chip?

  3. Threemoons

    What about a sort of update on jerky–meat chips? Stuff like slices of slow-stewed chicken, or fried chicken chips (I guess you could start with fried boneless thighs and slice those), and so on?

    Would also love to see if this would work with slices of leek, raw jumbo shrimp slices, strawberries, Meyer lemons, etc etc etc.