Hedgehog Crisps (History, Marketing & Pictures)

Hedgehog Crisps sound like they might be made from a nontraditional flavor source – dare we say a pretty cute flavor source? But don’t worry. No actual hedgehogs were used in the making of Hedgehog Crisps. The potato crisps (aka chips in the United States) were actually flavored with pork fat and herbs, common flavor profiles for fried potato snacks.

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The Hedgehog crisps were developed by a man named Phillip Lewis, who ran a British pub called the Vaults. He was said to be partly inspired to create the product by stories he had heard about nomadic people baking hedgehogs in clay over campfires. His Hedgehog Crisps hit the market in 1981 under the name “Hedgehog Flavoured Crisps” Note that the original name included “Flavoured” rather than “Flavour.” The crisps were produced by a company aptly named Hedgehog Foods. 

Hedgehog Crisps

Hedgehog Crisps were removed from stores in 1982 not because they contained hedgehogs but because they didn’t.

The Office of Fair Trading accused Hedgehog Farms of a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, alleging that the Hedgehog Crisps didn’t deliver on the name’s promise because the chips did not contain any hedgehog or hedgehog flavor, whatever that might be. Lewis argued that his description was accurate as “gypsies” as he called them, had visited his pub and had stated that the crisps tasted similar to actual baked hedgehogs.

Lewis struck a deal with the Office of Fair Trade to resolve the matter and promised to interview the “gypsies” about the flavor of real baked hedgehog and then commission an artificial flavor to match the description. He hired a company called Woverhampton Polytechnic to create the flavor and added it to the recipe. He was allowed to sell the crisps once again in 1984 so long as the bag stated that the chips were artificially flavored. The name was changed to Hedgehog Crisps to remove any implication that contained the material specified. The product was sold until about 1991.

Marketing

The packaging of Hegehog Crisps promised the opportunity for consumers to “savour all the flavour of traditional country fare cooked the old-fashioned way without harming a single spike of a real hedgehog.” 

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The unusual name and flavoring of the crisps attracted attention in the media and from celebrities, including comedian Billy Connolly. That was a big deal since many the UK consider Connolly to be the one of the greatest comedians of all time. 

One television segment featured a reporter who had volunteers close their eyes, taste the chip and then guess the flavor. While most of the volunteers enjoyed the flavor, they had a wide range of guesses for what it was including: possum, mouse, rat, pig, chicken, mongoose, goulash, fish, savory, steak and squirrel.

Most of the volunteers seemed to enjoy the taste of the Hedgehog Crisps, and many said they would buy them. A few were not as willing to eat more of the chips, with one woman proclaiming she would not have them again. “I’m kosher,” she said.

By 1991 Hedgehog Foods had sales of $3.6 million, and the company was a major donor to the hedgehog conservation charity called Tiggywinkles, a British animal protection charity. The name came from the hedgehog character in “The Tale of Mrs. Tiggle-Winkle,” a Beatrix Potter story. The company was eventually purchased by crisp manufacturer Bensons (later known as Snackhouse.) 

What is a hedgehog?

Hedgehogs are small mammals, typically about 10 inches long and about 3 or 4 pounds fully grown. They wouldn’t necessarily be the first animal you might think of eating or turning into a Hedgehog Crisp because of their size and the fact that they are covered in brown and white spiky spines – as many as 6,000 spikes on each animal.

Hedgehogs are native to European countries and a darling of the United Kingdom. They are especially welcome in gardens because they eat pests that can damage plants and flowers. Some favorite items on a hedgehog’s menu include beetles, ants, bees, wasps, earwigs, butterflies and moths. 

In the 1980s, Britain began to worry that the population of hedgehogs was dwindling. That’s partly what sparked Phillip Lewis to make his Hedgehog Crisps. People were talking a lot about hedgehogs at that time, so they were top of mind for Lewis.

The population issue has been resolved since then. In fact, a recent estimate puts the number of hedgehogs in Great Britain at roughly 1.6 million, though another was much higher at 36.5 million. Hedgehogs can live to be about 10 years old, but the average length of life is only three years. 

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Hedgehog folklore

The notion that Hedgehog Crisps were made from actual hedgehogs isn’t the only tall tale associated with the animal. 

People once thought that hedgehogs sucked milk from cows. With the petite size of a hedgehog, combined with a cow’s likelihood of annoyance, it’s unlikely this is true. It is possible that hedgehogs might position themselves so they could slurp milk from leaking udders. But most hedgehogs would not feel well afterward. Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant. 

People from medieval times, believed hedgehogs could carry fruit on their spines. This folktale also has some issues, the main one being that hedgehogs usually walk along with their spines flattened. This would make it pretty hard to jab fruit on themselves.

One common belief about hedgehogs is that they are immune to snake bites. Does that mean if you eat Hedgehog Crisps you’re protected, too? No. That much we know, since the crisps aren’t made of hedgehogs. But the little critters do seem to have partial resistance to snake venom. Caveat: If a poisonous snake bit a hedgehog on the face or leg, the mammal could become very sick or die. On the plus side, the only venomous snake in Britain is the adder, which can’t bite through a hedgehog’s spines. 

Who invented hedgehog crisps?

Phillip Lewis was from Welshpool, and though he originally came up with the unlikely crisp flavour as a joke, his invention continues to be touted as a cultural phenomenon, included in the “Child of the 1980s” website as an iconic product from that decade. 

Lewis died at the age of 74, but his famous invention was not forgotten. Obituaries noted that he created the Hedgehog Crisps were inspired by that story about nomads baking the beloved British hedgehog. So that story stuck throughout the years.

Phillip’s daughter Claire is quoted as saying: “Dad lived for many years in Welshpool and was best known for inventing Hedgehog Flavored Crisps in the 1980s. He was also a French, Music and Classics teacher at Welshpool High School, Telford Upper School, Wrekin Boys and Bishops Castle. He was an accomplished flautist and a lover of all things French – including red wine! He will be missed beyond words by his five children, partner, brothers, sister and friends.”

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Hedgehog Crisps Logo

Fun facts about hedgehog crisps (and/or chips)

Charles Dickens is credited with making the first reference to chips long before Hedgehog Flavour Crisps came along. In his 1859 novel “A Tale of Two Cities,” he calls the snack “husky chips of potatoes.”

Hedgehogs aren’t the only animal to be featured in the name of a brand of crisps without actually being an ingredient. A brand called Walkers made Cajun Squirrel crisps.

Until about 1953, potato chips were sold out of wooden barrels or scooped from bins behind store counters. That changed when a brand called Laura Scudder’s created the first modern bag of potato crisps for sale. It’s hard to imagine that Hedgehog Flavour Crisps would have been successful in a world where the name wasn’t on every package.

While many people thought Hedgehog Flavor Crisps were a joke, as in not real, they did actually exist in stores. But there is one fake crisp brand appears in many TV programs. Let’s Potato Chips has been featured in “Orange is the New Black,” “Arrested Development” and “Sons of Anarchy.” The comedy sitcom “Community” took the joke one step further and made a commercial for Let’s Potato Chips.

How many Hedgehog Flavour Crisps would you eat if you couldn’t hear the crunch they make when you bite into one? Probably not a whole bag. A study has found that the crunch sound is integral to the experience of eating potato chips. The study found that consumers who wear headphones while eating crisps become bored with them more quickly than those who can hear themselves crunch.

The United Kingdom is big on its crisps. Real big. So big that on September 13, 2013, Corkers Crisps, which is based in Pymoor, created the largest bag of crisps on record, weighing more than 2,515 pounds (1,141 kg).

Other interesting flavors for crisps

Hedgehog Flavour Crisps are not alone in the category of unusual flavors made for potato snacks around the world. Here are a few others that fit the category:

  • Fish ‘n Chips
  • Maple Bacon Flavour Crisps
  • White Chocolate Potato Crisps
  • White Chocolate
  • Crab Flavour Crisps
  • Camembert Doritos
  • Blueberry Flavour Crisps
  • Bacon Poutine Crisps
  • Lay’s chocolate Crisps
  • Pepsi and Chicken Flavour Crisps

Pictures of Hedgehog Crisps

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