Tater Tot Perfection

Whenever I hear the word ‘tots,’ I think of Napoleon — Dynamite, that is, not Bonaparte.

Bully kid: “Napoleon, give me some of your tots.”

Napoleon Dynamite: “No! Go find your own!”

Napoleon understood that tater tots are precious pearls not to be thrown away to swine or school bullies. But are all tots created equal? That’s the question burning in the souls of my teenage boys who regularly channel the spirit of Dynamite.

I sat husband Patrick down for some potato-tot goodness to answer the tot-equality question. The teenage boys flew in like vultures after the testing.

We started with the low-price leaders. Great Value Taters ($1.97 for 32 ounces at Walmart) had too much crust, not enough insides, and too much salt. Market Pantry Potato Puffs ($1.97 for 32 ounces at Target) fared better. “I bite into it and get a sense that I am eating a potato dish rather than potato tots. A nice balance between soft and crunchy, steamy inside...”

As Patrick continued to opine, I dished him a plate of Trader Joe’s Potato Tots ($2.29 for 32 ounces). It was another keeper. “I have no complaints with this — nice crunchy crust on the outside that gives way to a soft inside that tastes of chunks of potatoes, not homogeneous goo.”

365 Organic Tater Puffs ($2.69 for 16 ounces at Whole Foods) were bland. “Tastes like the school-cafeteria tater tots. The crust is disappointing, chewy instead of crunchy.”

Albertson’s Potato Rounds ($3.99 for 32 ounces): “The outside of this tot reminds me of a breaded fish stick, not a potato tot.”

365 Tater Puffs ($2.99 for 32 ounces at Whole Foods) suffered in the breading department as well. “Another fish-stick feeling, and bits of this crust are crunchy but other large parts are not. Most of the crust is thin and insipid, and the inside is mushy. It’s like the difference between real mashed potatoes and boxed potato buds. With the former you taste chunks of potato, there’s some chew. With the latter, it’s just homogenous potato mush.”

Open Nature Tater Puffs ($3.79 for 32 ounces at Vons) touted its 100 percent natural quality. “No disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate,” I read.

“Well, thank goodness for that. What the heck is disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate?” Patrick laughed. “The crust doesn’t stand up to the fork. You touch it, and it falls apart on the plate. But my biggest complaint is something that doesn’t taste like potatoes.”

“This is what my mind pictures when I think tots,” I said, eyeing the package of Ore-Ida Tater Tots ($3.99 for 32 ounces at Ralphs).

“It’s funny how you become a snob after you taste a bunch of these,” laughed Patrick. “The inside on these is pasty and the crust is thin and forgettable.”

Ore-Ida Crispy Crowns ($2.99 for 30 ounces at Target) were shaped like little discs. “These are all crust, not enough filling,” Patrick complained. “The flat, skinny shape makes for too low an inside-to-crust ratio. And what there is of the inside tastes like school paste.”

Ore-Ida Extra Crispy Tater Tots ($3.99 for 28 ounces at Ralphs) also suffered from the fishstick effect. “The inside is too mushy. I would never have guessed these were the ‘extra crispy’ variety. There were others that had a crispier crust.”

Ralph’s Tater Bites ($2.49 for 32 ounces) didn’t pass the taste test. “My first thought is ‘salty.’ I would like the outer crust to be more substantial than this.”

Its flat cousin, Ralph’s Tater Rounds ($2.49 for 30 ounces), was also a loser. “With these flat, disc-shaped taters, your mouth doesn’t get to spend enough time with the filling. The essence of tater tot-ness is the balance between crust and steamy insides,” said Patrick. “And they’re awfully greasy.”

Cascadian Farms Spud Puppies — love the name — ($3.49 for 16 ounces at Sprouts) had the lightest color of the tasting. “Nice potato-ey flavor on the inside,” offered Patrick. “These are passable.”

We hit another winner with Safeway Tater Treats ($2.29 for 32 ounces at Vons). “This has the contrasting textures you are looking for — crunchy crust and steamy, slightly chunky inside. It’s close to tot perfection.”

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