I've noticed that when eating common 'sour cream & onions' potato chips, there is a distinctive, cheesy-like flavour that distinguishes the chips.

What gives it this flavor? Is it simply MSG, or is there a way to achieve this using natural ingredients, such as black pepper, Worcestershire sauce etc?

To give more context, I am intending to use this in a home-made ranch dip.

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  • Sour cream and onion are natural ingredients. Worcestershire does not taste like sour cream and onion. Is this a trick question?
    – paparazzo
    Aug 19, 2017 at 16:59
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    I guess what I meant was that simply mixing sour cream and onion together does not create the distinct flavor that 'sour cream and onion' potato chips have. So there must be some added spices or flavourings that help give those kind of potato chips it's flavor. I was wondering if it is possible to create that in a home-based sauce.
    – user60513
    Aug 19, 2017 at 17:08
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    Yeah, it is about the dip. I think it makes it much more savoury. It's one of the reasons why people find sour cream and onion chips addictive, isn't it?
    – user60513
    Aug 19, 2017 at 17:36
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    "cheesy-like -flavor" so, ...add some cheese to your dip?
    – Ecnerwal
    Aug 19, 2017 at 18:59
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    Are you talking about bulb onions, like yellow, Spanish, red or sweet, or are you talking about scallions/green onions? The actual flavor is usually in line with a chip that has been dipped in a sour cream and chive dip. I'm guessing it's easier to affordably get green onions in the quantities needed for mass potato chip production, so it becomes "sour cream and onion." So if you're thinking about the onions instead of green onions, I'd start there. If you can get chives, even better. Sour cream and cheese are both dairy-based, so I'd imagine that's were the similarity comes from. Aug 21, 2017 at 21:01

4 Answers 4


First things first: If you're trying to precisely replicate the flavor, you'll probably fail. Food scientists put an incredible amount of time, money and effort into developing those flavors and have ingredients and equipment that we don't have access to. Often, the flavors themselves are byproducts of industrial processing, and they've been combined in a way to make them pleasant. So if you're looking to get that exact flavor in your dip, you're going to be disappointed. If you're really just looking for a ballpark approximation which might be a little closer than what you've got now though, you've got a good shot at it.

If I were you, I would first try using dehydrated or freeze-dried green onions or chives which can often be found in glass jars in your grocery store. Mix them with your dip or make them into a powder to toss with your chips. Perhaps pureeing a product like chive cottage cheese which is made with dehydrated/freeze-dried chives might get you there. For the more industrial products, you'll have to look on the internet. Commercial chips almost certainly use sour cream powder (among other flavorants you probably can't find on Amazon) in their sour cream and onion chips. You could even try some sour cream and chives powder to see if that gets you closer, with less work.

Good luck and happy dipping!

  • To put it more bluntly: The fact that the producers call the flavor X does not mean that there's anything like X in the ingredients. Specifically, I doubt that you'll find any 'sour cream' in the ingredient list. A Dutch television series once did an inquiry into Bolognese chips which have no relation to Bologna or Bolognese sauce whatsoever, and did not even taste like the latter.
    – user34961
    Aug 22, 2017 at 7:40
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    @JanDoggen— Every major brand's sour cream and onion potato chips I looked at listed sour cream as an ingredient. Powdered sour cream is a common industrial food ingredient. (Powdered bolognese sauce, not so much ;)
    – ChefAndy
    Aug 22, 2017 at 15:20
  • Thanks, I will try the green onions and chives. I am actually already using chives. Also, I'm not trying to replicate the flavor exactly since I'm sure the commercial product uses a ton of sodium and sugar. I want something that is all-natural, healthy but also slightly addictive.
    – user60513
    Aug 23, 2017 at 0:30
  • I'm not sure how to add the green onions in. They don't sell them in dried form here, so I was thinking of using fresh. Should I mince them, caremalise them and then blend them into the sour cream?
    – user60513
    Aug 23, 2017 at 7:32
  • Fresh will be closer to the flavor you're looking for than cooked. Adding a shake of onion powder, if they have that in your spice section, might also help.
    – ChefAndy
    Aug 23, 2017 at 12:43

I would try adding some softened cream cheese to your dip mixture. Most creamy dips are made up of one or more of sour cream, mayonnaise, and cream cheese. Also, you could try caramelizing the white parts of green onions (or just any old white/yellow onion) for a deeper flavor, and then stirring in the green parts, minced. Don't forget salt (and maybe some pepper) to taste. If that doesn't get you there, garlic powder would be my next choice. Good luck!

  • So I found out that 'cream cheese' is a soft cheese made from milk curdles after reacting milk with acid and rennet. Do you think there will be a difference if I used other soft cheeses such as cottage cheese or ricotta? I am trying to decide what cheeses to buy.
    – user60513
    Aug 23, 2017 at 15:38
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    Oh, yes, sorry! I think cream cheese is an American thing. It is not really like cottage cheese or ricotta. It's closer to a creamy goat cheese without the funky aftertaste. Can you get your hands on "Neufchatel" cheese? Any soft, spreadable cheese with a slight tang would work here. Good luck!
    – lspare
    Aug 24, 2017 at 14:56
  • I will try to search for it. Between Neufchatel and Philadelphia cream cheeses, which do you think will be more suitable? I think the store will definitely have Philadelphia cheeses.
    – user60513
    Aug 24, 2017 at 17:51
  • Would a hard cheese like Parmesan bring a good flavour as well?
    – user60513
    Aug 24, 2017 at 17:52

Potato chips belong to the most exactly engineered foods we eat. They don't have any taste in themselves, and the flavor on top is created by a complicated industrial process. It is certainly not pure MSG. The exact ingredients and process will be a trade secret of each manufacturer, although there might be a way to look up the main flavor molecules, I don't have such literature at hand. This won't help you further though.

I don't think you have any chance replicating it at home. Maybe you could just dissolve the chips in the dressing and see if the texture stays acceptable for your purposes.


This is not "sour cream & onion" flavour. I can taste only 3 different flavours in chips. For me there are "salt and herbs" "vinegar" and "smoked salt w/ paprika".

Sour Cream and onion is the vinegar taste. It's oniony taste is from sulphur. Like when you mix white vine vinegar with a hint of black salt (not to mistake with baked salt that is black in appearance).

The cheese flavour that you are tasting is the part of "cream". It's Lactic acid. You know, the one you are producing when sweating and then complaining you smells like onions OR sour milk.

So, anyway. If you want to make a dip what you need is sour cream. Sour cream can be bought or made from regular cream by adding either vinegar or citric acid. Then you want to add spring onions. Remember that the white part of onions are more sweet and have "lighter" taste than the green parts. So use that to balance the onion taste and counter acidic of vinegar.

And, if you want to make it taste more oniony just use onion with a sharp taste. Put it in a hot place (or bake it for few second over a fire) and then mince it raw. Or juice it out and use the liquid.

If you taste it later and there will be "not quite this" it will be the umami flavour. Don' be afraid to use MSG to get that or if you want to avoid it use Maggi or few drops of soy sauce.

  • Ok thanks, I will try spring onions. About the 'umami flavor', do you think using anchovies will also help?
    – user60513
    Aug 23, 2017 at 0:31
  • I'm finding it hard to find clear articles on how to stir the spring onions in. Do I mince them, and then blend them raw into the sour cream?
    – user60513
    Aug 23, 2017 at 7:31
  • @user60513 I doubt. anchovies have very distinctive taste on their own. The point of using MSG is to raise other flavours. So salt is more salty, vinegar is more sour but not more acidic and so on. I usually mince the onion with a 45 degree angle so the have more surface where they contact with cream Aug 23, 2017 at 7:33
  • Do you caramelize the onions before adding them in? Is MSG as harmful as they say? Is there a heathier alternative?
    – user60513
    Aug 23, 2017 at 12:36
  • Caramelizing add other tastes and sweetens the onion and cream to extend. Even if the MSG is harmful my source of it is soy sauce, malt and nutritional yeast and I don't eat packaged food or other sources of it. Using soy sauce also help excluding salt in cooking. Aug 23, 2017 at 13:19

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