Did Tayto really invent cheese and onion crisps?

Tayto wasn’t the first Irish crisp maker, but its great innovation – flavour – made it a success

Did you treat yourself to a packet of Tayto for the inaugural National Tayto Day recently? It was marking 65 years of the company which was founded by crisp enthusiast Joe Murphy in 1954. They even had a birthday party for Mr Tayto on Friday night in Copper Face Jacks nightclub in Dublin, raising money for Dublin Simon Community.

Praise be to the genius who discovered that you could elevate thin slices of potato by frying them in oil. One of the oldest known published recipes for crisps is by William Kitchiner, an optician who doubled up as a Georgian-era celebrity chef. His book, A Cook’s Oracle, published in 1817, was a big hit in the UK and a young America. Kitchiner’s recipe – Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings – calls for slivers of potato fried in “lard or dripping” and “served with a very little salt sprinkled over them”.

Tayto may be one of the best known crisp brands in Ireland, but they weren’t the first. According to Tayto Park’s museum exhibition, Star Crisps based in Clontarf, Dublin, were the first in Ireland. What made Tayto different from its local competitors when it launched in 1954, however, were its flavoured crisps – plain, cheese and cheese & onion.

Before Tayto’s flavoured crisps were launched, the snack food was unflavoured. Instead, they came with small sachets of salt, so you could flavour your crisps yourself. Tayto is often credited with being pioneers in cutting the bag of salt out of the process and adding the flavour to the fried spuds. “Tayto was certainly one of the first to put the flavouring onto the crisps directly,” says Carol McCaghey, Tayto’s marketing manager.

The new flavour became a success both at home and abroad, and within two years the business had moved to larger premises

What is most impressive is that Joe Murphy and his employee, Seamus Burke, were the first crisps makers in the world to invent the all-conquering cheese and onion flavour. According to an obituary of Murphy, published in the Telegraph newspaper in 2001, at the time of his death at the age of 78, Murphy launched Tayto from a factory in O’Rahilly’s Parade off Moore Street in Dublin with one van and eight employees.

“One of those early employees was Seamus Burke, who was charged with perfecting the revolutionary new flavour. Burke, working on what was essentially nothing more sophisticated than a kitchen table, experimented until he came up with a cheese and onion flavour that his boss judged to be acceptable. The new flavour became a success both at home and abroad, and within two years the business had moved to larger premises.”

The business continued to expand over the decades, and Tayto was bought by Raymond Coyle’s Largo Foods in 2006. It was Coyle who pioneered the opening of Tayto Park in Ashbourne, Co Meath in 2010, which he still owns. Largo Foods, however, is now owned by German group Intersnack, which rebranded Largo Foods as Tayto Snacks earlier this year. The company owns the Hula Hoops, Perri and KP snack brands, Hunky Dorys, King crisps and Tayto, which are still produced in the Tayto Factory in Co Meath.

The next time you find yourself in the middle of a heated Tayto versus King battle, it might be worth noting that – however shocking it may be for die-hard fans – these mighty crisps are technically on the same team.