RogerBW's Blog

Asda Snack Food 06 April 2019

I read something unexpected, so I tested the claim.

In The Hot Pink Farmhouse, which I read and reviewed recently, I came across this passage:

Her eyes fell on the bags of potato chips that were heaped on the floor. Thirty bags of them at least. She found it surprising and upsetting that these small-town kids knew the dirty little secret about America's favorite snack food—it was a highly effective accelerant, pure grease, that left no telltale residue behind. Dogs that were trained to sniff out accelerants got nowhere with chips, and chemical tests turned up zilch. She thought only the pros knew this. Must be out on the Internet, she reflected unhappily. She would have to tell the arson squad.

And I thought: Hmm. That's not a thing I've heard of, but it makes sense… this calls for SCIENCE!

Some days later I got together with a fellow nutter and we bought a selection of cheap savoury snacks from Asda (on the basis that of the readily available supermarkets they'd be the most likely to bulk things up with vegetable oil). (Total cost of materials: under £5.)

We lit them with a pre-mixed oxygen-butane flame and recorded what happened. Video is at Men with Beards, but here's the quick summary: it works!

Well, mostly it works. Some of the foods were much better than others. The fake Pringles ("Snax") went up very well individually, but as a stack they couldn't get enough air, and when they were separated fire didn't always spread well between them.

The popchips [sic], Potato Loops and Beefy Sticks were something of a disappointment; I was expecting more of the Potato Loops in particular, since they ought to provide their own air circulation. The Beefy Sticks only went up as a stack, not individually.

Last and best of all were the Cheesy Wiggles, with a foamy consistency that allowed for quick flame propagation.

All of them burned more or less, with white greasy smoke (suggesting oxygen supply wasn't a problem), and the more enthusiastic ones dripped heavy yellow vegetable oil fractions. Quoted energy levels were mostly around 20MJ/kg, or about five times what's in TNT (though of course released rather more slowly).

We layered the leftovers into a "cake" and burned that all together. (Well, we weren't going to eat the stuff. At least I wasn't.)

And now my dead cat (wrapped round the microphone) smells of smoke.

The ash was not particularly distinctive-looking, and of course this kind of snack food is not an unusual thing to have in many places. We didn't try it with the bags in place but I would expect them to contribute a fair bit of energy too.

I'm told by an American that Fritos are also good for this (though they're cornmeal rather than potato) so that's something for the future.

See also:
The Hot Pink Farmhouse, David Handler

  1. Posted by John Dallman at 11:13am on 06 April 2019

    Fun! I initially misread "David Handler" above as being a tag about managing a dangerous David. I think that's somewhat reasonable.

  2. Posted by A Fellow Nutter at 12:56pm on 06 April 2019

    That was fun!

    Also, I have a new handle for this comment section.

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