Doritos are one of the most successful snack foods ever, with a market-leading $1.5 billion in annual sales in the US.
What makes them so good? Food scientist Steven Witherly explained “the perfect snack food” at length in his book, “Why Humans Like Junk Food.”
• Doritos lead the snack food market with an annual $1.5 billion in sales.
• There’s a reason these chips are so good, and food scientist Steven Witherly helps us break it down.
• From the chemicals in the powder to the texture of the chip, this is what makes Doritos so good.
Now let’s break down the highlights!
INTOXICATING FLAVOR. That red powder is high in salt and sugar — two major pleasure solutes — and loaded with flavor-boosters like MSG, disodium inosinate, and disodium guanylate. Not to mention garlic, Romano cheese, cheddar cheese, and more.
MOUTHWATERING MAGIC. The powder also contains acids (buttermilk solids, lactic acid, and citric acid) that trigger the release of saliva. That’s pleasurable in itself and also a factor that makes everything taste better.
HIGH DYNAMIC CONTRAST. Your brain is excited by the sensation of biting into a hard substance that quickly dissolves. This is also an example of vanishing caloric density, where food seems to disappear in your mouth, tricking your brain into wanting more.
THE PERFECT RATIO OF FAT. Your brain likes fat, and 12 mg per serving is a good start. Your brain also likes when around half of the calories come from fat, according to Witherly, and Doritos nails it with 70/140.
COOKIVORE COMPOUNDS. It has been theorized that humans evolved to crave compounds found in cooked food. If so, then Doritos, with corn that is toasted and then fried in oil, is just what we’re looking for.
THE CHEESE EFFECT. Cheese is delicious. When digested, it also releases casomorphin, a compound that slows digestion, stimulates fat intake, and may even have a narcotic effect.
LONG HANG-TIME. Flavors like garlic, onions, and cheese spread fast, particularly when they’re found in fat calories, especially when mixed with saliva and warmed up in the mouth. This conditions your brain to crave the food and can incite cravings in anyone in the room.
THAT JE NE SAIS QUOI. A complex mix of flavors, known as non-specific aroma quality, keeps your brain from getting bored.
FINGER-LICKING GOOD. “The stuff on your fingers is 5-6 times more concentrated” than the stuff on the chip, says Witherly. Your brain gets a pleasure explosion when you lick it off.
TOO MUCH FLAVOR? Rumor has it that, back in the 90s, Frito Lay reduced the amount of garlic power in the chip because people were complaining about Doritos breath. (Doritos breath is still a problem.)