Today we’re checking out the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos from Frito Lay. You can thank Pedro for this review today, as while I was on vacation, apparently he raided my review stash and ate this weeks review, so he handed me these for an alternate review. The funny part is that these are so well-known and in the mainstream that we hadn’t ever thought of reviewing them before, but it suddenly occurred to me that maybe we had done a disservice by not at least giving it a once over from our crew. For those screaming foul that we’re not honoring the small-time manufacturer by doing a review from the largest snack manufacturer out there, we hear you, but keep in mind that part of that spicy foods wave we’re all on right now can, in part, be attributed to decades of advertising dollars from the major food manufacturers. We still love the small manufacturers, but sometimes it’s nice to stray in to the shallow end of the pool and see what products are bridging the mainstream eater in to the spicy foods world.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about some short history for the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. A few things that you may not know are that this snack that seems relatively new to everyone actually launched in the early 1990’s, and that the inspiration for the snack came from the same type of mind that embodies the smaller manufacturer. Richard Montañez, a janitor at the Frito Lay plant in Rancho Cucamonga took the inspiration from a common Mexican street food, ‘elote en vaso’, which is roasted corn in a cup, commonly served with butter, cheese, chile powder and sometimes a touch of mayo for creaminess. He had to sell the idea just the same as anyone else; however, his sales pitch was not to the consumer, but to the president of Frito Lay. His drive to showcase the product paid off big time, and the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were born, and continued birthing an entire spicy foods line. From what I understand he’s now a big time foods guy over at PepsiCo, the parent company of Taco Bell, and I have a feeling that the Doritos shell tacos that are coming out now might have a bit of his stamp on it, but that’s just speculation on my part. Well, enough with the history lesson. Time to dig in and see how these taste, and yes, believe it or not, I might be the last person on the planet who hasn’t had a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
Ok, so I left out a fair amount of parenthesized sub-ingredient clusters for this, but you’ll see that even at the high level, the list is long enough. If you have an allergy concerns, make sure to go by the actual packaging list. Here’s the high-level listing of what I’m eating today: Enriched Corn Meal, Vegetable Oil, Flamin’ Hot Seasoning, Salt, Sugar, Monosodium Glutamate, Yeast Extract, Citric Acid, Artificial Color, Sunflower Oil, Cheddar Cheese, Onion Powder, Whey, Whey Protein Concentrate, Garlic Powder, Natural Flavor, Buttermilk, Sodium Diacetate, Disodium Inosinate, and Salt
I figured I’d start checking for the aroma of spiciness first, but at the moment the predominant aroma is sort of browning butter, with that nutty aroma, and just a hint of cheese to it. Honestly, it sort of smells like a buttered-up grilled cheese sandwich to me. There aren’t any hints of spicy flavor to these brightly orange puffed sticks of corn. The coloring on these seems to be more in the orange range than the yellow-orange range of what I recall standard Cheetos looking like. The texture of these is fairly simple: it appears to be a deep-fried corn batter that puffs up in to crisp stick like shapes, without any standard form to them, and they are dusted with the orange powder that gives them the color I described earlier.
Time to give them a taste test. There is a salty cheese flavor very immediately, followed by a mild spicy punch that fades quite quickly. There is a bit of a stacking effect with these, where the more of them you eat, the more intense the spice and the longer it lasts, but it eventually peaks out at being a Mild level of heat that maintains itself for no longer than a minute or so. That browned butter and cheese flavor that came through in the aroma does come through, but once the powder dilutes in your mouth, the cheese part of it is much more evident. The cheese flavoring on this is better than the standard Cheetos, but the spice flavoring leaves a little to be desired, and certainly doesn’t give me the feeling that this was inspired by a corn cup. I end up being fairly Neutral on the product, and while it’s much better than the standard Cheetos, it doesn’t quite have the flavor balance that you get from the Cheddar Jalapeno variety of Cheetos.