Dangerously cheesy: all about Cheetos
First of all, a confession: I love Cheetos. I love the way crunchy Cheetos are just the right texture. I love the day-glo orange powder that gives me Cheeto fingers. I love the cheesy flavor, bolder than Doritos but nowhere near the rich smoothness of actual cheese.
Cheetos are a popular snack worldwide, sold in over 30 different countries including the U.S., Japan, China, Australia, and India. As with other American junk food imports, flavors in other countries are very different than those in the U.S. One popular flavor in Japan, for example, is strawberry-flavored Cheetos.
Cheetos's humble beginnings
Cheetos are a specific brand of cheese puff, a type of puffed corn snack coated in powdered cheese. Cheetos-brand cheese puffs have been around since the 1940s, and their popularity is directly responsible for the creation of Frito-Lay, the company that distributes Cheetos as well as other tasty, bad-for-you snacks.
When Charles Doolin, Cheetos's inventor, whipped up his initial test batches in Texas, they were tremendously popular. Doolin kept selling out of Cheetos at local markets. As a result, two snack companies merged to become Frito-Lay, and Cheetos became a flagship product. They spread throughout the U.S. under the Frito-Lay umbrella. Under the merger of Frito-Lay and PepsiCo, Cheetos began to span the globe as they entered the international market.
YouTuber tackles spicy Cheetos
How Cheetos are made
Cheetos are corn, water, and cheese powder. To make Cheetos, factory workers blend corn and water before pushing the mixture out through a die. When the mix comes into contact with hot air, it gets the squiggly, textured shape that's characteristic of a Cheeto. These pre-cooked Cheetos are fried or baked, then coated in powder. Each Cheetos batch takes approximately 19 minutes from start to finish before being inspected by a hungry panel.
In 2010, Wired Magazine wrote a detailed, minute-for-minute account of how Cheetos are made.
The Cheeto taste 'round the world
In the U.S., there are a wide variety of Cheetos flavors and styles. The original Cheetos snack was Crunchy Cheetos, which are still popular today. Cheetos Puffs were added soon after that. While most Cheetos are cheese-flavored, one of the most popular Cheetos variants is Flamin' Hot Cheetos, a spicy variety of Cheetos coated in a bright red powder. Occasionally new Cheetos will emerge on the U.S. market. One of the most recent varieties is Cheetos Mix Ups Salsa Mix, a bag full of Cheetos in a variety of shapes and flavors, most of which have a Tex-Mex theme.
Cheetos has the notable distinction of being the first American snack to be sold in China. Chinese flavors include Savory American Cream and Zesty American steak. Before those two flavors were unveiled, focus groups considered these flavors for the Chinese Cheetos line: ranch, crab, octopus, and caramel.
In India, Cheetos are made with vegetables and whole grains under the name Cheetos Whoosh. There is also a masala-flavored Cheetos on the Indian market known as Masala Balls.
His name was Chester Cheetah
The mascot for Cheetos wasn't always Chester Cheetah, the hep cat in shades who's at times been a thief, a spy, and a maverick. Throughout the 1970s, the Cheetos brand was represented by Cheetos Mouse, but the mouse's advertising career was short-lived. In 1986, Chester Cheetah appeared in animated commercials, spouting off too-cool-for-school slogans such as "It ain't easy being cheesy" and "Dangerously cheesy." During a time of commercial tie-ins with video games, he even starred in two video games for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. As a result of his increasing popularity, he was adopted as the official mascot.
In his original incarnation, he was a Tex Avery-style cartoon with slapstick elements and squash-and-stretch animation. At the turn of the century, he became computer-generated, and soon after that, a velvety-voiced debonair in charge of the so-called Orange Underground. This ad campaign was created to appeal to twentysomething young adults and used adult themes such as drug use, office pranks, and revenge. He is still drawn cartoon-style on Cheetos packaging.
Robbing a bank? Chester Cheetah ain't got time for that.
And his name was Cheesus
Due to a little thing called apophenia, people tend to see faces and shapes in inanimate objects. Cheetos, being irregularly-shaped due to the production process, have been in the news multiple times due to people finding Cheetos shaped like significant people.
One famous incident was when a couple from Texas found a Cheeto that they claimed looked like Jesus. The media reported the couple's finding Cheesus story as they debated selling the Cheeto on eBay. The popularity of finding Jesus in food was parodied on an episode of the hit U.S. series Glee, in which one of the characters finds Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich. (This dairy-based faith figure was also named Cheesus!)