April 6, 2010

The boldly foolish taste of Cheeseburger Doritos

Yesterday, I sampled this food product:

I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, though I think it's fair to say that this is terrible, in multiple senses of that word. It materialized in the vending machine at work, and after enduring various office titterings and speculation about what it tastes like from people too timid to take the plunge, I boldly chose to gamble 55 cents on the experience.

First, though, a little background: It turns out that Dorito technology has advanced exponentially since the concept of a blue bag sent shockwaves through the snack world when Cool Ranch was introduced in 1986 (check out this early commercial starring Jay Leno; what would he sell today? adult diapers? flavorless gruel?). I knew about Blazing Buffalo, but there is now an array of Doritos flavors that no man should ever require: tacos, jalapeño poppers, "pizza cravers." Emphasis on the word flavors, since I doubt that anything else about these chips has any true relationship with an actual taco. (And note: The original Doritos variety, dating back to the 1960s, was labeled "taco," but those were merely the taste of your familiar taco shells. These newer chips—specifically labeled "Tacos at Midnight"—supposedly taste like the shell and the meat and the toppings and probably what comes back up an hour later.) I noticed wacky chips when I spent a summer in Great Britain 18 years ago—I made it my seasonal goal to try everything from prawn cocktail to T-bone steak—but meat-based chips took some time to catch on here.

But now there's cheeseburger flavor. Officially they're "DORITOS® Late Night All Nighter Cheeseburger Flavored Tortilla Chips," which makes me wonder what Early Morning In Bed By 10 Cheeseburger would taste like. Is the concept of a cheeseburger at 3am more appealing than one in the afternoon, from a tortilla-cheap-eating standpoint? Must be, because Frito-Lay surely hires more skilled ad wizards than I.

Anyway, the experience: I opened the bag, and I was immediately olfactorily transported back to middle school, when many a glorious weekend afternoon was spent eating a Whopper at the Livingston Mall. These chips smell intensely of Burger King—not McDonald's, not Wendy's (though a coworker said the scent reminded him of White Castle)—but that distinct ketchupy char aroma of the King.

The actual taste was far more complex. The BK similarity persisted, with the flavor seeming to come at me from all directions at once—a little ketchup here, some cheese there, a healthy dose of pickles. This is not unlike a good cheeseburger, come to think of it, where the joy is in the nearly overpowering conglomeration of varied but complementary tastes. However, one taste dominated above all: corn. That bland yet not unpleasant corniness at the root of Doritos, more familiarly drowned in a radioactive haze of tangy cheese. Miraculously, cheeseburger Doritos tasted exactly like what a snack-food neophyte would expect: a junky cheeseburger alchemically imbued into a corn chip. Fascinating. Disgusting.

In Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation (one of few books that I can legitimately claim changed my life), he makes a visit to a "flavor factory" in New Jersey, where familiar tastes are artificially synthesized, later to be added to way more foods than you expect (his initial focus is on french fries). He explains how science can conjure up almost any taste chemically, easily adding it to foods without altering their appearance. One compound can make something taste like marshmallow; another provides the taste of fresh-cut grass, if you wanted that. It's funny to laugh at this, but it's also somewhat disturbing; it's the kind of science that inspires apocalyptic fiction, when our souls are gone and only the synthetic remains. No more grass, just grass-reminiscent chemical formulae.

Despite my mild revulsion (and the sudden realization of just how salty all Doritos are), I made it through most of the bag. But I felt skanky afterward, perhaps more mentally than physically. I went down the block for a salad—fresh carrots, cherry tomatoes, bright green peas, all my favorite veggies. But somehow, it tasted bland, unalive, inert. I ate only half the bowl.


BlueDuck said...

You think we have crazy Doritos... we have nothing on Japan!


BlueDuck said...

PS- Fun Doritos trivia!

This flavor-- cheeseburger-- was first released in 2007, under the test-marketing code name of "Doritos X-13D". Consumers were urged on bags to submit their guesses on the flavor and feedback to Doritos.

Vitamin Steve said...

I guess my guess of "Crap" was wrong.

The Big Quiz Thing said...

What an odd contest. It seems like such a subjective evaluation; a cohort who tasted one of my chips insisted she tasted nothing but pickles and corn. It's not like they're really flavored with cheeseburgers, so who's to say she's wrong? Doritos, leading us down a philosophical path.

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Miami Vending Machines said...

Consumers were urged on bags to submit their guesses on the flavor and feedback to Doritos.
Miami Coffee Vending Machines

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