When it comes to food, there are few things more satisfying than a salty, crunchy snack. And when you’re craving that specific type of a snack, it’s not uncommon to reach for a bag of chips. Chips are an easy, accessible, and portable option, and for many, the ideal way to curb a salty craving is with a bag of Fritos.
Thanks to their curvy shape, salty exterior, and ultimately, their strong crunch, Fritos corn chips have made a name for themselves as a snack staple in many households. They’re eaten as the perfect complement to Friday night movie night, packed in lunches, and even served with chili and cheese on top for a makeshift meal. They’re an incredibly versatile chip, capturing the attention of snack lovers all over the world.
But is there more to Fritos than meets the eye? How did we end up with Fritos on the snack shelves, and what’s the story behind their popularity? We decided to dive in and take a look. This is the untold truth of Fritos.
Fritos are a pretty old product
For many, Fritos may seem like a relatively new product. You may have enjoyed them with high school lunches or at a recent summer barbecue. But they actually have of a storied past that dates back further than you might imagine.
In 1932, Charles Elmer Doolin stumbled upon the perfect business for sale, and he took a leap that made an impact on the world of snacking forever. Doolin was already a businessman, running a confectionery in San Antonio, Texas, but he was looking to diversify his offerings.
The man selling his corn chips business had been utilizing masa made out of corn, which was then fried and sold as little bags of chips. He called them Fritos, translating to "little fried things," and they were incredibly popular on the beaches of Mexico. Fascinated by the concept, Doolin purchased the rights to the recipe, along with the customer list the man already had established, and he went on to perfect the recipe even further, leading to the Fritos corn chips we can find on shelves today.
Fritos use a specific kind of corn
As Doolin perfected his Fritos corn chips recipe, he knew that it all had to start with great corn. After all, not much is added to that main ingredient. According to NPR, Doolin actually came up with his own hybrid of corn, making a custom variety to produce the perfect chip. Doolin utilized Texas farmers to plant a huge array of varieties until he finally landed on the perfect type of corn to utilize in making his chips.
In Kaleta Doolin’s book Fritos Pie: Stories, Recipes, and More that details the company her father built, she adds that the final hybrid of corn was developed by an employee with an agronomy degree. This employee paired sweet corn and field corn to make the perfect match. Now, the corn used for Fritos corn chips comes from farms in the United States, all devoted to bringing fresh cobs of corn to the Fritos factory to be made into chips.
It takes quite a few steps to make Fritos
When it comes to making Fritos, it’s definitely not as simple as just frying up some corn to make corn chips. A Fritos factory has the capability to make at least 20,000 bags of corn chips each shift, but it’s not without careful calculation. And there are quite a few steps involved at the factory to make these salty, crunchy snacks for consumers.
The Fritos factory gets a delivery of fresh corn to start off the process, which is stored in grain silos on-site. The corn makes its way into the factory where it’s cooked in water, breaking down the starch in the corn along the way. The corn is then cleaned and ground up to turn it into masa to serve as the base of the chip. The masa is cut into the shape of Fritos that we are all accustomed to before being fried to create the finished product.
Chips are topped with salt as they go through a tumbling machine, making the seasoning totally consistent before the Fritos make their way to the packaging line. Once at the packaging line, the ideal weight of chips is measured out, added to branded bags, and sealed to eventually make their way to your local store.
Fritos Pie was made popular by the developer’s mom
Kaleta Doolin, Fritos founder’s daughter, claimed that her dad intended the treat to be eaten as a side dish as part of a meal — not as a snack. Perhaps that’s why Fritos Pie became such a huge success.
While Fritos have been used for dips or the perfect topping for soups or chili, Fritos Pie just might be the most popular recipe using these little corn chips out there. According to Kaleta Doolin, in her book Fritos Pie: Stories, Recipes, and More, we all have Doolin’s mother and Kaleta’s grandmother Daisy Dean to thank for popularizing the recipe for Fritos Pie.
According to Kaleta, in 1937, Dean played a role in planning and launching a campaign focused on ways to cook with Fritos after she added Fritos to her fruitcake. The recipe book was full of wild ideas, but one stand-out that lived on was Fritos Pie. Fritos Pie is made by adding chili and cheese to a bag of Fritos corn chips, along with other toppings such as fresh tomatoes, corn, and anything else a family’s heart desires. Other versions utilize a casserole dish, starting with a layer of Fritos as the base, and then topping it with chili, cheese, and all of the fixings. Of course, the recipe differs from region to region and household to household, but the concept of utilizing Fritos as a base remains the same.
There’s a huge variety of Fritos flavors
When you really boil it down, Fritos corn chips are a pretty simple concept. After all, it’s just a simple recipe utilizing corn, oil, and salt. And the original version of Fritos, with an ideally calculated amount of salt, has certainly satisfied snack lovers for years.
But Fritos has definitely taken that recipe and worked to switch things up over the years, debuting a slew of popular flavors that are now well known in the United States.
Fritos started out with its original corn chips, but since then, it’s also added a lightly salted option, along with debuting Fritos Scoops in the early ’90s to offer even more surface area for salsas and other sauces to scoop up. The ever-loved Fritos Chili Cheese variety debuted in the mid-’80s offering another flavor option with the pairing of chili in mind, and other flavors to round out the portfolio were introduced, including Spicy Jalapeno, along with a Flamin’ Hot version in 2020 to mimic its cousin, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
There are some very interesting global flavors of Fritos
As with many food companies, appealing to a worldwide audience is important for a brand’s growth. And Fritos definitely jumped at the chance, switching up its flavor options to offer a snack flavor that anyone around the world would love. And with that goal of flavor diversity in mind, there have definitely been some unique flavor offerings throughout North America and overseas over the years.
In Mexico, Fritos are offered in a Chorizo and Chipotle flavoring, offering a unique meat-flavored chip with a bit of a chipotle kick to them. In South Africa, flavors such as Chutney, Peri Peri, and Fritos Tomato Ribbons have been on store shelves, playing well with flavors from different cultural cuisine. Even Canada has a Bar-B-Q Hoops flavor, offering a completely different shape to the classic corn chip along with a sweet, tangy barbecue sauce flavor.
Fritos played a role in the start of PepsiCo
Once Doolin made his mark with Fritos, it was only a matter of time before the company was ready to expand. Around the same time Fritos was started, a man named Herman W. Lay was working toward a new business concept, a snack delivery company based in Nashville, Tennessee. With common interests and goals in the snack industry, the two snack companies merged in 1961, after Doolin had debuted his recipes for Cheetos, creating the company we all now know as Frito-Lay Inc.
But what goes better with a salty snack such as chips than a cool, crisp, refreshing Pepsi? Chips and soda are the perfect combination, and Frito-Lay Inc. and Pepsi-Cola knew that. The companies joined in 1965 to create the ultimate snack conglomerate, forming PepsiCo.
Now, the companies dish up a huge portion of snack options out there, including Fritos, Cheetos, Ruffles, Tostitos, Doritos, and of course, Lay’s, along with a slew of carbonated beverages, sports drinks, and iced teas.
One of the first Fritos commercials quickly caused controversy
One of the keys to selling a great product is effective advertising, right? Well, unfortunately, Fritos missed the mark on one of its earliest television commercial debuts, and it ruffled quite a lot of feathers along the way.
Fritos debuted its mascot "The Frito Bandito" in a series of commercials running from 1967 to 1971. At the time, the commercials utilized talent from the Looney Tunes franchise, with Looney Tunes co-creator Tex Avery directing, along with Mel Blanc, a.k.a. Bugs Bunny, doing the voiceover. Sounds like the perfect combination, right? Well, according to Fox Business, the ad agency heading up the commercials, Foote, Cone & Belding, ended up taking quite a bit of heat as the National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee and the Involvement of Mexican-Americans in Gainful Endeavors groups voiced their concerns in 1968.
Frito Bandito had been portrayed with a thick Mexican accent, singing about his love for Fritos corn chips, and groups found that the portrayal was perpetuating a stereotype. Fritos made a few changes along the way to the commercials, but ultimately, the mascot and commercials were off the air by 1971.
There was once a Fritos restaurant at Disneyland
When a business owner discovers something people will love and launches a product, it only makes sense to go at it hard. Give it everything you’ve got, right? Well, that was certainly what Doolin aimed to do when he realized he was on to something with Fritos.
When Disneyland opened in 1955, Doolin asked to open a restaurant on-site. And as one might imagine, he managed to create a restaurant entirely devoted to his product, Fritos. Originally located in Frontierland, the restaurant featured a Mexican theme, with the name "Casa de Fritos."
Guests could visit the Fritos devoted restaurant in the park, and they’d receive free Fritos during their visit. Fritos were a featured ingredient for many of the dishes on the menu, and there was even a Fritos vending machine on-site. The Fritos restaurant is no longer operational at Disneyland, as the partnership ended and it was converted into a restaurant run by Lawry’s Foods named Casa Mexicana that later closed in 2000. And while Casa de Fritos is no longer operational, it certainly was a genius marketing plan on Doolin’s part to get his product in front of thousands of Disney park-goers.
The father of Fritos didn’t really eat his own product
It’s not uncommon to hear the stories of a new food product and the ways in which the recipe developer absolutely loved it. For some, it may have been developed and produced for sale after they had been eating it every single day. But this was definitely not the case for Doolin and his Fritos corn chips.
Interestingly enough, Doolin was a die-hard vegetarian. He followed the works of Dr. Herbert Shelton, who promoted a healthy lifestyle focused on vegetarian meals and raw food consumption. With that mindset, it’s hard to believe that Doolin intended for consumers to eat Fritos by the handful, accidentally finishing a whole bag in one sitting as some of us manage to accomplish today.
Given his dietary interests, Doolin generally didn’t eat much of his own product, as he and his family focused on a healthy vegetarian diet with little salt. According to NPR, Doolin would grab Fritos from the factory before they had been salted, on the off chance he actually brought some home for the family to eat at all.
Fritos are gluten-free
It can be incredibly tough to find snack foods that are gluten-free. And even if you do find a product that utilizes gluten-free ingredients, the product is often still being processed in a plant that uses gluten, making it difficult to determine if it’s actually safe.
For many, eating gluten-free is a dietary choice, and they simply decide to opt for a diet that omits wheat, rye, and barley. But for others with celiac disease, it can be a very serious matter. Essentially, celiac disease causes the immune system to respond to gluten with a toxin that destroys small protrusions in the small intestines called villi, tiny structures that play a role in absorbing nutrients. With these destroyed, a person can’t properly absorb nutrients and may end up with intestinal damage or malnutrition.
Luckily for those who need a gluten-free snack, Fritos has made an effort to actually validate themselves as a gluten-free producer and worked with the Celiac Disease Foundation to do it. Fritos are made from corn, oil, and salt, all of which work within a gluten-free diet.
The father of Fritos came up with Cheetos too
As if we weren’t happy enough with Doolin’s genius recipe development and perseverance to develop a great product, we have him to thank for another snacktime favorite as well: Cheetos.
Another part of the Frito-Lay Inc. lineup, Cheetos have been around since 1948. And really, if you think about the similarity in name between Fritos and Cheetos, the history makes sense. According to Insider, Cheetos were even originally made with the same ingredients as Fritos (with added cheese, of course). The crunchy cheese snack debuted in San Antonio, Texas, several years after Fritos came out.
Cheetos also laid the framework for the partnership with Herman W. Lay and Doolin that eventually resulted in the merger that created Frito-Lay Inc. Doolin needed help distributing his second snack product on the market, and Lay helped make it work. Talk about a delicious partnership.
People in Texas are really crazy about their Fritos Pie
While Doolin’s daughter claimed that Doolin’s mother was to thank for making the recipe for Fritos Pie popular to showcase the product’s diversity, there are certainly plenty of claims that it was invented by other people. Over the years, it’s become a point of contingency all over Texas, where Fritos were invented and where the popularity of Fritos Pie continues to skyrocket. People in New Mexico have even made claims that Fritos Pie was invented at a general store in Santa Fe, but those claims have since been debunked. Houstonia Mag also asserted that the recipe was largely a result of a corporate test kitchen.
Fritos Pie is a mainstay at sports games, picnics, and family dinners, and with that notoriety, Fritos Pie has been served in a variety of ways, including right in the small snack-sized bag to a casserole dish at home.
To really stake its claim, the State Fair of Texas even made the world’s largest Fritos Pie in a giant square display and set a world record. In 2012, the fair put together its giant Fritos Pie for the 80th anniversary of Fritos. It all came together with 635 bags of Fritos, 660 cans of chili, and an amazing 580 bags of shredded cheese. It all added up to 1,325 pounds of chili pie goodness, only encouraging Texans’ devotion to Fritos Pie.