The Addictiveness of Doritos Explained

By Chef Vincent Tropepe

As a chef, I am not a fan of processed, frozen or snack foods as a whole. In particular I am not a chip fan of any kind. At times, I have gotten creative with using chips in alternative forms and substituting breadcrumbs for them at times to give a twist. For some of my friends however, those that eat them say they are addicted to them and some eat them on a regular basis. This is not the first time that I have heard of the Doritos addition, so I wanted to look into it further.

A scientist in America has broken down Doritos’ classic nacho cheese flavor to work out what makes the chips so irresistible.

When Doritos inventor Arch West died, his family reportedly scattered the chips into his grave. Such is the sanctity of nacho cheese.

If you find yourself addicted to the salty yellow chips, don’t fear that you’ve got an overblown fondness for junk food.

Steven A. Witherly, a food scientist and the author of “Why Humans Like Junk Food,” has explained in a public interview that nacho cheese Doritos are the archetype of addictive processed foods.

They’ve been engineered so you never feel like you’ve had enough. Here’s why:

The chips have the powerful savory flavor known as umami, and also what Mr. Witherly calls “long hang-time flavors” like garlic that create a lingering smell that stimulates memories.

The recipe balances these powerful tastes so well that no single flavor overpowers and lingers in the mind after you’ve eaten a chip. This avoid what scientists call “sensory specific satiety” or the feeling of fullness caused by a dominant flavor.

You wouldn’t eat a whole bag of rosemary chips, would you? But you keep coming back for more and more nacho cheese Doritos.

Two acids – lactic and citric, get the saliva flowing – which triggers the impulse to eat. Another ingredient, buttermilk, delivers even more lactic acid.

Dorito dust has even more impact if you lick it right from your fingertips without the chip to dilute it.

To maximize the pleasure, half of the calories in Doritos come from fat. With that ratio, it feels like the chip melts on your mouth and your brain is tricked into thinking the calories have vanished too. This is called “vanishing caloric density” and it comes with cotton candy too, for example.

To boot, there’s the three artificial colorings which research shows consumers are attracted to.

And the blend of ingredients is ground so finely (one of the finest grinds in food processing in fact) that the powder fills every nook and cranny of your mouth.

In short: You’re defenseless.


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