A food scientist explains how Doritos are engineered to be the perfect snack

source
Hollis Johnson

  • Doritos are a hugely popular snack in the US.
  • There are surprising scientific reasons why they’re so good – they’ve been painstakingly engineered to be as tasty as possible.
  • Food scientist Steven Witherly has broken down the science behind “the perfect snack food.”

Doritos are one of the most successful snack foods ever, with a market-leading $1.5 billion in annual sales in the US.

The brand incited controversy recently when its parent company’s CEO, Indra Nooyi, made comments that implied it planned to develop snacks just for women. Still, the chips’ salty, cheesy allure is drool-inducing.

What makes them so good? Food scientist Steven Witherly explained “the perfect snack food” at length in his book, “Why Humans Like Junk Food.”

We break down the highlights – with mouthwatering glamour shots – below.

Gus Lubin contributed reporting to a previous version of this article.


INTOXICATING FLAVOR. That red powder is high in salt and sugar — two major pleasure solutes — and loaded with flavor-boosters like MSG, disodium inosinate, and disodium guanylate. Not to mention garlic, Romano cheese, cheddar cheese, and more.

source
Hollis Johnson

MOUTHWATERING MAGIC. The powder also contains acids (buttermilk solids, lactic acid, and citric acid) that trigger the release of saliva. That’s pleasurable in itself and also a factor that makes everything taste better.

source
Hollis Johnson

HIGH DYNAMIC CONTRAST. Your brain is excited by the sensation of biting into a hard substance that quickly dissolves. This is also an example of vanishing caloric density, where food seems to disappear in your mouth, tricking your brain into wanting more.

source
Hollis Johnson

THE PERFECT RATIO OF FAT. Your brain likes fat, and 12 mg per serving is a good start. Your brain also likes when around half of the calories come from fat, according to Witherly, and Doritos nails it with 70/140.

source
Hollis Johnson

COOKIVORE COMPOUNDS. It has been theorized that humans evolved to crave compounds found in cooked food. If so, then Doritos, with corn that is toasted and then fried in oil, is just what we’re looking for.

source
Hollis Johnson

THE CHEESE EFFECT. Cheese is delicious. When digested, it also releases casomorphin, a compound that slows digestion, stimulates fat intake, and may even have a narcotic effect.

source
Hollis Johnson

LONG HANG-TIME. Flavors like garlic, onions, and cheese spread fast, particularly when they’re found in fat calories, and especially when mixed with saliva and warmed up in the mouth. This conditions your brain to crave the food and can incite cravings in anyone in the room.

source
Hollis Johnson

THAT JE NE SAIS QUOI. A complex mix of flavors, known as non-specific aroma quality, keeps your brain from getting bored.

source
Hollis Johnson

FINGER-LICKING GOOD. “The stuff on your fingers is 5-6 times more concentrated” than the stuff on the chip, says Witherly. Your brain gets a pleasure explosion when you lick it off.

source
Hollis Johnson

TOO MUCH FLAVOR? Rumor has it that, back in the ’90s, Frito-Lay reduced the amount of garlic power in the chip because people were complaining about Doritos breath. (Doritos breath is still a problem.)

source
Hollis Johnson