Move over, Plandemic viewers, QAnon believers, and 5G truthers, 2020 has brought yet another insane conspiracy theory to light. Yet instead of falsely alleging that cell phone signals cause disease or spreading harmful misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic, this one is much less dangerous, regarding the taste of everyone's favorite high school vending machine snack -- Flamin' Hot Cheetos.
Earlier this week, one of my all-time favorite YouTube comedians, Abelina Sabrina, released a video alleging that Flamin' Hot Cheetos taste different when sourced from different sized bags, ranging from snack packs to family size. "All of these chips taste differently, and if you grew up on the eastern side of LA county, then you know exactly what I'm talking about," she said after holding up a variety of Cheetos bags. "To those of you in the rest of the world, then you probably have no idea what the hell I'm talking about."
Correct she was -- as an Illinoisian living in NYC for six years, I had no idea about any of this. But as a young reporter and spicy snack enthusiast, my journalistic passions, the same ones that pushed me to test whether or not you can make chocolate fudge from a half-pound of Velveeta, began tingling. I needed to get to the bottom of this mystery.
Step 1? Acquire multiple bags of Flamin' Hot Cheetos, a task which required visiting approximately eight different bodegas in the pouring rain (including one that somehow carried the long-forgotten Cheeze-Its knock offs, Cheese Nips, but not the spicy stuff).
Once, I had my variety of Flamin' Hots (except for the Family Sized ones, which are both supposed to have the most notable taste disparity with the snack-sized bag and were, of course, somehow out of stock at every store I visited -- sorry, Sabrina!) and took a Claire Saffitz Gourmet Makes mood pic ...
... I was ready to embark on my scientific quest, comparing the smell, taste, spiciness, and overall Cheetotastic-ness levels of the chips in snack, medium, large, but not family-sized, and for good measure, puffed bags.
First on the list, the largest (but sadly not family-sized) bag. They tasted pretty par for the course as far as Flamin' Hot Cheetos go, smelling slightly vinegary with a mildly spicy taste that takes a few moments to set in. They're Flamin' Hot Cheetos, what more can I say. Then came the medium bag. Although they smelled a bit more like cayenne and were slightly spicier than their predecessor, they were mostly the same.
In a moment of weakness, I began questioning the scientific Cheeto-testing process. While there were some slight differences, they were nothing particularly notable, nothing I'd likely be able to detect in a blind taste test. Is this whole thing a hoax? Was I, to paraphrase Ja Rule after the Fyre Fest documentary dropped in 2019, hustled, scammed, bamboozed, hoodwinked, led astray?
As soon as I opened the snack-sized bag, I knew Sabrina had not let me down. The scent of spicy cheeto dust hit me harder than either the medium or large-sized bag. As soon as I took a bite, the spice, which was by far the hottest and the sweetest by a significant margin, immediately hit me on the tip of my tongue, a departure from the other bags that took a few seconds to develop into a generally mild burn throughout my pallet. Although I'd classify each chip under the general umbrella of Flamin' Hot Cheetos, they ran a spectrum of sweet and spicy. I am excited to confirm the Flamin' Hot Cheeto conspiracy was true, especially, as noted in the original video, when compared to the snack-sized chips.
For the sake of science, I then tested one of the puffed Flamin' Hot Cheetos, and as expected, it tasted entirely different than any of its predecessors. The sweetest of the bunch, the spice was truly a delayed fuse, taking nearly 30 seconds to develop almost exclusively on the back of my tongue, the hottest of any of the four chips I sampled. They were also, candidly, my favorite.
Upon further investigation, I found yet another twist in this already spicy mystery. After painstakingly reading through each ingredient label, cross-referencing each bag with their two differently-sized counterparts, the nutritional labels of the three containers are seemingly identical, down to the not-dangerous monosodium glutamate and the Yellow 6 Lake. Could different companies supply each ingredient, resulting in this disparity? Do other mixing mediums and containers, seasoned over the years like your grandma's cast iron skillet, add that spicy, cheesy je ne sais quoi? In an attempt to outdo each other, do each of Cheetos 22 production facilities have different ideas of what makes the perfect chip? Like many universal mysteries, the world may never know. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to pop a few tums, as I just ate a bunch of spicy chips at 8 a.m.
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