Fritos have been a beloved snack for more than 80 years, in the US and worldwide. Their crispy, crunchy, salty goodness is good to munch on its own, or to cook with. Fritos are a classic ingredient in the South of the US, pairing gorgeously with everything from chili to soup. Hungry yet? Well, feast your eyes on 10 Fritos facts that will fill your brain but leave your mouth watering…
10. They’re exactly what it says on the tin
The name Charles Elmer Doolin, founder of The Fritos Company, gave his fried corn chips perfectly fits the product. The Spanish-speaking among you might have clued it already – Fritos comes from the Spanish ‘Frito’, meaning fried. When Doolin first came across these fried masa treats, it was being sold in bags by a Mexican outside of a gas station. The corn chips, locally called ‘fritos’, were commonly sold by the beach. After trying them, Doolin purchased the recipe from the man and decided to keep the name in place. According to the Smithsonian, the origin of the ‘Fritos’ name may have also been from the Americanization of the word ‘fritas’, which literally translates into ‘little fried things’. How cute! Then, Doolin just changed the ‘a’ to an ‘o’, supposedly to make the name easier to trademark in the US. The reason behind the name of Cheetos, which are also made by the Frito Company, also comes from the word Frito. Again, the name describes the recipe for the cheesy puffs, as it is a mash-up of ‘cheese’ and Fritos’. Although they were originally packaged as Chee-tos, after a while they lost the dash to make it easier to say and read. Flash forward 70 years and they have both become household names, and taste just as good as they sound.
9. Fritos crisps pre-date commercial tortilla chips.
Fritos were invented as Doolin wanted to create a snack for the table that went stale slower than tortillas. I know what you’re thinking, ‘tortillas must have existed first, then’. Well, yes and no. While the recipe for tortillas existed before the recipe for Fritos, Fritos were sold by The Frito Company more than 10 years before the first mass-produced tortilla chip was sold by a company in Los Angeles. In fact, Fritos were first put on the market by The Frito Company in 1932. Fritos had pretty humble beginnings. Amazingly, this company was run by Doolin from his mother’s kitchen. To start off the company, Doolin borrowed $100 to buy a recipe, a potato ricer and retail accounts from a corn chip manufacturer. Alongside his family, Doolin produced 10 pounds of Fritos a day from the family kitchen. This got them around $2 a day of profit, allowing them to expand quickly. In just one year, they increased their production rate by 10 times! By 1947, around the time tortilla chips were first being sold, The Fritos Company had already expanded into Dallas, Tulsa, Los Angeles, and Denver. This gave The Frito Company a head start, and by 1955, they had over 50 production plants all over the US, and even one in Venezuela! Fritos beat tortillas to the market and have now become a household name in many countries. Eat my Cheeto Dust, tortillas!
8. The Mascot was redesigned due to controversy
For those who are unfamiliar, the mascot for Fritos used to be a character called ‘Frito Bandito’, who was a Mexican stereotype. This mascot was designed and used from 1967 to 1971, and was created by Tex Avery, the cartoonist responsible for characters such as Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and more! The voice of the character was provided by Mel Blanc (aka Bugs Bunny), who sang about Fritos in the advert. Similar to Lucky Charms, the character was known for trying to steal Fritos back from whoever had got their hands on them. Despite the talent that had been used to create the character, Frito Bandito was not received well, as he was hitting Mexican stereotypes pretty hard, and making buyers uncomfortable. The mascot was promptly removed, and replaced by the Muncha Bunch, a ragtag group of lovable cowboys. These mascots, while harmless, were retired in less than a year, giving way to the most famous Fritos mascot, W.C.Frito, who was a caricature of actor and comedian W. C. Fields. This prompted a remarkable recovery for Fritos, as this character was much more beloved, and stayed out of controversy. Instead of stealing Fritos, W. C. Fritos instead promoted Fritos as a way of keeping the pesky kids quiet. This harmless character created much less controversy, for obvious reasons. Although Frito Bandito was possibly the worst mascot imaginable, it is always a good thing when brands listen to their customers and apologize for their mistakes. Nothing tastes better than responsible brand management. Mmm!
7. Many flavors are only available in South Africa
Fritos were founded in America and have remained a big brand there ever since. So, how did Fritos become popular in South Africa? Fritos began trading there back in 1963 after The Frito Company merged with Lays to become Frito-Lay. The merger gave the money and resources to expand outside of America further. They have since become a household name in South Africa, and it is now home to quite a few special flavors, not available anywhere else! These include Tomato Sauce, Sweet Chilli, Chutney and Peri Peri. Unbelievable that these flavors are just out of reach; they sound amazing (apart from Tomato Sauce – that’s a bit of a weird one). It’s not just flavors that are exclusive to South Africa, too. They have their very own type of Fritos called Waves, which have a different shape to the classic chip. Rather than the usual curled chip, these have ridges for extra crunch. Although South Africa has the best range, its not the only country with different flavors to the US. For example, Canada is home to the Bar-B-Q hoops, which are ranked the 5th tastiest variety according to Ranker.com. In Mexico, Fritos flavors include Salt and Lime, Chorizo and Chipotle, and Adobados. Sounds delicious, right? Well, there’s no need to feel left out if you can’t get these flavors in your local shop – you can buy them online! There’s a whole world of Fritos out there!
6. Fritos joined Lay to conquer America
The Fritos Company grew quickly after its founding and took the South of the US by storm. Fritos were one of the only big names for crisps during the 1930s. One of the other big names was Lays. Also starting out in 1932, Lays began in Tennessee as a small potato chip distributor. After economic struggles for the manufacturer, H. W. Lay & Company was founded, and they began creating their very own potato chips. Both Lays and Fritos were popular throughout the 1940s, both in the South. While Lays had customers in the Southeast, Fritos was a bigger name in the Southwest, and both were limiting the other’s success. The two owners knew this and wondered how they could continue to grow through Southern America. They brokered a deal to distribute and sell one another’s chips in their respective areas. Genius! These two snack giants became one in 1961 with an official merger. This new company was aptly called ‘Frito-Lay Inc.’, and it continued to absorb other snack companies into its family. In 1965, Pepsi merged with Frito-Lay, and became a complete titan of the industry, leading the entire snack industry in the US. When Eagle Snacks threatened their business, PepsiCo began the Great Potato Chip War (yes, that’s really what it was called). After more than 10 years, Fritos won this battle, driving Eagle Snacks into closure. It’s like a real-life Game of Thrones!
5. Doolin’s Mom used them for cooking
The founding of The Fritos Company was supported by Charles Doolin’s mother, Daisy Doolin, from the start. It is said that the recipe was originally bought with the money she made from pawning her own wedding ring. Along with the money, Daisy Doolin gave her kitchen to the company, allowing the chips to produced there until the company found its feet. While she was helping to manufacture the chips, she was also creating recipes with Fritos to show others how versatile Fritos were. Along with Charles Doolin’s wife, she created a recipe book full of these concoctions, and some were even printed on the back of chip packets. Among these recipes were ‘Fritos Squash’, ‘Frito Fruitcake’ and the infamous ‘Frito Pie’. The pie, also called a ‘walking taco’ and ‘Texas straw hat’, became a hit in Texas, and is still popular to this day. It’s quick to make, and it requires no culinary talent whatsoever. The most basic Fritos Pie is just a bag of Fritos with hot Beef Chili piled on top, and a spoon to eat it with. You can add your own extras, like jalapenos, sour cream or cheese to make the perfect pie for you. To this day, the legacy of Doolin’s recipes continues, and Frito-Lay has a whole page of recipes for you to try, such as ‘Jalapeno Cheddar Waffles’. Better get cooking!
4. Doolin didn’t even eat them!
Yes, that’s right! Fritos founder Charles Doolin did not eat his own chips! Don’t get me wrong, Doolin really did love Fritos. When he first tried them at the gas station, he fell in love with them immediately, and he knew he had to have the recipe. Unfortunately, he had a strict diet which prevented him from eating the chips. He followed Herbert Shelton’s diet plan, which claimed that eating raw foods was the best way to avoid diseases. Because of this, Dooley avoided eating meat and salt. This was quite an issue, as Dooley wanted to experiment with flavors and bring out many new types of Fritos. Instead of trying them himself, he often used his family as the guinea pigs for these experiments, and through them, he was able to create many of the flavors we know and love. Like the Beethoven of chips, Doolin designed new flavors without ever being able to taste them. Although he couldn’t eat normal chips, he soon came up with a way to get his Fritos fix. According to his daughter, Kaleta Doolin, he would bring home Fritos from the factory before they had been salted. This way, he could enjoy a slightly less tasty version of Fritos, without breaking his strict dietary rules.
3. There was a Fritos restaurant
After the Doolins proved what an amazing ingredient Fritos were, the next logical step was to open up a restaurant devoted to these amazingly versatile chips. It’s a great idea, but where were they going to set it up? Well, Doolin was quite the businessman and was an early investor in Disneyland. When it opened in 1955, Doolin set up his restaurant next door to the streamboat ride. It’s a heck of a location! He called the Fritos food palace ‘Casa de Fritos’, narrowly missing the far superior name of ‘Casa de Masa’. True to its roots, it served mainly Mexican-inspired food such as tacos, Frito Pies and tamales. As if this chip restaurant wasn’t interesting enough, it was also promoted by a mechanical Frito Kid, who was the mascot at the time. Not only could he talk, he could also lick his lips, and give out Fritos. If you gave him a nickel, the Frito Kid would call Klondike, who would ‘chip’ away inside the Frito mountain until a freshly mined bag shot out of the machine. Sounds pretty cool to me! Doolin spent big bucks on this expensive and complicated vending machine, and he had a lot of hope in Casa de Fritos becoming a success. He believed in it so much, he opened up another restaurant in Dallas shortly after the big premiere in Disneyland. If you’re getting a hankering for these Mexican treats, I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but it didn’t really work out. While Doolin had big plans for a chain of Fritos fast food, it never really took off, and the store eventually shut down.
2. Doolin made special corn for his chips
The creator of Frito wasn’t just a businessman, he was also something of a scientist and engineer. Although he did not think up the original recipe, he made plenty of edits to the chip. Apart from creating new flavors, Doolin also experimented with the corn itself, to find the best tasting and highest quality produce he could achieve. He created many corn hybrids, which allowed him to have genetically different strains, all with their own special tastes. To find the perfect corn, Doolin asked Texan farmers to plant many varieties of hybrid corn and allow him to taste them. This soon became the secret ingredient in Fritos, giving them their distinctive taste. Doolin didn’t stop there, he personalized every step of production to create the best chip possible. He tinkered with the chips in ‘hidden kitchens’, which were scattered everywhere, including in his factories, his lab and in his house. After hearing of Ford’s production line, he began using this to mass-produce the chips in the early days of its expansion. It’s not just the corn, either. Doolin also taught himself how to improve the crop soil, and even created his own type of vegetable oil for frying the chips. He really was a jack of all trades and worked hard to ensure that every step, from seed to chip, was good enough to make the perfect Frito.
1. There was more than one Frito family
The founding of The Frito Company was a real family affair, led by Charles Doolin. As the company grew from these wholesome foundations, Doolin was keen to keep the idea of family and community alive among his staff. He went as far as to call his employees the ‘Frito Family’. He often called staff into the ‘hidden kitchens’ to get their opinion on his latest flavors. The members of the Frito Family were also given discounts on company shares, allowing them to get truly invested in the company. Just like a regular family, they often had holiday parties together, and Doolin would take these opportunities to mingle with the staff. He also provided awards to employees who were particularly brilliant, or who had spent many years within the Frito Family. By keeping the staff happy, he ensured that his baby, the Frito, was always made with care. Who knew that the secret ingredient was love all along?