In what proved to be his final interview, Doritos inventor Arch West told Maxim Magazine’s Gavin Edwards about an idea he had for a product that came to him almost 50 years ago, and eventually led to Doritos sales of $5 billion annually.
Edwards explains that West had sampled a proto-Dorito at a restaurant in San Diego and realized its potential. And the Dorito, made from yellow corn with the size and texture of a potato chip, was born.
When Doritos debuted in 1966, they had just one flavor: toasted corn. Edwards notes the iconic nacho cheese flavor — which now accounts for more than half of Doritos’ sales — wasn’t introduced until 1972.
Now at any given time Doritos has a dozen flavors on sale, from the extremely spicy Scorchin’ Habanero and the wasabi-flavored Mr. Dragon’s Fire Chips, to Winter Crab or Butter and Soy Sauce chips.
West was a marketing vice president at Frito-Lay, and his invention circumvented the company’s R&D division.
“Normally [new products] come out of the laboratory. You run the product on a belt and die-cut it,” West said. “If you make circles, you’ve got a lot of trim. So we said, ‘Let’s go with the triangles.’”
Edwards points out that the name Doritos was the result of a trip West took to Mexico, where he’d been attempting to register Frito as a trademark. “Turns out it’s too generic,” he said. “It just means ‘fried.’”
He asked a local what color he thought Fritos were. The answer was oro, Spanish for “gold.” Remembering that conversation, West added the “ito” suffix to emphasize that his new creation was part of the Fritos/Cheetos family, and said, “Let’s stick a D in front of it.”
The Production Line
In Irving, Texas, home to the flagship Frito-Lay plant, operations manager Steven Segura agreed to walk Edwards through production line TC-2, which produces 2,650 pounds of Doritos an hour, or 50 tons of Doritos a day.
Wearing a hair net, protective goggles, and earplugs, Edwards stood in front of a rail car filled with 220,000 pounds of Nebraska corn, specifically grown for Frito-Lay. From the rail car, the corn goes into a silo and then to a room full of sifters, where air blowers separate bad kernels from good ones.
Tubes blast the surviving corn into a bath of water and calcium hydroxide, where it cooks for nine minutes. The next step is 10 to 18 hours in the soak tanks, where the corn loses any residual skin.
Edwards describes the production line as a cavernous industrial room with the deafening clatter of hundreds of machines cranking out snack food.
“We walk beneath tubes that transport the corn to the ‘masa hog,’ where it is stone-ground into a paste. It’s then squeezed into the sheeter, where large rollers flatten it and white plastic rollers die-cut the masa paste into triangles.
“From the sheeter the chips travel to the oven, bake, then move to the cooker, where they’re fried in corn oil. As the warm triangular chips emerge, I eat one, fresh off the production line. OK, I eat more than one. They are delicious.”
The Perfect Chip
One step remains to turn these corn triangles into Doritos, explains Edwards. A conveyor belt moves them into the seasoning drum, a stainless-steel barrel about the size of a Volkswagen.
First the chips are sprayed with a mist of corn oil, then with a cloud of seasoning. The dust contains cheese and salt and artificial colors and flavor enhancers.
Segura then takes Edwards to the “quality lab,” where the Doritos are surveyed for taste, texture, and appearance. According to Segura, “The perfect chip is a flat triangle with a certain number of blisters.”
I put a Cool Ranch Dorito in my mouth and taste corn, cream, salt, and a hint of garlic, says Edwards. “So I swallow it and pick up another one; it does indeed taste like the perfect chip.”