Let's settle the Doritos debate: Nacho Cheese vs. Cool Ranch

Graphic: Natalie Peeples

Doritos are arguably the most successful Mexican-American fusion product modern society has witnessed. One doesn’t immediately think Mexico, but of course, Doritos begins with the base product of fried tortilla chips. The American contribution comes via the dusting of flavored spice blend coating the exterior of each piece.

In that sense, the Doritoness of a Dorito lies not in the crackly triangular chips, but strictly in the powder. Subtlety is not a trait associated with this powder—Doritos flavoring are the snack equivalent of a sentence written in ALL-CAPS WITH FIVE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!

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Doritos is one of the few salty snacks with opposing allegiances. Though there exists more contemporary flavors such as Salsa Verde and Spicy Sweet Chili, any consumer of American snacks stands firmly either on the side of Nacho Cheese or Cool Ranch.

Weeks ago, The Takeout held its fantasy food draft and salty snacks was the category. With the overall first pick, I chose Cool Ranch Doritos, and most of my draft competitors agreed that it was the superior of the two main Doritos offerings. But then, as it often happens, a debate raged on in the comments section, with many siding on #TeamNachoCheese over #TeamCoolRanch. An important trait for us food writers is the willingness to evolve, to loosen iron-gripped beliefs and tastes. I was willing to give Nacho Cheese another go.

Here’s the thing: Unlike some of the more hyperbolic corners of the Salty Snack Draft comments, one isn’t great and the other isn’t disgusting. The gulf is not wide. They both hit the pleasure centers in the brain with equal intensity. With Nacho Cheese flavoring, I was most surprised to see the ingredients listed: Cheddar and Romano cheese, buttermilk, plus powdered forms of tomato, onion, green and red peppers. The flavor is unmistakably cheese and corn, but there also lies some mysterious savoriness. It is not a two-dimensional taste.

With Cool Ranch Doritos, what’s interesting is how its appearance affects taste. There are specks of green and red sprinkled onto the corn chip, and somehow, it seems to amplify its subtle sweetness and tang. It is vaguely reminiscent of Mexican elotes, which has grilled corn with lime juice acid and creaminess from the sour cream/mayonnaise. I’m not saying Cool Ranch Doritos are the equivalent to elotes you find on a Mexico City street corner, just that for a commercially produced snack, Cool Ranch Doritos are more sophisticated than initially thought. Much of those flavoring ingredients in Cool Ranch overlaps with Nacho Cheese, only in a different order: Tomato powder is listed ahead of onion powder, which itself is listed before MSG and cheddar cheese. (It’s also interesting to note that Nacho Cheese Doritos has slightly more saturated fats and sodium than Cool Ranch.)

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In the end, on the basis of the flavor powder satisfying the savory, sweet, and tangy sensations, my initial preference of Cool Ranch Doritos over Nacho Cheese stands unchanged.

But this is just one man’s opinion. Was I in the minority or majority? So on a weekday afternoon at The Takeout headquarters, I placed both bags in the office kitchen, pinged everyone on Slack that there was free Doritos, but that they had to taste both and vote on their favorite. The results?

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Photo: Kevin Pang

Deadlocked at 12-12.

The debate rages on.

Update! Someone in the comments noted that there’s an extra tally within #TeamCoolRanch, so the actually score is 13-12 in favor of Cool Ranch!

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About the author

Kevin Pang

Kevin Pang was the founder and editor-in-chief of The Takeout, and director of the documentary For Grace on Netflix.