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

Illustration for article titled Lets 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.

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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!!!!!

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.

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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.)

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.

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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?

Illustration for article titled Lets settle the Doritos debate: Nacho Cheese vs. Cool Ranch
Photo: Kevin Pang
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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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Kevin Pang was the founding editor of The Takeout, and director of the documentary For Grace.

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DISCUSSION

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Burners Baby Burners: Discussion Inferno

Nacho Cheese is the superior flavor. It is the gold standard of flavored chips, it is abundant, direct, it has nuance but never betrays its original character, it is even a wonderful color. It does all this without even tasting that much like traditional nacho cheese, yet still being incredibly delicious and addictive to the point that its flavor redefines the concept of “nachos.” There is a reason this is the Doritos’ signature flavor, the second in the Doritos arsenal, released in 1972, just 5 years after the first flavor - taco - hit the national market and 6 years after the original, unflavored toasted corn came out. It’s not random that the first Doritos Locos taco at Taco Bell wasn’t the Cool Ranch variant; when you think about what you might dip a tortilla chip in, your first thought probably is nacho cheese; is it ever buttermilk ranch dressing? We both know the answer to that is ‘god no! That’s disgusting!’ The very idea is repulsive, it doesn’t mean Cool Ranch Doritos aren’t good, just that they have more hurdles to vault than Nacho Cheese Doritos.

Cool Ranch has its charms, but the challenges come in 2 forms: first, you have the overwhelming buttermilk flavor that takes a moment to mellow out; then you have the turn where its sweetness becomes noticeable and borders on unpleasant. It’s at that weird point where the flavor turns on you, its personality coils around your mind and you grow sick of it, somewhere around the end of an ounce or two of them you just want to put them down, you don’t even want to lick the bizarre dust off your fingers. Cool Ranch was launched in 1986, it is a very ‘80s flavor as an early adopter of ranch dressing and a packaging color reminiscent somehow of popped collars on Miami Vice; its personality hinting at the coming fad of TexMex for all its highs and lows. Its flavor makes little sense since there’s nothing remotely true to the southwest heritage of the tortilla chip about ranch dressing (although it was first popularized in California in the ‘50s and ‘60s), that it works at all is a miracle as it can get downright awkward to smell and taste, but it does work, it essentially owns this flavor in the snack aisle outright, nobody else can touch it.

Yet when all is said and done - when the chips are down, if you will - Cool Ranch is a fair-weather friend of a snack chip compared to the everyday hero that is Nacho Cheese. Ladies and gentlemen, I argue that Nacho Cheese Doritos are the one true holder of the crown, their seat at the top of the pantheon of Doritos flavors cannot be dethroned; they were before many of us reading this were born, and they will be long after we’ve all died of hypertension from eating fistfuls of Nacho Cheese Doritos. Thank you.