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A Brief History of Cheetos and Weird Novelty Foods

From strawberry and Pepsi flavors to quesadillas and burritos

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Mike Mozart/Flickr

Novelty foodstuffs seem to be the refuge of fast food chains and snack brands alike when the ennui sets in among their customer base. Plain old pizza is boring? Make that crust a hot dog! Desperate to join the pumpkin spice bandwagon? Put it on french fries! Regular old quesadilla a total snooze? Shove Cheetos inside it!

2016 has been a banner year for Cheetos, the cheesy dusted cornmeal puffs invented in 1948 by same guy who created Fritos. Popping up in all sorts of weird fast-food items from burritos to chicken tenders, you might even say they’re the new Doritos. But long before Cheetos became a drive-thru sensation, they were the star of plenty other weird stunt foods. Here now, a brief history of the cheesy snack’s contribution to novelty foodstuffs:

1994

This was less of a stunt, more of an adjustment to a foreign market, but Cheetos realized that cheesy snacks weren’t popular in China due to the relative absence of cheese in locals’ diets. Unwilling to let that get in the way of globalization, Cheetos ran some 600 flavors through focus groups before settling on a “Savory American Cream” flavor — a buttered popcorn-like taste — for the Chinese market.

2008

Try to think of a flavor that blends well with all that enriched corn meal, maltodextrin, whey protein concentrate, and monosodium glutamate. Did you answer strawberry? Frito-Lay Japan did, launching strawberry Cheetos specifically for the Japanese market. The base appears to be a neutral, cheese-dust free Cheeto that’s then glazed with strawberry icing.

2013

In honor of Cheetos’ parent company Pepsi Co, Pepsi-flavored Cheetos were released exclusively in Japan. (Anecdotal evidence suggests many of the wild snack varieties in Japan are released simply to grab attention, and quietly killed off once the hype fades.)

2015

Because “millennials like sweet snacks” or something, Cheetos attempted to broach the candy market. Their idea was Sweetos, and they looked somewhat more appetizing than strawberry Cheetos.

June 2016

2016 has been a banner year for Cheetos-based food stunts, and the first one out of the gate was Burger King’s three-way hybrid of Cheetos, mozzarella sticks, and macaroni and cheese. The best that could be said is that Mac ‘n Cheetos are an impressive feat in food engineering. It also turned out that Burger King may have pilfered the idea from a YouTuber.

August 2016

Not wanting to commit to just one ubiquitous fast food chain, Cheetos have also made appearances on the Taco Bell menu this year, notably in a Cheetos burrito, featuring beef, rice, cheese sauce and the orange snack stuffed into a not-at-all picturesque tortilla creation.

@tacobell is gonna start testing this cheesy Cheetos Burrito next month! || #foodbeast #tacobell #cheetos

A photo posted by foodbeast (@foodbeast) on

September 2016

Cheetos got back in bed with Burger King right in time for fall, bringing another triple mash-up, this time with Cheetos, french fries and chicken sticks. A Burger King executive justified stunts such as Cheetos Chicken Fries by saying such gimmicks were “important for keeping the brand relevant."

November 2016

Cheetos launches an entire store, purportedly designed by anthropomorphic mascot Chester Cheetah, despite his lack of opposable thumbs. One noteworthy item is “Colour de Cheetos”, a bronzer designed to make your face a radiant and radioactive orange, which they call “that vibrant Cheetos glow”. Social media tells us that it disappointingly does not smell cheesy.

November 2016 (again)

Not content with stuffing Cheetos into one low-grade mutilation of Americanized Mexican food, as of a week ago, Taco Bell in the Philippines have started inserting the crunchy snacks into quesadillas.

#CheetosQuesadilla now available at Taco Bell Gateway, TriNoma, Alabang Town Center and Cyberpark Tower for a limited time only. Trust us, you wouldn't want to miss this!

Posted by Taco Bell Philippines on Monday, November 28, 2016

A Brief History of Hot Dogs and Pizza [E]
Burger King Unveils Unholy Love Child of Cheetos and Mozzarella Sticks [E]
All Novelty Foods Coverage [E]

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