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Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Cinnamon Sugar Popcorn

Updated: Mar 28

Hey there, gentle reader, come on in and let me regale you with tales of the cuisines I’ve found on my many expeditions. Or, if you prefer, I can tell you about the crap I found at the local grocery store. I’ll take your silence to mean the latter. Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Cinnamon Sugar Popcorn. I guess I don’t have to worry about eating my greens today because that is a huge mouthful of word salad. It’s been weird watching Chester Cheetah branch into other foodstuffs like popcorn and macaroni and cheese, but if companies don’t innovate, they are doomed to be lost. “It ain’t easy bein’ cheesy.” Truer words, my friend, truer words.


Allow me to “berizzle” you (thanks Oxford for the new word of the year, I’m probably going to ruin it, but thanks anyways) with some of the lore about Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos hit the market in 1992 and have revolutionized the snack market by reaching out to the Hispanic market in a way that few other large companies had done successfully. As someone from South America, I prefer the term Hispanic, it’s an English word (not Spanish and more importantly not faux-Spanish) and therefore gender-neutral, it refers to an ethnic group based on language and culture (not a shorthand for race) and it excludes the Portuguese speakers. What!? They are a big enough group to have their own term, after all there’s a Brazilian of them!


There is a slight controversy over the actual origin, with Richard Montañez claiming that he invented them as a janitor working for Frito-Lay in their Rancho Cucamonga plant. He claims he then pitched the idea directly to the executives and thus began his rise to becoming a marketing executive. He has since retired and now is on the public speaking circuit talking about his experiences. It was even made into a movie in 2023 on Disney+ and Hulu. A wonderful, rags to riches story. A tale of a plucky underdog becoming a hero. Yeah, that’s enough foreshadowing, it’s probably not true. At least not in the concrete details. He did start out as a janitor but had already started moving up through the company by the time things started rolling. The very first Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were likely invented by a team (boo, hiss) in the Midwest (boo, hiss) in 1989 (like totally boos hiss.) He definitely did pitch several products to executives, including the Sabrositas line with Flamin’ Hot Popcorn, Flamin’ Hot Fritos and the quite popular Lime and Chile Fritos. Quite impressive, just perhaps not as dramatic as he claims.


“What manner of alchemical devilry is this?” These were my exact words upon trying my first couple kernels. This is unfortunately how I actually speak (why yes, I do go to the renaissance festival frequently, how did you guess?) Bagged popcorn always plays at a disadvantage, whatever process it goes though of being popped, seasoned, and then bagged with enough air (it isn’t air, but rather nitrogen gas, which aids in preservation) to survive transport, leaves the popcorn with a chewier mouth feel than fresh popcorn. Kettle corn avoids this by using a sugar shellacking that keeps everything with the right amount of crunch and in my opinion stores a lot better than regular popcorn. Would kettle cooking have saved this popcorn? Unlikely and it would have made the name even more unwieldly. “Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Kettle Cooked Cinnamon Sugar Popcorn” is an unpleasant mouthful.


Speaking of unpleasant mouthfuls, a frequent complaint about extremely spicy foods is that they add heat without adding flavor, but this goes even further. All I can taste is the cinnamon and sugar and then my body gets hit with the physiological effects of spicy food. I started sweating and became flushed. I thought I was experiencing menopause, but a quick check on WebMD says that it’s probably not that (my AD&D 2nd edition Handbook says I might have either Mummy Rot or Lycanthropy.) I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but in my heart, I was hoping for something like Cinnamon Red Hots. Not that it would be good, but at least slightly less vile. Sweet and spicy can be put together nicely (see my review of the 2023 McDonald’s Sauces), but this completely misses the mark. I’m not the first to coin this phrase, but these really are “Flamin’ Hot Garbage”.  If you couldn’t tell, I don’t recommend these at all. I would actually give them to my worst enemy, but that’s mostly because I haven’t signed the Geneva Convention and revel in my inhumanity.



 By Martin Peyruc

Found at Harris Teeter