By Philip Schmidt, Networx
Devotees of classic Nacho Cheese flavor Doritos® know deep in their hearts that this is no ordinary snack food. Networx’s editor Chaya Goodman Kurtz, a former Doritos® hound of some repute, accurately describes this sensory alchemy as “a complex balance of flavors — salty, umami, bitter, sweet, sour — all at once.” As a long-time fan of classic Nacho Cheese Doritos® myself (I consider the spinoff versions to be unnecessary meddling with greatness), I have undertaken this challenge with both reverence and trepidation. Is it really possible to replicate this unique flavor fiesta using ordinary household ingredients?
After an exhaustive trial and error process, the answer to my question is: not really. No matter how many formulas I tried, it just wasn’t the real thing. Yet despite this ostensible failure, I did learn some valuable tips that I hereby bequeath to any other food-science-minded Doritos® freak aiming to be the first to crack the code. Please let me know if you think you’ve got it, especially if you come up with a vegan version.
Recipe #1: Taco seasoning
All of the brave souls before me who attempted to recreate Nacho Cheese Doritos® in their own kitchens (at least those one could find online) started with taco seasoning. This makes some sense, because the commercial seasoning packets share several of the same ingredients as Doritos®. So I shook some white corn tortilla chips with a little taco seasoning in a Ziplock bag. This tasted ok and had a generally Mexicana flavor, but it lacked the zing, the sweetness and, most notably, the cheesiness of Doritos®. It also had several incidental flavors that didn’t belong, like cumin and oregano.
Recipe #2: Commercial seasonings and cheese powder
Not ready to abandon the taco seasoning, I experimented with it some more, but this time with the addition of other key ingredients gleaned from the Doritos® Nutrition Facts panel. For cheesiness, I added cheese powder from a box of macaroni and cheese—two kinds, in fact: cheddar cheese and 3-cheese formulas, both Kraft brand. The cheese powder added some body and broadly approximated the cheesy flavor in Doritos®, but the same shortcomings remained with the taco seasoning.
I then added what turned out to be the Holy Grail of Doritos® hacking: tomato powder. Unfortunately, I could find this only as an ingredient in dry spaghetti sauce mix (a product so far removed from goodness as to make instant coffee seem like an artisanal delicacy). The mingling of Italian-American and Mexican-American flavors was unfriendly, but the tomato powder managed to strike a tuneful note amid the noise. Way too much noise, though.