Is the Tostito an endangered species?
In the beginning…well, in the dim undocumented prehistory if chipdom, there was probably the fried corn tortilla’s unintentional offspring, the broken tortilla shell, and from that we figure that there arose the culinary custom of having them onhand along with some muy picante salsa to dip them in while the main course was being prepared…but we aren’t going back that far, really. In the beginning as far as we are concerned, as far as mainstream American supermarket aisles are concerned, that is…there was the Dorito.
The Dorito was Frito-Lay, and it was triangular and corn and salty. In the 1960s and 1970s, bottled salsa was nowhere to be found. One purchased a product called “jalapeño relish” (Old El Paso, or Mountain Pass for those west of Texas) and it came in a can. But it was red, made largely of tomato, with diced onions and jalapeños, and it was hot, and one opened the can and dumped it into a bowl and opened the bag of Doritos and did partake.
And the Dorito was plain, and unchallenged, and ruled supreme.
Diversification set in, though. Unable to leave a good thing alone, Frito-Lay invented Taco Flavor, and on some shelves the Dorito population was so thoroughly dominated by Taco Flavor that one was hard put to find plain Doritos to dip in one’s jalapeño relish. The coup de grâce for the original plain Dorito chip, though, was the Nacho Cheese chip. The Nacho Cheese Dorito was popular; the Nacho Cheese was heavily marketed; the Nacho Cheese Dorito tasted the way dog food smells, but it pushed the plain Dorito off the shelves and into oblivion, and there are multiple generations of chip noshers out there who have never seen a bag of plain Doritos tortilla chips.
But Frito-Lay, opportunistically if somewhat oddly, filled the gap with the Dorito chip’s cousin – the Tostito! In the era of readily available Pace salsa in jars, the Tostito is the chip that we all dipped.
And the Tostito was triangular, and plain, and although it had challengers it pretty much ruled supreme, too. Although I, for one, worried that we would be eventuallly inundated with Nacho Cheese flavored Tostitos and would again find it hard to snag a bag of properly plain unflavored tortilla chips for dipping, the Tostito mainly held its own while its Dorito ancestor was going through Hidden Valley Ranch and Sun Dried Tomato and other tertiary developmental phases.
But in the recent era, the age of designer chipotle peach cactus leaf cilantro habañero and black bean salsas, the Tostito has been hit by its own wave of diversification – Restaurant Style! (now you can have chips 4 times the size of your mouth!) Rounds! Baked! Unsalted! Fat Free! (Wow! Anal leakage!) and Scoops!
OK, I’m a flexible dipper and the rounds, although untraditional, are pretty decent chips. I can live with the rounds, too, although they are cloyingly cute and over-architectured. But the original triangular Tostito is increasingly rare, and the subspecies that seem to be winning the aisle wars are the Restaurant Style and the Baked and Unsalted and Fat Free.
So here I sit with my bag of Utz tortilla chips and my bowl of Desert Pepper Trading Company’s Salsa Diablo, contemplating the second-wave extinction that seems to be taking place in our supermarket aisles.