Whether you enjoy eating tortilla chips plain or use them as a vehicle for dips and spreads, the crunchy snacks are a staple at every gathering. It’s so easy to run to the store, pick up a bag and have something to bring to a party. Some brands have even inspired deep, somewhat aggressive loyalties. (Chicago Tribune beer writer Josh Noel threatened to riot if his favorite Donkey chips were not included.)
Totopos and tostadas are integral components of Mexican cuisine, dating back centuries to the indigenous Zapotec people in Oaxaca. But the tortilla chip that we know today has only been around since the late 1940s. According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, Rebecca Webb Carranza was the creator of the triangle-shaped tortilla chip. Her family owned Los Angeles-based El Zarape Tortilla Factory at the time, and instead of throwing away misshapen corn and flour disks, she took them home, cut them into triangles, fried them up and served them at a party. El Zarape Tortilla Factory began selling 10-cent bags of Tort Chips, and they had become the family’s main business by the 1960s.
According to the 2018 State of the Industry report by SNAC International, an international trade association of the global snack industry, tortilla chip sales grew by 3.4 percent and garnered more than $4.2 billion in 2018. Brands that marketed themselves with “healthy,” “natural” and “clean” labels grew 4 percent more than others, which only grew 2 percent.
David Walsh, vice president of membership and communications for SNAC International, says this is a testament to how tortilla chip producers have adapted to consumers’ changing snacking preferences, making the snack more exciting with more flavors and health-conscious monikers.
“Tortilla chips are the prime example of a traditional category that has reinvented itself in-step with the overall evolving snacks category,” wrote Walsh in an email. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen a wealth of new tortilla chip products that include things like sprouted ingredients, whole grains, and healthy inclusions such as chia and flax seeds. As with other categories of snacks, tortilla chips are also being infused with various forms of protein — even sustainable cricket protein.”
According to the report, top brands of tortilla chips and tostadas were Doritos, Tostitos, Tostitos Scoop, Private Label, Santitas, Barcel Takis Fuego, On The Border, Mission, Calidad and Late July Organic, in that order.
Mike Kostyo, trendologist at Datassential, said 78 percent of U.S. consumers say they love or like tortilla chips, and a third say they regularly eat them. One out of every five restaurant menus has the snack listed, although Kostyo suspects that this number is low because many Mexican restaurants serve them as a complimentary appetizer. On menus, tortilla chips have grown — 8 percent in the last four years — and Kostyo predicts a 3 percent growth in the next four years.
While variety is great, it makes buying just one bag of tortilla chips hard. How will you determine which bag to get when faced with seemingly endless choices of white corn, yellow corn, mixed corn, restaurant style, and other varieties and flavors of tortilla chips? Which one will have the right salt level? And which one won’t crumble when dunked into a bowl of salsa or guacamole at your “Game of Thrones” watch party?
The Food & Dining staff sampled 16 brands of plain tortilla chips, avoiding those with language on the label that indicated a flavor added.
We chose to sample plain, yellow corn tortilla chips when possible, and mixed corn if that was the only option for that brand. We also conducted a preliminary tasting because there were too many varieties that seemed the same. We avoided ones with flavors like lime and chili, but did not rule out ones that had a hint of lime in the ingredients list, as we often found. We did not include chips that were made fresh in stores.
This is our latest iteration of taste tests of common supermarket products. If you’re interested in seeing more — like which brands of grapefruit sparkling water, hot chocolate,creamer and vanilla ice cream are the best.
This was a blind tasting, which means tasters didn’t know which brand of tortilla chip they were trying. Each one was served in a bowl and participants were asked to comment on the appearance, aroma, flavor and how they felt it would stand up when used with a dip. Tasters were also asked to take note of whether or not the chip would stick to their teeth, if it had an aftertaste and if it felt like something they would get in a restaurant.
The chips were purchased at Cermak Produce Fresh Market, Jewel-Osco, Aldi, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Prices listed are what they are priced normally, without any promotions or discounts.
Tasters noted that the differences between brands were subtle. While the winner of the taste test won by a landslide, there was also a four-way tie and two, two-way ties. The ties were broken by calculating the median score and further determined by choosing the chip that received higher numerical ratings.
- Masa Uno Tortilleria Salted Chips
- El Ranchero Tortilla Chips with Salt (tied with Frontera, Late July, Matilda).
- Frontera Stone Ground Tortilla CHips (tied with El Ranchero, Late July, Matilda)
- Late July Snacks Organic Sea Salt Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips (tied with El Ranchero, Frontera, Matilda)
- Matilda Tortilla Chips, Lightly Salted (tied with El Ranchero, Frontera, Late July)
- Tostitos Cantina Traditional (tied with Donkey)
- Donkey Authentic Tortilla Chips (tied with Tostitos Cantina Traditional)
- Nuevo Leon Restaurant Style Nacho Chips
- El Milagro Mexican Kitch Style with Pure Sea Salt
- Mission Tortilla Triangles (tied with Santitas)
- Santitas Tortilla Triangles
- Trader Joe's Organic Yellow Corn Tortilla Chip Rounds
- 365 Organic Yellow Corn Tortilla Rounds, Salted
- Simply Nature Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips with Sea Salt
- Organic Que Pasa Tortilla Chips Yellow Corn Ground with Volcanic Stones
- Jackson's Honest Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips Slow Cooked with Coconut Oil