Tim McGraw's Fritos Pack an Extra Punch

Presenting Songs for Soap's First Branded Food Review

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My colleague Charlie Moran recently wrote about Fritos' partnership with Tim McGraw for his summer tour, which includes a limited-time offering of a new Fritos flavor -- McGraw's Spicy Jalapeno. Because I wear cowboy boots, say "Y'all," and know how to drive a tractor, he assumed that I was the target audience for this offering [Ed. and she's a legit food blogger]. Sure, I may be the only one in the office who would be most likely to have some Tim McGraw in my music collection (though I checked, and the closest I come to mainstream country is George Strait's "Ocean Front Property" -- a classic). But what he didn't know is that I have an aversion to a long list of strange ingredients.
Photos: Lisa Fain
As a Texan, corn chips and jalapenos make up two of our core food groups, so either straight out of the bag, in Frito pie or a bean salad, Fritos were a regular part of my diet growing up. Heck, on many a road trip a bag of Fritos and a can of Frito-Lay Bean Dip constituted a meal. (The two together are, after all, a complete protein).

But what I ate were the original Fritos, never, ever any of the strange concoctions such as Chili Cheese Fritos or Flamin' Hot Fritos or Flavor Twists Honey Barbecue Fritos. Why? Too many non-wholesome things are used to make these, such as artificial flavors and glutamates. They may taste good, but I always feel the worse for wear after eating a bag.

"So good. So Simple." That's the Fritos tag line and when attached to its flagship offering, the words hold true. The original Fritos are made with just three ingredients: whole corn, corn oil and salt. Following Michael Pollan's dictate that anything with five or more ingredients is a processed food, you could extrapolate that original Fritos are practically healthy!

When looking at the ingredients for McGraw's Spicy Jalapeno Fritos, I was sad to see what was included, though not surprised. Yes, the usual suspects such as monosodium glutamate and artificial flavor make an appearance. And yet the bag still has the audacity to boast Fritos' "So Good. So Simple." motto. As I do love all things corn and jalapeno, I figured I might as well indulge myself and give these Tim McGraw Fritos a try.

The verdict?

These are good. So good, in fact, that I somehow managed to eat the whole bag (yes all 10 servings at 160 calories a pop). They're not as spicy as I'd like but there is enough of a kick to make your mouth pleasantly tingle long after you've swallowed the last chip.

As I was eating the chips, I pondered how they'd fit in with the usual Frito-recipe repertoire -- such as Frito pie -- and I concluded that the jalapeno-ness of these Fritos would be overpowered by heavier flavors. So yes, along with being so good, they're also so simple, as these are best eaten right out of the bag (though I do think they'd go well with a cilantro-lime sour cream dip or a bowl of queso).

So good and so simple? Perhaps Frito-Lay knows what it's selling after all. That said, I still have to wag my finger at them.

If you go to the company's web site you see a host of green initiatives, such as taking its chip-making plant in New Mexico off the power grid by 2010 and a commitment to water preservation and waste reduction. So why does the company still use such awful ingredients? Brands such as Stacy's or Kettle have flavored varieties, and yet they manage to make good tasting chips without using MSG and artificial flavors. And, yes, I know that MSG is found in nature, but there are still people who believe it affects them negatively (which the company acknowledges on its site by having a list of its products that don't have MSG). Perhaps it's cheaper to go the route Frito-Lay is taking, but since the brand's flagship is marketed based on its simplicity (which implies a certain wholesomeness), why not apply those values to the creation of its extensions as well? I don't think the consumer would mind. Plus, it seems wrong to have a green factory producing a junk product.

Would I recommend these chips if you can find them? Sure, if you don't mind some artificial flavor. And, yes, I admit I was a bit of a glutton with them myself. But in the future, I'll be sticking to regular Fritos, which are indeed so good and so simple as they are only made with three ingredients: whole corn, corn oil and salt.

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Lisa Fain is Ad Age's assistant managing editor and the proprietor of the Homesick Texan food blog. She frequently makes food for us, and it's always awesome.
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