“More than a spicy sensation or a national craze, Flamin’ Hot is an attitude, one that pushes you to reject the status quo and embrace your inner edge,” writes a brand rep for Ruffles in an email. This comes with the announcement of the company’s new Flamin’ Hot Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles, in partnership with LeBron James. As Flamin’ Hot products go, the chips sound pretty tame, maybe enough to question the status quo but not quite reject it. For that you might go for Flamin’ Hot Cool Ranch Doritos, or Flamin’ Hot Smartfood, or Flamin’ Hot Funyuns. Drink Flamin’ Hot Mountain Dew and you might tear down society as it exists and create an anarchist utopia, who knows?
At this point, there seems to be nary a Frito-Lay brand that hasn’t been touched by the Flamin’ Hot IP, and given that Frito-Lay is a subsidiary of PepsiCo, the possibilities are basically endless. Is Flamin’ Hot Gatorade in our future? Flamin’ Hot Quaker Oats? Probably, because the popularity of Flamin’ Hot exists at the intersection of consumers’ love for spicy foods and novelty, and a corporation’s love for an easy way to pretend it’s making something “new.” Don’t be surprised if everything becomes Flamin’ Hotted.
The latest offering. Jaya Saxena
The origins of Flamin’ Hot have recently been heavily disputed, but it seems multiple people at Frito-Lay began testing spicy snacks in the ’90s, seeing how popular they were in Latino markets. It began with Cheetos, but the flavoring also made its way to popcorn and chips in certain markets, while the company introduced other spicy flavors (in 1997 Frito Lay made Spicy Nacho Doritos, and in 2001 wasabi Funyuns). In 2004, competitor Grupo Bimbo introduced Takis in the U.S. and they quickly rose in popularity, especially among kids, causing a moral panic about the state of their stomach linings.
Outlandish flavors in kids snacks is nothing new — the schoolyard has long been the site of dares around heaps of sour pops, cinnamon gum, or Raven’s Revenge, those test tubes of basically sugar that I still can’t believe the creators got away with. But Flamin’ Hot’s popularity doesn’t just exist because kids have a death wish. Americans have always loved spicy food. As Sarah Lohman writes in her culinary history Eight Flavors, “Two hundred years ago, black pepper was considered hot; now a jalapeño hot sauce is universally loved.” Chile powder and sriracha have become hallmarks of American cuisine, and the hottest (both in popularity and flavor) condiment of the past few years is chile crisp. We just like hot things.
In a statement, Frito-Lay told Eater, that Flamin’ Hot fandom is on the rise. “Spicy salty snacks have spiked in popularity in recent years with the category growing 12 percent in the last four years. According to a recent survey, over half (55 percent) of U.S. consumers have tried Cheetos Flamin’ Hot and 46 percent of Gen Z say they love them,” it says.