The History of the Tortilla Chip in America



Corn Tortilla Chips in a PileThese days, you’re likely to find tortilla chips on every snack table at parties, whether the gathering is to watch a movie or to celebrate the Super Bowl. Surrounded by their counterparts, salsa and guacamole, tortilla chips have become a staple in American snacking. They have earned a permanent spot beside other favorites such as potato chips, veggie trays, and mini sandwiches. But how did they become so ubiquitous when it comes to snacking? You can always count on someone to bring a bag of chips and jar of salsa to any potluck—but why?

Here’s how the tortilla chip rose in popularity in the United States—and where they’re headed in the future.

The Beginning of the Tortilla Chip

Aztec Indians from Mexico are credited with producing the first corn tortillas. In the 1890s, American cookbooks contained recipes to make tortillas. Many of these recipes were modified to minimize prep time. Tortilla chips were first mass-produced in Los Angeles in the 1940s. The Frito-Lay company noticed that tortilla chips had a loyal following. Restaurants went through large quantities of these chips on a regular basis, so the company decided to take advantage and spread the distribution of the chip.

Popularity Explodes

The Latino population in the United States grew, bringing changes in the food available to all Americans. With a greater Mexican-American population, interest in authentic Mexican food increased. This went for non-Hispanics, too, as the United States’ diverse population encouraged many to try different foods. With their presence made known at large gatherings of people, their popularity was set to explode. Tortillas are now used in the U.S. for tacos, enchiladas, burritos and many other Mexican-style foods. They are also the base for various snack foods, such as nachos.

Looking Ahead

As a result, the snacking landscape in the United States has changed. Tortilla chips sell at a faster rate than potato chips. In fact, tortillas have outsold hamburger and hot dog buns repeatedly as people find fun uses for them, from wraps to tacos and more.

Furthermore, salsa replaced ketchup as a top condiment for nearly a decade. It is now used not only as a dip for chips but also as an ingredient in many dishes, a topping for soups and meats, and more. You probably have a jar in your fridge now!

Mexican food expanded the American palate in ways that are here to stay. Now, it’s just as likely for you to set up a taco bar for a party as it is to grill burgers for a summer bash. It provides a unique set of flavors, different from typical American fare, and it all started with the humble, but delicious, tortilla chip. How do you like to eat your tortilla chips?


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