Juniors compare different Hot Cheeto knockoffs

September 25, 2018 — by Callia Yuan and Emilie Zhou

Trader Joe’s garnered attention in May when the popular chain released Spicy Cheese Crunchies, a supposedly healthy version of the ever popular Flamin’ Hot Cheetos from Frito-Lay. For $1.99, customers get a 6.5 oz. bag of gluten-free, all-natural, spicy cheese-flavored corn snacks.

Many reviews praised Trader Joe’s for the snack, which they claimed to be better tasting than real Hot Cheetos, so we decided to compare the the two chips as well as other different Hot Cheeto knockoffs.

For example, in a review written by Mantou Joe on an online blog, the author enjoyed the more mild flavor of the Cheese Crunchies and found that the Cheese Crunchies were a great Hot Cheeto substitute for those that can’t handle spicy foods. Compared to Hot Cheetos, the Cheese Crunchies had “more of a warm chili spice that sits in the back of the mouth vs. a numbing or burning spice that clears your sinuses.”

As people who eat Hot Cheetos a lot, we were excited to try the chips out, as other healthy versions, like the baked ones they sell at school (ugh, gross), didn’t live up to expectations.

Sadly, we were also disappointed by the Trader Joe’s version. Not only did the cheese crunchies lack spiciness, the texture wasn’t up to par with the normal fried Hot Cheetos, or even with baked Hot Cheetos.

Other knockoffs we tried, like the Jalapeño Barbara’s Cheese Puffs, had a crunchy, airy texture while still being gluten free and baked. Although the Cheese Puffs weren’t spicy at all, they had a similar texture to normal cheetos and an overall better taste.

On the other hand, the Trader Joe’s chips didn’t have the same satisfying crunch, and were super dense, to boot. The Cheese Crunchies were also very dry, making the chips taste old and stale.

Our main issue with the chips, however, was the taste. The “real cheese” and lack of “artificial flavors or scary synthetic colors,” as Trader Joe’s advertises, couldn’t compete with the wondrous taste of MSG used in normal Hot Cheetos.

While Hot Cheetos are known for being flaming hot and spicy, the Cheese Crunchies were more savory and had a distinct sour aftertaste, likely from the onion and garlic powder used in the coating.

In addition, the coating was extremely powdery and barely left residue on our fingers after eating them, unlike the Red 40 and Yellow 5 found in greasier Hot Cheetos.

Overall, we wouldn’t recommend these as an alternative for Hot Cheetos. The fact that the Cheese Crunchies lacked spiciness was a real let down, especially since the spicy, finger-staining red cheeto dust is a signature part of what makes hot cheetos so popular and irresistable.

Compared to Hot Cheetos, the Cheese Crunchies have only 40 fewer calories and 5 grams less of fat. Unfortunately, the strange taste and disappointing texture outweigh the health benefits, setting the Trader Joe’s Cheese Crunchies far below classic Hot Cheetos.


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