16 Delicious Facts for National Tortilla Chip Day


February 24 is National Tortilla Chip Day! Here are some facts and history about the famous triangle-shaped treat.

1. The inventor of tortilla chips was probably Jose Martinez of San Antonio, Texas. According to the book Taco USA, Martinez invented mass-produced masa, which is what tortillas are made out of. He found himself with lots of extra masa, so he decided to cut it up and toast the pieces into chips.

2. But the introduction of tortilla chips into modern food culture is most commonly traced back to Rebecca Webb Carranza. In the late 1940s, she was president of the El Zarpape Tortilla Factory in Los Angeles. She had the idea to fry and serve the misshapen tortillas that the machine sometimes produced, and after her family raved over them at a family party, she sold them to the public for a dime a bag. They caught on, and eventually the company shifted its focus to producing only "Tort Chips," as they came to be called. 

3. In 1994 the “Golden Tortilla” award made its debut. It was created to recognize industry innovators, and Carranza was among its first recipients. Unfortunately, the awards only lasted one more year after that event. 

4. Nachos were invented in 1943 by Ignacio Anaya, a maitre’d from Piedra Negras, Mexico. He found himself in a pinch when a group of guests arrived hungry at his restaurant, and he was without a chef. He went to the kitchen and began cutting up tortillas, which he then topped with cheese and jalapeño peppers. He called the dish Nachos Especiales. Reportedly, "Nacho" was his nickname. 


5. Doritos became popular in 1961 thanks to the smarts of a man named Archibald Clark West. West, who was VP of marketing at Frito-Lay at the time, discovered the chips while on vacation with his family at Disneyland. The chips were leftovers at a restaurant Frito-Lay was sponsoring called Casa de Fritos, and the chef seasoned them with his own special blend of spices and sold them to the public. The idea didn’t go over well with higher-ups, but West figured out a way to scrape together funding from other Frito-Lay projects in order to create a prototype, which eventually became a hit when Doritos were released to the national market in 1966.

6. Taco Bell made its debut in Downey, California back in 1962, created by a man named Glen Bell whose customers called his tortilla-wrapped products “tay-kos.” There are now over 6300 in existence that all offer various tortilla and nacho combinations and flavors.

7. Tortilla chips are naturally gluten free!

8. Amazon sells 51 different brands of tortilla chips on its site, from Beanitos ($15.59/bag, and actually made of beans) to Santitas. ($2/bag).

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9. The state of Texas made tortilla chips and salsa the state’s official snack in 2003. The idea was proposed by a group of elementary school students who realized that Texas needed a state snack to go alongside the state pepper (jalapeño), the state dish (chili), and the state fruit (grapefruit). The children contacted their state representative with their idea, and the rest is history. 

10. Doritos were the top-ranked tortilla chip brand in the United States in 2015, with over $1.3 billion in sales. Tostitos came in second, with sales at $601 million. But even with those numbers, tortilla and tostada chips are the third best-selling salty snack in the U.S. Crackers and potato chips were first and second, respectively.

11. In 2012, Minneapolis-based group Y.N. RichKids had a viral summer music hit with their song “Hot Cheetos and Takis.” Takis are rolled and fried tortilla chips that come in Guacamole, Fajita, Fuego, Salsa Brava and Nitro flavors.

12. In the animated movie Despicable Me 2 (2013), Gru turned heads with his sombrero made out of tortilla chips. Want a fun edible craft project? If you have an hour, extra flour, and a head-shaped bowl, try making this edible version.

13. Blue Corn (blue corn being a special variety of maize, not traditional corn) tortillas have less starch and 20 percent more protein than white corn tortillas, according to a 2007 study, meaning that their associated chips should be healthier as well (despite the frying process). 


14. In September 2015, Moe's Southwestern Grill made waves when they promoted their free queso dip day by creating—and smashing—an electric guitar made from a giant tortilla chip.

15. In 2012, UK restaurant chain Brewers Fayre made the Guinness Book of World Records for baking the country’s largest tortilla chip, at 110 pounds and 32 square feet. It took over 50 hours to make, and was baked in a oven that was 10 feet deep.

16. Tortilla chips are Jennifer Aniston's favorite snack, and Kristen Stewart loves tortilla soup so much, she shared her recipe with Vogue.

5 Ways to Define a Sandwich, According to the Law

It’s easy to say what a sandwich is. Grilled cheese? Definitely a sandwich. Bacon, lettuce, and tomato? There’s no question. Things start to get messy when you specify what a sandwich isn’t. Is a hot dog a sandwich? What about a burrito, or an open-faced turkey melt?

The question of sandwich-hood sounds like something a monk might ponder on a mountaintop. But the answer has real-world implications. On several occasions, governments have ruled on the food industry’s right to use the delectable label. Now, Ruth Bader Ginsburg—pop culture icon, scrunchie connoisseur, and Supreme Court Justice—has weighed in on the matter.

When pressed on the hot-button issue as to whether a hot dog is a sandwich while appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Ginsburg proved her extreme judiciousness by throwing the question back at Colbert and asking for his definition of sandwich before making a ruling. Her summation? A hot dog fits Colbert's definition of a sandwich, and therefore can be considered one.

While RBG's ruling may not be an official one, it matches Merriam-Webster's bold declaration that a hot dog is a sandwich (even if the Hot Dog Council disagrees). Officially, here’s where the law stands on the great sandwich debate.


Hot dogs are often snagged in the center of the sandwich semantics drama. Despite fitting the description of a food product served on a bread-like product, many sandwich purists insist that hot dogs deserve their own category. California joins Merriam-Webster in declaring that a hot dog is a sandwich nonetheless. The bold word choice appears in the state’s tax law, which mentions “hot dog and hamburger sandwiches” served from “sandwich stands or booths.” Applying the sandwich label to burgers is less controversial, but it’s still worth debating.


When Qdoba threatened to encroach on the territory of a Panera Bread in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, the owners of the bakery franchise fought back. They claimed the Mexican chain’s arrival would violate their lease agreement with the White City Shopping Center—specifically the clause that prohibits the strip mall from renting to other sandwich restaurants. “We were surprised at the suit because we think it’s common sense that a burrito is not a sandwich,” Jeff Ackerman, owner of the Qdoba franchise group, told The Boston Globe.

The Worcester County Superior Court agreed. When the issue went before the court in 2006, Cambridge chef and food writer Christopher Schlesinger testified against Panera [PDF], saying, “I know of no chef or culinary historian who would call a burrito a sandwich. Indeed, the notion would be absurd to any credible chef or culinary historian.”

Justice Jeffrey A. Locke ruled that Qdoba would be allowed to move into the shopping center citing an entry in Merriam-Webster as the most damning evidence against Panera’s case. “The New Webster Third International Dictionary describes a ‘sandwich’ as ‘two thin pieces of bread, usually buttered, with a thin layer (as of meat, cheese, or savory mixture) spread between them,’” he said. “Under this definition and as dictated by common sense, this court finds that the term ‘sandwich’ is not commonly understood to include burritos, tacos, and quesadillas.”


If you want to know the definition of a certain dish, the officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are good people to ask. It’s their job to make sure that the nation’s supply of meat is correctly labeled. When it comes to sandwiches, the agency follows strict criteria. “A sandwich is a meat or poultry filling between two slices of bread, a bun, or a biscuit,” Mark Wheeler, who works in food and safety at the USDA, told NPR. His definition comes from the Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book used by the department (the USDA only covers the “labeling of meat, poultry, and egg products,” while the FDA handles everything else, which is why the USDA's definition excludes things like grilled cheese). Not included under their umbrella of foodstuff served between bread are burritos, wraps, and hot dogs.


The USDA’s definition may not be as simple and elegant as it seems. A sandwich is one thing, but a “sandwich-like product” is different territory. The same labeling policy book Mark Wheeler referred to when describing a sandwich lumps burritos into this vague category. Fajitas “may also be” a sandwich-like product, as long as the strips of meat in question come bundled in a tortilla. Another section of the book lists hot dogs and hamburgers as examples of sandwich-type products when laying out inspection policies for pre-packaged dinners. So is there an example of a meat-wrapped-in-carb dish that doesn’t belong to the sandwich family? Apparently strombolis are where the USDA draws the line. The Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book clearly states the product “is not considered a traditional sandwich” [PDF].


When it comes to sandwiches, New York doesn’t discriminate. In a bulletin outlining the state’s tax policy, a description of what constitutes a sandwich warrants its own subhead. The article reads:

“Sandwiches include cold and hot sandwiches of every kind that are prepared and ready to be eaten, whether made on bread, on bagels, on rolls, in pitas, in wraps, or otherwise, and regardless of the filling or number of layers. A sandwich can be as simple as a buttered bagel or roll, or as elaborate as a six-foot, toasted submarine sandwich.”

It then moves on to examples of taxable sandwiches. The list includes items widely-believed to bear the label, like Reubens, paninis, club sandwiches, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Other entries, like burritos, gyros, open-faced sandwiches, and hot dogs, may cause confusion among diners.

Big Questions
Why Do Onions Make You Cry?

The onion has been traced back as far as the Bronze Age and was worshipped by the Ancient Egyptians (and eaten by the Israelites during their bondage in Egypt). Onions were rubbed over the muscles of Roman gladiators, used to pay rent in the Middle Ages, and eventually brought to the Americas, where today we fry, caramelize, pickle, grill, and generally enjoy them.

Many of us burst into tears when we cut into one, too. It's the price we pay for onion-y goodness. Here's a play-by-play breakdown of how we go from grabbing a knife to crying like a baby:

1. When you cut into an onion, its ruptured cells release all sorts of goodies, like allinase enzymes and amino acid sulfoxides. The former breaks the latter down into sulfenic acids.

2. The sulfenic acids, unstable bunch that they are, spontaneously rearrange into thiosulfinates, which produce a pungent odor and at one time got the blame for our tears. The acids are also converted by the LF-synthase enzyme into a gas called syn-propanethial-S-oxide, also known as the lachrymatory factor (or the crying factor).

3. Syn-propanethial-S-oxide moves through the air and reaches our eyes. The first part of the eye it meets, the cornea, is populated by autonomic motor fibers that lead to the lachrymal glands. When syn-propanethial-S-oxide is detected, all the fibers in the cornea start firing and tell the lachrymal glands to wash the irritant away.

4. Our eyes automatically start blinking and producing tears, which flushes the irritant away. Of course, our reaction to burning eyes is often to rub them, which only makes things worse since our hands also have some syn-propanethial-S-oxide on them.

It only takes about 30 seconds to start crying after you make the first cut; that's the time needed for syn-propanethial-S-oxide formation to peak.


The onion's relatives, like green onions, shallots, leeks and garlic, also produce sulfenic acids when cut, but they generally have fewer (or no) LF-synthase enzymes and don't produce syn-propanethial-S-oxide.


Since I usually go through a good deal of onions while cooking at home, I've been road testing some of the different methods the internet suggests for reducing or avoiding the effects of the lachrymatory factor. Here's what I tried:

Method #1: Chill or slightly freeze the onions before cutting, the idea being that this will change the chemical reactions and reduce the gas that is released.
Result: The onion from the fridge has me crying just as quickly as room temperature ones. The one that was in a freezer for 30 minutes leaves me dry-eyed for a bit, but by the time I'm done dicing my eyes start to burn a little.

Method #2: Cut fast! Get the chopping over with before the gas reaches your eyes.
Result: Just hacking away at the onion, I get in the frying pan without so much as a sting in my eyes. The onion looks awful, though. Doing a proper dice, I take a little too long and start tearing up. If you don't mind a mangled onion, this is the way to go.

Method #3: Put a slice of bread in your mouth, and cut the onion with most of the bread sticking out to "catch" the fumes.
Result: It seems the loaf of bread I have has gone stale. I stop the experiment and put bread on my shopping list.

Method #4: Chew gum while chopping. It keeps you breathing through your mouth, which keeps the fumes away from your eyes.
Result: This seems to work pretty well as long as you hold your head in the right position. Leaning toward the cutting board or looking right down at the onion puts your eyes right in the line of fire again.

Method #5: Cut the onions under running water. This prevents the gas from traveling up into the eyes.
Result: An onion in the sink is a hard onion to cut. I think Confucius said that. My leaky Brita filter is spraying me in the face and I'm terrified I'm going to cut myself, but I'm certainly not crying.

Method #6: Wear goggles.
Result: In an effort to maintain my dignity, I try my eyeglasses and sunglasses first. Neither do me any good. The ol' chemistry lab safety glasses make me look silly, but help a little more. I imagine swim goggles would really do the trick, but I don't have any.

Method #7: Change your onion. "Tear free" onions have been developed in the UK via special breeding and in New Zealand via "gene silencing" techniques.
Result: My nearest grocery store, Whole Foods, doesn't sell genetically modified produce or onions from England. Tonight, we eat leeks!

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