I just had my first Taco Bell tacos. Unbelievable, I know, but we don’t eat a lot of quick service food anymore, and in the days I did, Taco Bell didn’t have as many locations as it does now, so it wasn’t accessible. There is a brand new Taco Bell located at 161 S. Harlem Avenue in Forest Park, so I decided this was a good place to try this popular and undeniably American Mexican meal.
Early this month, the national chain launched two new taco sandwiches: Doritos Cheesy Gordita Ranch – Flamin’ Hot Cool Ranch and Flamin’ Hot Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos. As with children’s candy and many ice cream products, Taco Bell’s menu items are powered by modernity, so they are forced to introduce new flavor combinations regularly to keep the eating public interested in what they have to offer. This is not the approach taken by, for example, McDonald’s, the global leader in the fast food market, which tends to have very few specials and is focused on a fixed list of menu offerings.
In the all-American spirit of innovation, Taco Bell worked with Frito-Lay/Pepsico to combine the flavors of Doritos corn chips (like Cole Ranch) and Flamin Hot Cheetos with Taco Bell’s version of Mexico’s most famous sandwich. But this is an all-American snack, bearing only a superficial resemblance to the Mexican variety. How American Doritos? Let’s put it this way: They were both invented at Disneyland.
In 2015, I read The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth about Food and Flavor, whose main thesis is that industrial food, like many Frito-Lay products, delivers flavor that is processed from ingredients. Manufacturers of these products add new flavors to bring taste back to food and, in author Mark Schatzker’s opinion, trick the human body into believing it’s receiving the necessary nutrients when all it’s really getting are artificial flavors created in the lab.
When Doritos debuted in 1966, their “flavor” was “roasted corn,” like what’s served along chutney in a Mexican restaurant. When sales of Doritos weren’t exactly what the game makers were looking for, they seasoned chips with taco seasoning and sales surged. A few years later, they introduced Nacho cheese-flavored Doritos, and sales continued to rise.
Doritos are very popular. According to Statista, in 2020, more than 99 million Americans bought Doritos – a third of the US population. So, when Taco Bell decided to incorporate Doritos into their hard taco shells, they knew what they were doing.
The two new menu items with very long names referenced above contain essentially the same ingredients: lightly seasoned beef, lettuce, cheese, and nothing out of the ordinary. The addition of the word “Loco” in their names appears to be intended to suggest Dorilocos, the popular Mexican street food that is beginning to appear in the United States, which I reported last August. “Gordita” is a pita flatbread wrapped around a red taco crust made with Doritos – the advantage of flat bread is that it brings the crumbly taco crust together, and there’s a nice difference in composition between the soft bread and the crunchy taco crust.
These are not outstanding tacos. They are, at best, “not bad”. However, I have no problem with the lack of “authenticity” as evidenced by these tacos. They’re not like anything served in Mexico, but that’s not really a problem. They are prime examples of American-Mexican food, such as fajitas, but that’s certainly no reason to avoid them. I had to try them at least once, and now I have.