The inventor of Doritos, a longtime Madison Avenue executive named Arch West, first envisioned this snack in 1964 as more than a golden-hued chip. He saw it as a marketing powerhouse, a vehicle for delivering endless varieties of new flavors. But none of the formulations would surpass one of the earliest: Nacho Cheese. This is the irresistible taste — with its coppery, finger-staining dust — that sent Doritos into the processed food hall of fame, and more recently into a partnership with Taco Bell.
“What these are trying to do is excite every stinking taste bud receptor you have in your mouth,” said Steven Witherly, a food scientist who wrote “Why Humans Like Junk Food,” an insider’s guide to the psychobiology of those cravings. I visited Witherly at his home near Los Angeles, where we raided his lab to do some tasting and experiments in search of what makes Nacho Cheese Doritos so alluring.