Doritos are one of the best-loved chips in America and we’ve all tried them at least once. They’re tasty with dips and 100% vegan-friendly which means you can serve them at parties without worrying about people’s dietary requirements. But will these tortilla chips burn easily and if so, why does this happen? After all, we don’t tend to think of chips as flammable, do we?
Doritos chips are flammable and burn easily. This is because they are made with corn starch (carbohydrate), but mostly because they are coated in vegetable oil. They wont ignite at low temperatures, but once ignited, they can sustain flame for a while.
Doritos chips, and many other types of chips, can burn quite readily. Though this is may not be a huge fire risk in most cases, it can be. Let’s take a closer look at why…
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Also read: What Makes Something Flammable?
What Are Doritos?
Doritos is an American brand. It refers to a group of tortilla chips (and occasionally their dipping sauces) that are made by Frito-Lay. They’ve been making Doritos since 1964 and the original Doritos had no flavorings.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1966 that they released the first flavored Doritos “Toasted Corn” this was swiftly followed by “Taco” flavor and then “Nacho Cheese Flavor”.
They’ve been adding a bunch of new flavors fairly regularly since the 1980s to the Doritos line up.
Apparently, they dreamed up Doritos while at a restaurant in Disneyland in California.
The name “Doritos” is based on the Spanish word “Doradito” which means “small, fried, golden thing”. The first-ever Doritos were made because the restaurant “Casa De Fritos” had a bunch of spare tortillas to use up.
They cut them up, fried them, threw on a little salt and pepper and they were a surprise hit. Arch West, from Frito-Lay’s marketing team saw how popular they were, and the rest is, sort of, history.
It might sound incredible but by 1993 a third of all Frito-Lay sales came from Doritos. They brought in over $1 billion a year.
The basic plain chips, which were discontinued in the United States back in 2019 but are still sold elsewhere in the world, are made from ground corn (that’s maize which is a traditional Mexican grain crop), salt and some vegetable oil.
The other flavors all use different ingredients depending on what they’re meant to taste like. Some contain an awful lot of artificial ingredients and, in fact, The Onion once featured a mocking article “Doritos Celebrates Its One Millionth Ingredient”.
There is a lot of concern among the healthy eating community that the vegetable oils, flavorings, etc. aren’t healthy in Doritos. To its credit Frito Lay stopped using trans fats in Doritos in the early 2000s but there are still plenty of unhealthy ingredients remaining.
Why Are They Flammable?
Doritos are unlikely to spontaneously ignite while you’re eating them and smoking near an open pack of Doritos isn’t that much more hazardous to your health than smoking already is.
Once they do ignite, they can sustain a flame fairly well.
As we’ve already acknowledged you can certainly burn Doritos and that’s because 2 of the three main ingredients are flammable.
Ground corn is essentially corn starch and that means it’s a carbohydrate – more complex than sugar but still ideal fuel for a fire. Vegetable oil is straight-up flammable and as anyone who has worked in a kitchen will know, straight vegetable oil is fairly easy to set on fire.
Now, most packs of Doritos don’t contain liquid oil which is why they’re not so easy to burn, but given enough incentive (e.g. prolonged exposure to naked flame) a Dorito will catch fire and when it does?
The resulting reaction is exothermic and that means it puts out heat and is easily self-sustaining and that means one burning Dorito will set fire to the next and to the next.
This is a pretty cool video that explains Doritos flammability and even cooks a steak using Doritos chips:
How Flammable Are They?
Doritos are not very flammable in the sense that they don’t ignite as quickly or as easily as something like gasoline.
However, once they start burning, they will continue to burn for quite a while. This is mostly due to the oil they are soaked in. It allows a flame to have a steady supply of fuel to continue burning.
So, it really depends on how you define flammable.
Also read: Is Peppermint Flammable? Sometimes…
Why Do They Catch On Fire?
Doritos are only going to burn when exposed to a flame for a period of time, but once they do catch fire than this can be an issue.
You won’t believe it but Doritos fires can be very serious, indeed.
There are even examples of fires that were intentionally started using corn or potato chips.
This is probably because they will burn long enough to spread flames to other materials, but they will most likely burn up to the point where it is difficult to determine what started the fire.
How Serious Can These Fires Be?
Serious enough that you can burn down a store with them.
Seriously. A man in Spokane did just that and burned a store using nothing but Doritos to start his fire with! It was a serious enough attempt that he ended up having to post $500,000 in bail!
Regardless how is started, if it has enough fuel and oxygen, it can grow to be a huge, destructive fire. Whether chips or paper or whatever else is used to get the fire going, makes little difference once the fire spreads and grows.
Can You Use Doritos To Start A Fire?
Yes, in fact, many people recommend using Doritos instead of fire starters as they’re much cheaper and you can eat the Doritos if you don’t use them.
The Star newspaper didn’t believe this but they put it to the test and lit a fire easily using nothing but Sweet Chili Heat Doritos.
This is actually a pretty commonly used “camping hack”.
What About Other Kinds of Chips?
Potato chips and many other chips are flammable for the same reasons that corn chips are flammable. The main ingredients are oil, potatoes, and salt. Potatoes are a carbohydrate that burns easily enough and oil as we’ve already discussed burns too.
Carbs are fuel and oil is fuel.
Take a look at this side-by-side chip flammability test: