Tortilla Chips Taste Test
Cheap tortilla chips are a staple of social gatherings far and wide. From football Sundays to family get-togethers, these crunchy crisps make an appearance alongside guacamole, seven-layer-dip, queso, and the best cheap salsa. Tasty versions of this party food are readily available at mouthwateringly low prices. We gathered a group of 11 hungry chip lovers to taste-test 14 common brands of cheap tortilla snacks. Here's the scoop on which cheap chips won out in a hands-on, side-by-side comparison.
Santitas Tortilla Triangles
Santitas Tortilla Triangles, best known for the $2 price printed directly on the packaging, won over tasters with their flavor, crunch, and just the right amount of salt. Snackers overwhelmingly enjoyed both the white and yellow...
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Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips
This Costco house-brand tortilla chip was acceptable to all of our testers, hitting the sweet spot for texture and thickness. The chip proved a good foil for salsa but its unusual rectangular shape drew mixed appraisals.
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Calidad White Corn Tortilla Chips
These white corn dippers are light and fully flavored and sat in a comfortable middle ground with our tasters for saltiness. Not one snacker disliked the Calidad chips, although they drew fewer raves than our top picks.
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Trader Jose's Salted Tortilla Chips
These chips were panned by all of our taste testers and elicited particularly strong negative reactions. Panelists deemed the taste strange and the texture overly thick, declaring it would do in even the finest guacamole.
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Cheap Tortilla Chips Comparison
|Tortilla Chips Reviews|
The selection of tortilla chips in our taste test included six organic/natural varieties and eight traditional, all either national name-brand or store-brand products that sell for the equivalent of up to 19 cents an ounce (prices may vary by locale). We presented the chips in unmarked paper bowls, each labeled with a different reference letter, to keep testers in the dark about which brands they were eating.
The tasting panel settled on two best tortilla chips. Reviewers "enjoyed the crunch and salt mix" of both the yellow and white corn Santitas Tortilla Triangles ($2/11 ounces for both the white and yellow varieties) and gave these Frito-Lay products top billing for their balance between texture and "good taste." Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips ($3.59/48 ounces) from Costco came in a close second, although several participants declared them "very salty." Calidad White Corn Tortilla Chips ($1.99/12 ounces), carried by Walmart, Sam's Club, and other grocery outlets, emerged as a second-best tortilla chip despite what several testers described as a somewhat "bland" taste. Some of the cheap chips we sampled were docked points for being overly salty or lacking in a conspicuous corn flavor, but only Trader Jose's Salted Tortilla Chips ($1.99/12 ounces), a Trader Joe's exclusive, offended the taste buds of our entire panel with their "bad taste."
Other tortilla chip brands we checked out included O Organics from Safeway, Archer Farms Organic from Target, Simple Truth and Kroger from Kroger, Great Value from Walmart, and 365 from Whole Foods, most of which were available in several varieties that rounded out our selection. There was little per ounce price difference between the organic and regular chips in our sample, with most clustering in the 17-19 cents range. The highest per ounce cost was registered by O Organics Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips with Flax Seeds, clearly out of the cheap zone at 30 cents, while Kirkland Signature Tortilla Chips set the floor in our price niche at about 7.5 cents an ounce.
The best tortilla chips seems to be a category of food that delivers rich rewards to frugal consumers. The current zeitgeist often considers high-end, restaurant-style tortilla chips to be the best. But our research shows that isn't always the case. Expert reviews found online at one consumer product site indicate that pricier specialty chips often crumble against the competition, which includes cheaper alternatives like Santitas.
Whether you're planning a shindig for family or friends, there's no reason to overspend your budget for the chips portion of the menu. Our tasting panel easily named clear favorites among the tortilla chips arrayed before them. The highest approval ratings were reserved for the traditional varieties; none of the cheap blue or cheap organic/natural chips we sampled was judged a best tortilla chip. In particular, the level of support for the "healthy chips" in our sample was quite weak.
|Brand||Price||Ounces||Price Per Oz.|
|ORGANIC & NATURAL Tortilla Chips|
|Kirkland Signature Organic Tortilla Chips||$4.79||40||$0.12|
|O Organics Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips with Flax Seed||$3.00||10||$0.30|
|Archer Farms Organic Restaurant-Style White Corn Tortilla Chips||$2.50||14||$0.18|
|Simple Truth Natural Blue Corn Tortilla Chips||$1.69||9||$0.19|
|Simple Truth Natural Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips||$1.69||9||$0.19|
|Simple Truth Natural White Corn Tortilla Chips||$1.69||9||$0.19|
|REGULAR Tortilla Chips|
|Calidad White Corn Tortilla Chips||$1.99||12||$0.17|
|Santitas Tortilla Triangles, Yellow Corn Blend||$2.00||11||$0.18|
|Trader Jose's Salted Tortilla Chips, Yellow||$1.99||16||$0.12|
|Kroger 100% White Corn Traditional Tortilla Chips||$1.69||10||$0.17|
|Great Value White Tortilla Chips||$1.68||13||$0.13|
|365 White Corn Restaurant-Style Tortilla Chips||$2.99||16||$0.19|
|Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips||$3.59||48||$0.07|
|Santitas Tortilla Triangles, White Corn Blend||$2.00||11||$0.18|
Tortilla Chips Reviews
Chips Appearance.Nearly all of the 14 samples in our tortilla chips review were triangular in shape. This list includes two of the front-runner brands -- Santitas Tortilla Triangles ($2/11 ounces for both the white and yellow varieties) and Calidad White Corn Tortilla Chips ($1.99/12 ounces) -- and the brand that was spurned by the panel -- Trader Jose's Salted Tortilla Chips ($1.99/12 ounces). There were two exceptions to the triangle rule in our participatory tortilla chips review: Costco's Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips ($3.59/48 ounces), another panel favorite, came in a rectangular shape and Kroger 100% White Corn Traditional Tortilla Chips ($1.69/10 ounces) were round.
All in all, our tortilla chips review revealed that shape played a minor role in the appeal of any particular brand. This physical characteristic was rarely mentioned by tasters, and then only in passing. The elongated profile of the Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips, on the other hand, drew a noticeable response from the panel. Many cooed over the "nice alternative, rectangular shape" while others found it off-putting and longed for the traditional triangle. None said the shape affected their good opinion of this tortilla chip, however.
Nor did the size of the chip seem to factor into its popularity. Several snackers noted in their reviews whether individual samples were large or small, but it was the chips' taste and texture that ultimately made a difference in their appraisal.
Panelists were also mum about the hue of the chips sampled, except for commenting on the "light color" of the Calidad White Corn Tortilla Chips, one of seven varieties of white chips in our tortilla chips review and our runner-up pick for best cheap tortilla chip.
Chips Texture.The results of our blind tasting indicated that chips' texture made a big impact on the panel's preferences. Nowhere was this more apparent than with the organic and natural tortilla chip offerings, all of which fared poorly in the chips review due to their bulk and thickness. Snackers remarked that the organic/natural chips' texture made them "hard to chew" and "seemed a bit stale;" one panel member asserted that they tasted like "cardboard." Of the brands we tested in this segment, participants preferred the "nondescript" Archer Farms Organic Restaurant-Style White Corn Tortilla Chips ($2.69/16 ounces) from Target for a texture that was "thinner than other organic chips" and also for a "good salt amount."
The regular dippers tested in the tortilla chips review proved far stronger contenders. Panelists commented approvingly on the "medium thickness" and "light crunch" of Santitas Tortilla Triangles and the "crispy texture" of Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips, which balances perfectly with the thickness. Calidad White Corn Tortilla Chips presented with a "thin" and "light crunch" (there's the "light" word again in connection with this brand), while Trader Jose's Salted Tortilla Chips' texture tanked in the ratings for being "tough," "dense," and "way too thick."
Chips Taste.The flavor of most tortilla chips tends to be subtle, so taste-testers had their work cut out for them during the review. We asked them to differentiate among products that were made from white corn, yellow corn, and blue corn, and some that were a blend of white corn and yellow corn.
In assessing chips taste, we discovered that white and yellow corn chips ranked equally well and were more popular than blue corn chips. The taste of white corn chips from brands like Santitas and Calidad was the mildest, according to our test, and some volunteer testers brushed off white corn chips in general as having "not much taste." Yellow corn chips tended to deliver "more corn flavor" than the white corn variety. The blue corn chips in our sample -- Safeway's O Organics Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips with Flax Seed ($3/10 ounces) and Kroger's Simple Truth Natural Blue Corn Tortilla Chips ($1.69/9 ounces) -- left off with a slightly sweet aftertaste that not everyone appreciated.
The products that scored highest with snackers for chips taste were those that combined discernible corn flavor with just the right amount of salt. Santitas White Corn Blend Tortilla Triangles garnered unqualified praise from all our testers due to a thin, crisp texture leavened with a "nice salty balance" and a satisfying infusion of corn flavor. Five of our tasters identified this variety as their favorite and eight supplied overall positive comments. Santitas Yellow Corn Blend Tortilla Triangles was assessed nearly as favorably, with six positive appraisals and four reviews that named these the best cheap tortilla chip. Only one panelist disliked the chip taste of this variety, saying it had "too much salt."
Both Simple Truth Natural White and Natural Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips ($1.69/9 ounces), carried by Kroger or its affiliate markets, fared poorly in our tortilla chips review. Participants declared that they had "no salt and not much taste" as well as a "slight cardboard flavor." By contrast, Walmart's Great Value White Tortilla Chips ($1.68/13 ounces) were judged way too salty by several panelists.
While a smattering of our tasting crew considered Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips to fall on the salty side of the divide, most still liked them, citing the chips' texture and appealing flavor. Trader Jose's Salted Tortilla Chips were said to have an "odd taste, like overly sweet cornmeal," and "not enough salt."