The Real Reason Cheetos Can Actually Be Addictive

Cheetos are without a doubt one of the most addictive cheesy snacks ever created. The orange and red dust, known affectionately by Chester Cheetos fans as cheetle, that stains your fingers and makes you look around before you lick it off, is, as Chester tweeted, "More magical than pixie dust." 

Cheetos have been around since 1948 when Fritos creator Charles Elmer Doolin brought them to market, thanks to the U.S. military's revolutionary and trailblazing research and study of cheese dehydration (via Wired). According to Thrillist, ten million pounds of cheddar cheese is required to produce Cheetos on an annual basis; not to mention, it takes a whopping 5,000 cows and 2,200 gallons of milk per cow to create the delicious snack we all know and love. And, thanks to cows' hard work, as of 2017, Cheetos ranked among the favorite cheese snacks in the nation, raking in an estimated $1.04 billion in annual sales (via Statista). 

But what ingredient is in Cheetos that, as Mike Meyer's iconic character from So I Married an Axe Murderer would say, "Makes us crave them fortnightly?" The answer can be found in the food science that created these cheesy, salty, must-have snacks in the first place. 

The vanishing caloric density of Cheetos

In 2013, The New York Times Magazine published a fascinating article on the addictive nature of snack foods, including Cheetos, entitled, "The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food." Its revelations were surprising. 

In the article, a food scientist by the name of Steven Witherly called Cheetos, " . . .one of the most marvelously constructed foods on on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure." Witherly went on to detail the quick melt-in-your-mouth quality of this snack food that makes you continue to eat handfuls of the cheesy Cheetos puffs until you are comatose. "It's called vanishing caloric density. If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there's no calories in can just keep eating it forever," he explained.

Additionally, cheese has its own addictive qualities. According to a CNBC story, cheese contains "morphine-like" compounds that make it difficult for our brains and mouths to resist. According to Thrillist, a doctor by the name of Neil Barnard has even labeled innocent looking cheese as "dairy crack." If you consider the fatty and salty nature of this dairy product, and have been a victim of its siren song, you may agree. And when you take all of this into consideration, it is easy to understand why Cheetos are so incredibly, and at times, wonderfully addictive. 

So, the next time you are furtively sucking the cheetle off the thumb of one hand, and shoving the other hand into the Cheetos bag for more, just remember, it's the science of the food making you do it.