Here's Where Cheez-Its Really Get Their Color From

Satisfyingly crunchy, perfectly crispy, wonderfully salty, and deliciously cheesy. Of course, we're talkin' about Cheez-Its, people. The beloved, best-selling, all-American baked snack cracker brand celebrated its centennial birthday in 2021, and it's just as popular as it was since Day One. The brand was invented by the Green & Green Company in 1921 by Dr. William Wolf in Dayton, Ohio (via Even back in the day, they were such a staple in American households that when the Stock Market crashed in 1929, people headed to grocery stores to load up on the crackers, according to the brand's official website.

Over the past 100 years, a wide variety of Cheez-It flavors and forms have come into existence, including Pepper Jack, Whole Grain, White Cheddar, Hot & Spicy Tabasco, Grooves, and snack mixes (via Snack History). Many Cheez-It fans have wondered how so much flavor is packed into the teeny-tiny square-shaped cracker. The brand has run several ad campaigns to address that age-old question (via iSpot). But how, exactly, do these legendary guilty pleasure munchies get their color? (Hint: It's not from the cheese alone.)

Where do Cheez-Its get their color from?

While Cheez-Its are indeed made with real skim milk cheese (via Eat This! Not That), their iconic orange hue is partially credited to a ubiquitous signature spice that you likely have in your home kitchen pantry at this very moment: paprika. Paprika, which is made from ground and dried pods of red bell peppers, is commonly used to add pizzazz to several dishes, including soups, deviled eggs, and seafood paella.

Annatto extract is another key player in the coloring of Cheez-Its – and many other popular food products. This essence is a safe, natural food dye made from the seeds of the achiote tree (above) and provides a peppery-sweet flavor and a yellowish-orange tint, as Eat This! Not That reports. In fact, annatto gives butter, margarine, and many cheeses their yellow color, since all of these products would be a pale cream shade by themselves without it. Annatto is nicknamed "the lipstick tree" due to its established color-changing power, reports The Spruce Eats.

To all you Cheez-It loyalists out there: embrace all the cheesy, paprika-y, annatto-y goodness in each and every bite. While you're at it, pour a glass of wine to enjoy with your Cheez-Its – or incorporate them into your Instagram-worthy charcuterie board.