How French Fry Scraps Led To The Creation Of Tater Tots

Simple by design but pretty addictive, the humble tater tot is a symbol of America's love for potatoes. Whether you remember chowing down on them off a plastic tray in elementary school, hiding them in your pocket to eat later on like Napoleon Dynamite, or mixing them with cheddar cheese soup and meat to make a tater tot casserole recipe, these crispy, bite-sized nuggets have followed many of us from childhood to adulthood like a starchy best friend. But just what is the story behind the tots? Where did they come from, and why were they even invented in the first place?

In order to unravel the mystery of the tater tot, we must first understand the story behind the tater tot's creators. Ore-Ida, now a name synonymous with frozen potatoes and fries, was at first nothing more than a potato processing facility in Oregon, run by brothers Nephi and Golden Grigg. According to the Argus Observer, the brothers had mortgaged their livelihoods to purchase a defunct flash-freezing plant near the Oregon-Idaho border. The plan was simple: make some frozen French fries to cash in on the rising frozen food craze in America. Little did Nephi or Golden know, in a few years and with a little ingenuity, they would redefine what people would expect from frozen potatoes.

Tater tots were born from leftover scraps

Making French fries isn't the hardest thing in the world, but after you're done frying up those golden-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside spuds, you're stuck with the leftover scraps and bits of potato. This, according to Eater, was the problem the Grigg brothers found themselves in. While the machinery could easily separate the potato wastes from the French fries and the scraps could be disposed of as cattle feed, that was still a pretty big waste of product. There had to be another way to use these normally undesirable chunks and slivers to make a profit.

The brothers got creative and mashed these potato scraps together, seasoned them, fried them, and then froze them, thus creating a golden-brown little nugget ready to be reheated and eaten. To market their product, Nephi bribed a chef at Miami'sĀ Fontainebleau Hotel to serve them to the distinguished guests of theĀ 1954 National Potato Convention, who delighted in the crispy, finger-sized little potato appetizers (via Chow Hound). With a little tweaking, the tater tot rocketed into the hearts of Americans everywhere.

But where does the name "tater tot" come from? Sources seem to differ on the name. While Eater reports that Nephi Grigg wrote that a ukulele-playing marketing committee member of Ore-Ida termed the name, The Daily Meal claims the name came from one Clora Lay Orton, a housewife who mailed in the name during an employee contest to name the new potato product.