There are lots of people who would argue that a bag of chips doesn’t qualify as a meal. Parents. Nutritionists. Anyone with a basic understanding of the food pyramid, like a third-grader. Leave it to a cartoon cat who always wears sunglasses and never plays by the rules to flip the script by turning a beloved snack food into an (arguably) acceptable lunch.
In the summer of 2020, when our nation’s morale really needed a boost, Frito-Lay introduced three varieties of Cheetos Mac ‘n Cheese: Bold & Cheesy, Flamin’ Hot, and Cheesy Jalapeño. As you probably noticed, the flavors align with the Cheetos flavors you’ll find in the snack aisle. Bold & Cheesy is essentially the original Cheetos flavor; Cheesy Jalapeño aligns with Cheddar Jalapeño Cheetos; and Flamin’ Hot is Flamin’ Hot (duh). I picked up all three at an L.A.-area Ralphs store and asked Sporked staff writers Jordan Myrick and Danny Palumbo to help me determine which tastes the most like its crunchy counterpart.
Third Place: Bold & Cheesy Cheetos Mac’n Cheese
Can you channel the flavor of a Cheeto without any toasty corn flavor or crunch? Kind of, but not quite. This little bowl of mac seems to include some additive or another that nods to that signature taste, but it’s super subtle—so subtle that Jordan couldn’t taste it at all. “To me, this tastes like watery Kraft Macaroni & Cheese,” they said. “Nothing says Cheeto.” Honestly, if Chester Cheetah wasn’t shoving it into his cartoon face on the label, you probably wouldn’t know it was meant to channel Cheetos. But Danny has a solution! Along with the macaroni and powdered seasoning packet, these little cups should totally come with a packet of pulverized Cheetos as a topping. Who wouldn’t love that?
Second Place: Cheesy Jalapeño Cheetos Mac ’n Cheese
Cheddar Jalapeño is my personal favorite Cheetos flavor, and the mac does a pretty good job of capturing the essence of its snack aisle inspiration—little green flecks for that peppery effect and all. Thankfully, it’s a lot less salty than the Cheetos it emulates, but that also keeps it from being an effective translation of its source material. That said, I’d absolutely eat this again.
First Place: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Mac ’n Cheese
Flamin’ Hot may not be all that hot (it didn’t crack our spicy chips ranking), but it is a powerful and recognizable flavor. This bowl of macaroni and cheese absolutely has that Flamin’ Hot flavor—not to mention its absolutely psychotic hue. “The color is unhinged,” Jordan pointed out, adding, “I would know it’s Flamin’ Hot—it’s creepin’ into my mouth with that distinct Flamin’ Hot flavor. I like it!” Danny also appreciated this one: “It doesn’t have an intense flavor, but this one gets the closest to its inspiration.” A unanimous decision!
Wanna know which snacks Rhett & Link think best live up to their flavor inspiration? Check out Super Snack Flavor Match.