What Is Pirate’s Booty? Is It Really That Different from Cheetos?

I have a nephew and two nieces who are obsessed with Pirate’s Booty. It’s gotten to the point where my sister has to hide the stuff in the house because the three of them will hunt that booty down like a pack of marauders. Several times they have been on the verge of mutiny when they couldn’t get the Pirate’s Booty that they wanted. So what’s so special about this snack that has my sister’s children—and many other people—acting like deranged mercenaries who talk to birds on their shoulders?

What is Pirate’s Booty?

Pirate’s Booty was created in 1987 by a man named Robert Ehrlich, owner of the snack food company Robert’s American Gourmet Food. An early adopter of the organic snack trend, Ehrlich wanted to create a cheese puff snack made with simpler ingredients including real cheese. If you look at many ingredient labels on other puffed cheese snacks, you’ll see something called “cheese seasoning,” the addictive dust that stains your fingers.

Pirate’s Booty lists straight-up cheddar cheese as an ingredient and, in general, their ingredient list is a lot more straightforward than their competitors. There’s still a lot of processing that goes into making any snack food like this, but in the grand scheme of things, Pirate’s Booty is on the more organic side. And you can taste the difference: Pirate’s Booty has a more natural, realistic cheese flavor compared to something like Cheetos flavors which smack you in the face with almost-but-not-quite cheesiness. 

Today, Pirate’s Booty is found pretty much everywhere and they have expanded their product line, tinkering with the shape and baking method of their puffs. The brand is currently owned by The Hershey Company.

How is Pirate’s Booty made?

First, cornmeal is ground to an extremely fine powder and water is added. There are extremely important science things that happen at this point—I fully don’t understand it—but the gist is there’s a precise amount of water that is used and if there’s too much, you get a soggy puff.

The cornmeal mixture is then run through a machine that exposes it to high heat and pressure. This cooks the cornmeal and extrudes the remaining liquid, resulting in a baked puff. At the end of this process, the mixture is rapidly shot through a cutting device that creates the puff’s unique shape. These pieces are then further dried and separated from the crumbly pieces that don’t look nice.

The puffs now go through the flavoring process. They are sprayed with vegetable oil and then coated with the cheese dust that gives them their flavor and color. After one more drying round, the puffs are weighed, packaged, and sent to the store.

Is Pirate’s Booty vegan? Gluten free?

The real cheddar disqualifies Pirate’s Booty as a vegan snack. However, as they are a corn and rice-based puff, they are gluten free. For other allergens, I offer my constant suggestion for snack foods: Always check the label.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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