The Chemistry of Flamin' Hot Cheetohs


Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are one of America’s favorite snacks. They are crunchy cheese flavored snacks with spicy twist. I chose to research Flamin’ Hot Cheetos because they are one of my favorite snacks and I wanted to know more about what I was consuming. With Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in every gas station and grocery store in town I wanted to become more educated on what is inside of these tasty treats.

Composition of ...

    • Enriched cornmeal
      • Ferrous Sulfate
        • FeSO4
      • Niacin
        • C6H5NO2
      • Cornmeal
    • Maltodextrin
      • What?
        • Comes from grain starch
        • Increases shelf-life
        • Acts like a sugar
      • Good
        • Can digest very quickly
      • Bad
        • Quickly absorbed into bloodstream and can turn to fat
        • Causes high blood sugar
      • Organic Formula
        • C6nH(10n+2)O(5n+1)
    • Monosodium Glutamate
      • non -essential amino acid
      • Most abundant amino acid
        • C5H8NO4Na
    • Natural Flavor
      • Chili Powder
      • Capsaicin
        • C18H27NO3
        • What?
          • Is what makes many peppers hot
        • Uses
          • Pain Reliever
          • Thins Mucus
          • Digestive aid
        • Cons
          • Bad for blood pressure
          • Causes ulcers
    • Sodium Diacetate and Citric Acid
      • Sodium Diacetate
        • C4H6NaO4-
      • Citric Acid
        • C6H8O7
    • Red 40 Lake and Yellow 6 Lake
      • Red 40 Lake
        • C18H14N2Na2O8S2
      • Yellow 6 Lake
        • C16H10N2Na2O7S2

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

    • Maltodextrin

Maltodextrin is a complex carbohydrate that can be found on the ingredients label of a variety of foods including nutrition bars, dietary supplements, processed foods, sports drinks, and most seasonings. It is made by cooking down starches that come from corn and rice, and then using enzymes and acids to further the breaking down of the starch. The final product is a white powder, and increases shelf life, helps evenly distribute the other flavors, and is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream after eaten. These qualities are why maltodextrin is used in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. First, it is used as a preservative to extend the shelf life of the cheetos. Second, it is used as a binding agent that evenly distributes the spicy cheese flavor throughout the bag. Finally, the maltodextrin allows the capsaicin and other ingredients to be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. Maltodextrin is one of the most popular additives found in food today.

    • Capsaicin

Capsaicin is the spicy ingredient responsible for many spicy peppers including jalapenos and habaneros. It can be found in many spicy dishes that contain peppers; however, it is also used in special ointments due to its characteristic of being a natural pain reliever. The capsaicin binds and activates heat receptors that trick the brain into thinking the food is “hot.” This activation of the heat receptors in the skin cause a desensitization of the pain receptors that cause “pain relief.” One of the ingredients in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is chili powder that contains a small amount of capsaicin. This may be one of the reasons that kids can become “addicted” to the Cheetos, because they feel a sense of pain relief while eating them.

Chemistry's Role

The two main ingrediants in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are maltodextrin and capsaicin. Both are naturally occurring; however, maltodextrin has to go through a chemical process to be used. To create maltodextrin you start by cooking down starches that come from corn and rice. Then you use enzymes and acids such as glucoamylase to hydrolyze the starch. This process creates the white powder known as maltodextrin. Capsaicin is also naturally occurring; however, no chemical process is needed to extract it for use. It is the agent that gives chilli peppers their spice and grows naturally inside the peppers; furthermore, when you eat the pepper you also consume the capsaicin. These two ingredients combine in the cheetos to give it an addicting and spicy taste, accompanied with a soothing feel. Due to maltodextrin’s sugar properties it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream once consumed, and brings the capsaicin with it. This allows the capsaicin to quickly be absorbed and release pain numbing endorphins. Once digested the capsaicin quickly activates heat receptor proteins called TRPV1 which tell your brain it's under extreme heat so the brain tells the body to deplete itself of substance P, an important component in transmitting pain signals throughout the body. In addition to the depletion of substance P, the brain also releases endorphins as the body’s way to deal with the pain and dopamine. All of these chemical reactions in your body happen very quickly once the Cheetos have been eaten due to the quick digestion of the maltodextrin. The pain relief, the releasing of endorphins, and the production of dopamine all come together to create a craving for more of the Cheetos. This can cause people to sit down and eat a whole bag of cheetos and still crave more after the bag.

Background Research


About the Author

Matthew Miller is a junior at Billings Senior High School. He enjoys learning how chemistry plays a role in everyday life and enjoys spending time in nature. He enjoys fishing, backpacking, and hunting.