How Trader Joe's New Knockoff Hot Cheetos Compare To The Real Thing

Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Flamin' Hot Cheetos and millennials have a lot more in common than you might imagine. Both have been around since the early '90s, both are all about trendy food collaborations, and both, apparently, have a deep connection to Trader Joe's. On May 30, the popular grocery chain released its own riff on the cult-favorite corn snack, called "Spicy Cheese Crunchies." Name differences aside, TJ's also boldly set its gluten-free product apart as "unlike" other brands claiming, "ours is made with real cheddar cheese and a blend of savory spices — without the artificial flavors or scary synthetic colors."
This new product had us feeling both challenged and conflicted. So to set the spicy record straight, we decided to hold an unbiased, blind taste test with everyone from the Flamin' Hot Cheetos indifferent to bona fide aficionados. Did OG Hot Cheetos win by a landslide? Did TJ's aversion to artificial ingredients mean it sacrificed on taste? Or were our tasters tied between the two? Scroll on to find out exactly what you need to know about both bags.
Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Trader Joe's Spicy Cheese Crunchies
Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Flamin' Hot Crunchy Cheetos

Flamin' Hot Crunchy Cheetos

Price: $3.79
Size: 8.5 oz.
Ingredients: Not gluten-free, made with real cheese in addition to artificial ingredients and coloring.
Consistency: A light and airy crunchiness.
Flavor: An even mix of spices and cheesiness.
Spice: A background heat that is present but does not overpower.
Best For: Pure snacking, straight from the bag.

Trader Joe's Spicy Cheese Crunchies

Price: $1.99
Size: 6.5 oz.
Ingredients: Gluten-free, made with real cheese and no artificial ingredients or synthetic colors.
Consistency: A denser, less airy crunchiness.
Flavor: Smokey and tangy (almost sour?) with no real, noticeable cheesy notes.
Spice: Very strong spice up front on the tongue that lingers and sometimes overpowers.
Best For: Dipping in cream cheese to combat the spiciness, or crumbling over top baked dishes as a strong, spicy topping.

Winner: Flamin' Hot Cheetos

OG Flamin' Hot Cheetos was a unanimous winner among our varied blind tasters, with its more balanced flavor, crispy consistency, and sizable bag for a comparable price. Although some enjoyed TJ's spicier and funkier-flavored crunchies, the group ultimately felt that they lacked the cheesy component essential to cut overall the heat — despite the boasted-about "real cheese" coating. But for those who can handle the heat, are gluten-free, or are just looking to pump up a dish or dip, the Spicy Cheese Crunchies are an ideal stand-in. No disrespect to Trader Joe's, but we'll be sticking to solo-snacking on Hot Cheetos until the cows come home — or, at least until the Flamin' Hot documentary comes out.

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