Crunch Tators Helped Pioneer Spicy Snacks Before It Was Discontinued

Before there were Takis or Flamin' Hot Cheetos, there were Frito-Lay Crunch Tators. While some might never have heard of these chips before (they were discontinued in the '90s), there's a case to be made that they influenced the creation of many of our most beloved spicy snacks. 

Frito-Lay first produced the jalapeño-flavored chips in 1988, and they were some of the very first fiery chips on the market. For reference, Flamin' Hot Cheetos didn't come out until 1989, while Takis didn't appear until 1999. Crunch Tators came in two flavors – Hoppin' Jalapeño and Mighty Mesquite BBQ — and each bag featured a friendly-looking cartoon alligator. At the time of their release, a single bag of the chips sold for just 69 cents. They were popular for their spice and kettle chip-like crunch and were so beloved that they even made a cameo in the classic 1990 movie "Home Alone." After Frito-Lay took them off the shelves, Crunch Tators briefly returned in 2022, but only for a limited time. 

Although Crunch Tators disappeared, the spicy chip era certainly didn't stop — if anything, it was just beginning. In the following years, many snack brands, including Frito-Lay, started incorporating more spicy snacks into their lineups.

How fans reacted to losing Crunch Tators

Despite promotional efforts, Frito-Lay discontinued the Crunch Tators sometime in the mid-'90s. Perhaps the snack was just ahead of its time. Still, chip lovers were left beyond disappointed.

After its initial discontinuation, some people even created petitions on calling for the snack's permanent return. Fans still comment on old Crunch Tators commercials on YouTube, expressing a similar, near-unanimous sentiment. Many people miss the signature taste and texture of the chip, saying it should have never been taken off the shelves in the first place. Others even went so far as to call Crunch Tators "the best potato chip Frito-Lay ever made." Others have flocked to forums and blogs, lamenting the loss of one of the most memorable snacks of their childhood. 

When the limited-time release began in 2022, many Crunch Tators fans jumped at the chance to taste them again and bought as many bags as they could. According to an Instagram post, some had been waiting decades for that moment. Indeed, one excited snacker shared in the caption of their Instagram post, "It's not just a craving, but a curiosity I've held onto for quite some time."

The spicy snack market flourished after Crunch Tators vanished

While Crunch Tators might be gone, many snackers have certainly not forgotten them, and decades after their creation, it's clear that their legacy remains. Spicy chips are everywhere (including stunts like Paqui's One-Chip Challenge), and heat seekers can get their capsaicin fix in seemingly endless ways, from Spicy Pineapple Jalapeño Doritos to Dragon Sweet Chili Takis. Still, that hasn't stopped fans of Crunch Tators from seeking replacements, like the Amazon shopper who claimed that Lay's Jalapeño Cheddar flavored kettle chips are practically a reincarnation of the vintage snack.

The boom in spicy snacks can likely be attributed to Frito-Lay. Following the discontinuation of Crunch Tators in the '90s, the company worked on developing an array of new chile-infused snacks, starting with Flamin' Hot Cheetos. It wasn't long before other fiery favorites like Spicy Nacho Doritos and wasabi-flavored Funyuns joined Frito-Lay's ranks. Eventually, the "Flamin' Hot" branding was applied to all kinds of products, from popcorn to soda. But while heat is a major draw for some people, according to Frito-Lay, many snacks — spicy ones included — are popular for how crunchy they are.