There’s only one true Tater Tot, produced by Ore-Ida, and we bet that’s not the only thing you didn’t know about this humble snack.
That’s a whole lot of pounds of Tots, more than the entire populations of California and Texas combined!
Not to startle you, but one of the ingredients in Tater Tots is disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate, which has many culinary applications and is generally recognized as safe by the FDA. It helps leaven baked goods, maintains color in canned seafood, and in this application, keeps the potatoes from turning off-colors like gray or brown. It’s also used to remove stains in leather processing, as a dispersant in oil will drilling, and (mixed with hot water) for hair and feather removal during hog and poultry slaughter.
When Tater Tots were first invented, the Griggs needed to come up with a name, so they held a contest among employees and their friends. Clora Lay Orton, a young housewife, suggested the name – tater is slang for potato and tot refers to their small size – and took the win.
Tater Tots were sold extremely cheaply when they were first invented because they were essentially fried scraps, but they didn’t sell as expected for that very reason. There was no “perceived value” (consumers just assumed they were worthless because the price was so low), but they started selling once the price was increased.
If you’re from the Midwest (especially Minnesota and North Dakota) you certainly know what a hotdish casserole is; it’s one of the classic regional specialties. Just about everyone has their own recipe, but they usually contain some combination of canned cream soup, ground meat, vegetables, and potatoes, usually of the Tater Tot variety.
In Australia they’re called potato gems, potato royals, or potato pom-poms, and in Canada you’ll find Tasti Taters. Other imitators include Tater Treats, Spud Puppies, Trader Potato Tots (at Trader Joe’s), and Tater Puffs (Whole Foods).
Like Corn Flakes and other pioneer brands like Band-Aid and Kleenex, lots of people don’t realize that Tater Tot is a proprietary brand name. In order to raise awareness that there’ only one official Tater Tot, in 2014 they launched an ad campaign urging consumers to “not be fooled by imi-taters,” with Tots disguised as cowboys, pirates, and other silly costumes.
Back in 2008, Ore-Ida was sued along with Frito-Lay and Kettle Foods to reduce the levels of acrylamide in their products, a potentially cancer-causing chemical that appears in foods that are deep-fried. (Ore-Ida agreed to pay $600,000 in penalties for not warning consumers about the dangers, and to cut the level of that chemical in half.)