The Perfect Scoop: Grassroots Tortilla Chip Innovation


[Photographs: Daniel Souza]

In the past I've written at length about the sophisticated chemistry behind chip flavors, high-pressure chip popping techniques, and the structural integrity of Doritos. Giant snack food companies (aka Big Chip) spend serious money developing their products, but they don't always get it right. Sometimes it takes a passionate consumer—a mere individual—to create true innovation. Kindred spirit Dan Pashman, of the excellent Sporkful Podcast and Blog, is one such individual.

In Dan's recent Sporkful post, he turns the notion of the scoop-shaped tortilla chip literally on its head, suggesting that the proper chip orientation for guacamole consumption is actually inverted, like a dome. Intrigued, I set up a call with Dan to get the full scoop (sorry).

If you've ever had the embarrassing experience of breaking a scoop chip in the middle of a serious guacamole sweep, then you'll love Dan's discovery as much as I do. In talking with a structural engineer, Dan learned that if a regular tortilla chip "undulates [even slightly] it gives a lot of the same properties as a dome." Why does that matter? Well, an arch is a very strong architectural form and a three dimensional arch is a dome. The seed of the idea was planted in Dan's head, but it wasn't until later, when he was cutting together the interview audio for the Sporkful that it all came together:

"It's 6:30 in the morning and my daughter's watching Dora [the Explorer] and I'm drinking coffee. The engineer is talking about the dome, and I thought, 'wait a second— if you turn the scoop upside down it's a dome!'

It was this eureka moment. I got so excited! My wife rolled out of bed, she's 8 months pregnant, and I'm like, 'you're not going to believe what I figured out!' And she was just not impressed at all. Because she's pregnant and tired. But I just knew this was something people were going to be excited about."

After talking with Dan, I ran home to try out the technique myself. I was without the goods to make guacamole but did have a tub of fridge-cold whipped feta—arguably the most chip-challenging dip on the planet. I have to say it wasn't kind to the standard scoop technique:

20130515-Chip-Faced-Scoops-ScoopBreak.jpg I had two out of five scoops snap on me when using the traditional technique, whereas zero out of five broke when used like a dome. My confidence in the technique boosted, I attempted to push the limits and load a dome with an absurd amount of whipped feta. And it worked—more whipped feta than I would ever care to eat in one bite.


Thanks, Dan. We owe you one.