Best Cheap Tortilla Chips
Published on By Gina Briles
On the Border Café-Style Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips Review
From $2.98 Best
On the Border Café-Style Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips ($2.98 for an 18-ounce bag) racked up positive reviews from our tasting panel for an "airy" consistency and a "flavorful," nicely salted taste profile. They edged out favorites such as Costco's Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips to be named one of the best cheap tortilla chips.
According to online reviews, other consumers are similarly satisfied with On the Border Café-Style Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips. In 25 reviews on Amazon, 72 percent of users give them 5 stars, and one reviewer calls them the next best thing to fresh chips from a Mexican restaurant. That praise is echoed on the Walmart website, where more than 50 reviewers award the chips an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars. One of the most recent posts nominates these chips as the best consumers are going to find among store-bought options.
It's hard to say whether their success comes because of or in spite of their preparation. Some panelists seemed to appreciate the "flaky" and "brittle" nature of these fried tortilla snacks, while others say they have an "old oil taste" -- although they're not greasy.
In an era when baked chips reign and natural, non-GMO ingredients rule labels, these tortilla crisps eschew health-conscious trends in favor of flavor. That said, the product is proclaimed gluten-free and vegan, the oil non-hydrogenated, and the ingredients list preservative-free.
On the Border Café-Style Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips cost 18 cents an ounce, which is on the low end of average for the category. Sam's Club carries them in a bulk size, as well -- worth checking out if a party is on the calendar.
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Trader Joe's Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips Review
From $3.29 Best
Cheapism's panel of chip testers chose Trader Joe's Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips ($3.29 for a 16-ounce bag) as their favorite overall selection -- quite a surprise for a number of reasons. This snack is organic, and organic or "natural" products did not fare well overall in the blind tasting. The chips are made from blue corn, an ingredient that puts off some consumers with its grainy texture and amplified sweetness. Meanwhile, other Trader Joe's tortilla chips have performed abysmally in our taste tests. The boutique grocer's organic white corn chips were deemed "boring" and finished at the bottom of the heap, and the conventional restaurant-style white corn chips were deemed "serviceable" but "starchy."
Trader Joe's Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips, however, are "flaky," "light," "great-tasting" morsels. According to the panel, they shine alone or as a method of transporting salsa to waiting mouths. Online reviews are few, limited to three comments at the site Trader Joe's Reviews and the odd blog post, but they track with our findings, helping solidify these as the best chips of the Trader Joe's bunch.
The cost of these blue corn chips comes to about 21 cents an ounce. This is slightly higher than the prices we paid for most of their competitors -- a majority ranged between 17 and 19 cents an ounce. Still, these were not the highest-priced chips on the list, and the unanimous support from our panel suggests they are a good value.
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Santitas White Corn Tortilla Chips Review
From $2 Good
Santitas White Corn Tortilla Chips ($2 for an 11-ounce bag) are available nationwide in both yellow and white corn varieties. The price is marked on the label, but be forewarned: We paid $2.99 before tax at a Pacific Northwest grocery store. With 11 ounces in each package, this works out to about 18 cents an ounce at the label price compared with 27 cents an ounce at the price we paid.
A previous tasting panel awarded this Frito-Lay product the gold star against 13 other chip brands. The panel of 11 volunteers enthusiastically commended the flavor, which was buoyed by a "nice salty balance" and a "medium crunch." This time around, the Santitas chips maintained a solid ranking; tasters called them "light" and "appealing." One panelist mentioned an "artificial oil flavor," but nearly all who tried these chips professed them a favorite.
On Amazon, reviewers praise this chip's crispness, freshness, and saltiness, adding that it manages just fine on its own, without a boost from salsa or another dip. Consumer product review sites, along with media outlets including Serious Eats, place Santitas at the top of their lists of best tortilla chips. Like our tasting panel, these reviews praise the lightness, crunch, and appealing corn flavor. The one complaint seems to be that the triangle-shaped chips aren't hardy enough to stand up to thick dips and toppings. As one of our panelists lamented, they're "not too sturdy."
Still, a combination of price and quality make Santitas Tortilla Chips a good value (even if, as one reviewer grumbles on Amazon, the amount you get for $2 has decreased over time). This brand is often half the cost of brown-bagged, restaurant-style chips and they won't overpower a tasty salsa.
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Safeway O Organics Blue Corn Tortilla Chips With Flax Seed Review
From $2.49 Good
O Organics Blue Corn Tortilla Chips With Flax Seed ($2.49 for a 10-ounce bag) are on the higher end of our price range, weighing in at about 25 cents an ounce -- not unexpected given that this is an organic product. O Organics is a Safeway house brand, and these blue corn tortilla chips can be purchased only at Safeway stores, but there are more than 2,000 locations nationwide.
These chips performed well in our taste test. They were the second-highest vote-getters in the blue corn category and tied with Costco's Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips for fourth place out of 13 chips tested. Their score wasn't quite high enough to be among the best, but was high enough to label them a good chip.
Panelists' opinions about O Organics Blue Corn Tortilla Chips varied. Some bemoaned their lack of strong corn flavor and said the compact chips were more akin to crackers than other tortilla chips. Others liked the roasted taste and discernable seeds, calling the chips a "hearty" snack that would be "good for chili."
A past tasting panel was similarly torn about these chips. Some tasters said they "didn't enjoy the flavor" but noted that the chips were "not as thick as other organics." The amount of salt received a nod of approval, although some said the chips were "still bland" and groused about having to "chew more than normal."
If you want standard, mild tortilla chips to dunk in salsa, or ascribe to the philosophy "the thinner the better," O Organics Blue Corn Tortilla Chips With Flax Seed are not for you. But if you're open to robust chips with a more complex flavor and texture, these deserve a place in your shopping cart.
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Costco Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips Review
From $3.59 Good
Produced by Texas-based Mission Foods, Costco's Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips ($3.59 for a 48-ounce bag) cost slightly more than 7 cents an ounce -- half as much as any other chip in our blind taste test.
They were a solid hit with an 11-member tasting panel in 2013, good enough for a top showing in that comparison of 14 chip varieties. Well-liked by a majority of tasters for their crispy texture and toothsome thickness, the chips were shunned by no one, even as a few reviewers decreed them a bit heavy on the salt. The unusual rectangular shape was a pleasing novelty to most testers, although several held steady in their support of the more common triangle shape.
The comments from this year's group of taste testers were similarly very positive, but this time around the Kirkland Signature chips were outranked by a couple of newcomers, falling just out of the top tier. Samplers appreciated the "pronounced salt," "golden-tan" coloring, and "good corn flavor" that the Costco chips delivered. Perhaps surprisingly, they far outranked Mission's own white corn tortilla chips.
Despite the product's wide availability at Costco locations throughout the U.S., reviews of Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips are few and far between online. One blogger lauds the "earthy" texture and deep corn taste with the barest hint of lime. He concedes the advantages of dipping with a rectangle (long enough for that, ahem, unhygienic double dip) but also expresses a preference for the more traditional chip shape.
The only division in reviews concerns the amount of salt gracing these crisps. While acknowledging that this is not a low-sodium snack, most reviewers are fine with it, although some consider the amount of salt excessive. Overall, these are chips a host can feel good about serving.
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Tortilla chips are a staple of social gatherings far and wide. From football Sundays to family get-togethers, the crunchy crisps make appearances alongside guacamole, seven-layer-dip, queso, and salsa. Tasty versions of this party food are readily available at mouthwateringly low prices. We gathered a group of hungry chip lovers to taste-test 13 common brands of tortilla snacks, from Frito-Lay's Tostitos and Santitas to Trader Joe's and Costco's Kirkland Signature. Here's the scoop on which cheap tortilla chips won out in a blind test.
Cheap Tortilla Chips Taste Test 2016
Unlike some other foods, tortilla chips seem to deliver rich rewards to frugal consumers. The current zeitgeist considers high-end, restaurant-style tortilla chips to be the best. But both our own taste tests and online reviews indicate that pricier specialty chips often crumble against the competition. When planning a shindig for family or friends, there's no reason to overspend on the snack portion of the menu.
The tortilla chips in this year's blind taste test were divided into two categories -- yellow or white corn and blue corn -- to account for the obvious difference in appearance, as well as taste and texture. The selection of 13 products included five organic or "natural" varieties. There was little difference in price between the organic and conventional chips in our sample, with most clustering in the range of 17 to 20 cents an ounce, and the products were sampled side by side. The contenders included national brands such as Mission and Tostitos and store brands such as Costco's Kirkland Signature, Safeway's O Organics, and Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value, some of which offer multiple varieties. Pacific Northwest favorite Juanita's was also included, although it's not as widely available.
We presented the samples to an eight-person panel in unmarked paper bowls, each labeled with a different reference letter, to keep testers in the dark about which brands they were eating. We asked each participant to rate the samples based on appearance, texture, and taste.
Our panelists easily named a clear favorite among the tortilla chips arrayed before them. Trader Joe's Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips ($3.29 for a 16-ounce bag) ranked so far ahead of the rest that they claimed the title of best cheap tortilla chips overall. This seems like something of a coup, given the broader appeal of traditional white and yellow corn varieties. Points in the blue corn chips' favor include good, subtle corn flavor, the "right amount of salt," and a "light," "crispy" texture. Every one of the tasters enjoyed this product -- a distinction no other chip could claim.
On the yellow and white corn side, On the Border Café-Style Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips ($2.98 for an 18-ounce bag) emerged as the best. They earned solid praise for being tasty and well-balanced in salt and texture, although some tasters detected an oily aftertaste that read as stale or "artificial." Santitas White Corn Tortilla Chips ($2 for an 11-ounce bag) -- a favorite in a previous Cheapism taste test -- technically tied the On the Border chips for taste and overall appeal. More limited availability and a higher per-ounce price knocked them down to the good category.
Two other solid contenders round out the top picks. Safeway's O Organics Blue Corn Tortilla Chips With Flax Seed ($2.49 for a 10-ounce bag) represent a new take on an old favorite that appealed to most panelists. While this brand didn't have the overwhelming support of Trader Joe's blue chips, it certainly scored on par with the next runner-up, Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips ($3.59 for a 48-ounce bag). These perennial favorites (produced for Costco by Mission) set the price floor at less than 7.5 cents an ounce and fell just shy of the top rank for white and yellow corn chips.
In general, the cheap chips that didn't make the grade were docked points for being bland or overly dense. Two varieties fared worse than the rest. Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value White Corn Restaurant-Style Tortilla Chips ($2.99 for a 16-ounce bag) offended the taste buds of our entire panel with their "dry," "plain" flavor profile and a "cardboard" texture that "stays in your mouth." Trader Joe's Organic White Corn Tortilla Chips ($2.69 for a 16-ounce bag) were similarly panned for tasting "stale," "unseasoned," and "unappealing." It's clear that buying an organic or restaurant-style product from a specialty supermarket doesn't always translate to satisfying taste.
A slew of other chips didn't make a strong impression on tasters one way or another. Among the yellow and white corn chips, the "average Josés" included Mission White Corn Tortilla Triangles ($3.19 for a 13-ounce bag), Simply Tostitos Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips ($3.19 for a 9-ounce bag), Juanita's White Corn Tortilla Chips ($2.29 for a 15-ounce bag), and Trader Joe's Restaurant-Style White Corn Chips ($1.79 for an 8.5-ounce bag). In the blue corn category, both Simply Tostitos and Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value brand tortilla chips ($2.99 for a 16-ounce bag) failed to make a mark.
The Simply Tostitos chips, both yellow and blue corn, registered the highest per-ounce cost, at 35 cents -- clearly out of the Cheapism zone. Despite several online raves about these "natural" alternatives to traditional Tostitos, the chips turned in so-so performances in our taste test. Panelists said they would rather spend their money on tastier, more affordable tortilla chips.
White and Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips.There are more similarities than differences between the flavors that white and yellow corn tortilla chips bring to the table. Both versions offer light cornmeal taste and similar texture. For that reason, we tested them together to choose a winner.
The best chips in this category, On the Border Yellow Corn, and the other top-ranked selection, Santitas White Corn, benefitted from being fried in oil. The process imbues the chips with crispness and intensified corn flavor, and these brands were saltier to boot. The oil did turn off some tasters, giving the chips a "strange aftertaste" described as reminiscent of "old funnel cake," but overall the frying produced tastier chips that panelists were more likely to nibble.
The Santitas chips and Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips were the top finishers in Cheapism's previous taste test, in 2013 (the On the Border chips were not in the running). Another chip recommended as a good pick, Calidad White Corn ($1.99 for a 12-ounce bag), was not included in this year's sample because of concerns that the brand is too difficult to come by in some regions. Despite what several testers described as a somewhat "bland" taste, the Calidad chips tallied votes from those who appreciated an unassuming and inoffensive chip with a "light crunch." At such a low cost, they're certainly worth a shot for consumers who spot them. Some Walmart and Sam's Club stores and other grocery outlets carry Calidad tortilla chips.
Overall, this year's tasting crew liked the yellow and white corn chips well enough for dipping, but their subtle, sweet flavors were pegged "bland" more frequently than the blue chips we served. This was especially the case with the three natural or organic products.
Simply Tostitos passed muster, falling into the middle of the pack with "good flavor and texture" that satisfied but didn't impress, especially given the high price. Trader Joe's Organic White Corn Tortilla Chips and Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value White Corn Restaurant-Style Tortilla Chips faltered, however, plummeting to the bottom of the list. Tasters complained these chips "tasted stale" and had "no salt" to tempt their palates. Both brands also suffered from being "too thick" -- a common objection to natural and organic offerings.
Blue Corn Tortilla Chips.Tasting panelists noshed on four different blue corn chips in this year's blind test: Trader Joe's Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips, Simply Tostitos Blue Corn Tortilla Chips, 365 Everyday Value Blue Corn Tortilla Chips from Whole Foods, and Safeway's O Organics Blue Corn Tortilla Chips With Flax Seed.
In our previous tasting session, the products named the best tortilla chips were made from white corn. The Safeway chips and Kroger's Simple Truth Natural Blue Corn Tortilla Chips ($2.89 for a 9-ounce bag) left a slightly sweet aftertaste that not everyone appreciated. This time, feedback was more favorable for the blue corn selections. Not only did they receive higher scores than most of the white and yellow corn chips (the lowest-ranking blue chips still rated better than five of the nine yellow or white corn chips), but the landslide favorite was from the blue corn category.
Trader Joe's Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips impressed the panelists with a harmonious balance of texture, flavor, salt, and crunch. Taste-testers gushed about the "airy," "flaky" crispness and the light corn sweetness of the chips. While one critic mentioned a "mealy" mouth feel, it wasn't enough to drive tasters away.
Even the addition of flaxseed to the O Organics chips didn't scare off our hungry critics, who liked their "malty" flavor, "cracker-like" density, and "polenta" notes. These chips received scores equal to those of the Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips, and were deemed a good choice as a result. Consumers may have to pay a little more should they follow our tasters' lead in embracing the blue chip revolution, however. The lowest price was 19 cents an ounce, and the Trader Joe's organic blue chips cost a full 4 cents more per ounce than the organic yellow version. But taste buds and party guests might appreciate the upgrade.
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