Cooking For Engineers

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Surprises In Snacks

by Michael Chu
This week has brought some interesting surprises. A couple days ago, Tina bit into a bright green, unblemished tomato that we got from the harvest festival and discovered that all the seeds inside the tomato had sprouted! She cut open each side of the tomato to discover that indeed all the seeds had sprouted and there were little tomato plants growing inside her otherwise perfect tomato.

A day later, I was eating a bag of Doritos brand nacho cheese flavored tortilla chips at work when I looked in the bag to discover a fairly large lump of orange material. I assumed it was the "cheese" and spices clumped together in a solid mass. Talk about a couple of unexpected surprises in mundane snacks.

Here's a picture of Tina's tomato with two of the sides removed. You can see the sprouts clearly growing out. Gross and fascinating at the same time.

Here it is with more sides removed.

A close up of the other side of the tomato.

After much discussion, we've decided that we don't have the space to grow tomatoes in our small condo and this variety probably isn't a variety that we're that interested in growing anyway (especially if the offspring start sprouting prematurely). We haven't thrown it away, though. The tomato is sitting on a plate on our dining table where it continues to grow.

After finishing my bag of Doritos, I took the extra lump home and weighed it. This chunk of seasoning was 14 g (with the net contents of the bag marked as 49.6 g). That means I consumed 28% less chips than I expected to (probably better for me). Still, a call to Doritos was in order.

I dialed 1-800-352-4477 and spoke to a man named Quincy. I described what I had found to him and he said that it sounded like it was an accidental inclusion of the accumulation of seasoning. Occasionally, these seasoning accumulations make it through cooking and find their ways into bags. The oil used to cook the chips probably causes the clumping and the cooking keeps the lump from separating. Frito-Lay (the company that owns Doritos) considers this to be a foreign object and compensates consumers who discover foreign objects in their products. The compensation for the bag of chips? Quincy said he's mailing me a packet of Frito-Lays coupons including three free product coupons, each worth over $3. Not bad considering I didn't have to eat the seasoning lump to claim my prize.

Written by Michael Chu
Published on October 13, 2004 at 10:02 PM
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28 comments on Surprises In Snacks:(Post a comment)

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, Karen (guest) said...
My first thought was, "That was nice of Doritos."

Followed quickly by my second thought, which was, "They have a PLAN for compensating people who find things in their chips?! UGH! What does that say about how often it happens? And what kind of 'foreign objects', never mind, I don't want to know."

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, an anonymous reader said...
The scary thing is that some people would be delighted to eat a huge clump of cheese-flavoured seasoning. You see it as a food-processing anomoly but they see it as concentrated Dorito heaven.

I don't know anyone that would enjoy a big handful of tomato sprouts though :oP

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, an anonymous reader said...
I once nearly had the pleasure of consuming cigarette butts with my Pistacio nuts...

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, rolandog (guest) said...
LOL, I agree with anonymous poster #1. I remember I've found several small clusters of yummy-smile-inducing-dorito thingy...
It's goooooood
And wow... great find (there's something very scary in little tomatoes growing inside another tomatoe... perhaps, the evolution of tomatoes?).

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, Revion (guest) said...
Very interesting!
It's apparently much more than it seems. You know for a fact that tomato seeds are covered by a jelly-like substance. This substance prevents the tomato seeds from sprouting in the tomato. One way that the seeds COULD sprout in the tomato is when the tomato is decaying. The decayed coat would allow the seeds to sprout. Another way is much more interesting. It means that that particular tomato lacks the coating on its seeds, whether by genetic mutation or something else.
Haha... I guess maybe I'm over-reacting. But still...

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, Ravion (guest) said...
I went googling and found a webpage that confirms my suspicion:
Look at the 2nd post on that page. Hehe... sounds uncannily like your situation, except that yours wasn't intentional!

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Many years ago, I found a greasy work glove (black grease!) in a bag of Lay's potato chips. If I recall correctly, the standerd remuneration was coupons back then, too.

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, an anonymous reader said...
FDA actually allows a certain percentage of "foregn matter" in food packages. I know for pistachios it's 0.25% ( table III). This percentage aplies to a lot of product, not individual package, which means that one package may contain the 0.25% of the whole lot :) Foregn matter by there definition includes anything, except for: glass, metal, and life insects!

Bone Apetit!

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, josht (guest) said...
That's very interesting! One time, when I was very young, I was eating a bag of Cheetos in my back yard. Now, I was at the age when I loved collecting rocks of all different sorts, such as the ones you would buy at a museum gift shop. Well, I had one of my most favorite rocks with me while I was eating my Cheetos, and I was preoccupied with something (I was reading a book I think), and as I reached down to get another Cheeto, I accidentally grabbed the rock instead. I bit down as hard as I could, and chipped a tooth! I don't think I cried about it though, I just though it was funny. The rock survived.

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, an anonymous reader said...
What you said about the Doritos was a little disturbing. That would orobably taste really salty and sigusting, especially because it's not even real cheese. Chemicals, probably. I shed pity for your experience. Tear.

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, palegreenhorse (guest) said...
have you tried any of the tomato sprouts? there are a lot of tasty sprouts like broccoli, bean, spicy bean, and the ubiquitous alfalfa. perhaps tomato sprouts could be the new rage.

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, Chris Lundie (guest) said...
I believe your tomato was born pregnant, like Tribbles.

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, an anonymous reader said...
I noticed all of the sprouts are growing in the same direction (up?). At first I thought this would indicate perhaps a mutant tomato without the pigmentation of a normal tomato, allowing UV light to seep through and begin germination (, and then photosynthesis (

However, upon doing a little research, it would appear that the seeds underwent some kind of natural stratification ( This is where the hard coating of the seed was softened (or absent from growth) and moisture is allowed to the embryo. I am postulating that the tomato either mutant (again, but here without the hard seed covering), or that the tomato was subjected to a long period of cold, which broke down the layering, and then warmth again to begin the germanic cycle.

Well- that was interesting. I havn't looked at that kind of science since sometime around 4th grade. Thanks!

Robert Emperley
Ann Arbor, MI
Strasbourg, France

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Tomato sprouts, like the sprouts of any nightshade, are poisonous in any decent sort of quantity. They should not be eaten, like, ever. I like the blog, so if you ever find another one of those, please don't eat it. kthxbye.

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, an anonymous reader said...
I, too, have found sprouted seeds in a tomato. It was a red tomato, and it was last fall (not too far from when yours was!). There were only 2 or 3 sprouted. I ate it anyway. I lived. So far. I just found your site, and am systematically reading all of it (and procrastinating doing some work). Keep it up!

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Have you checked to see what Monsanto and GM are doing with food? It is scary.

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, an anonymous reader said...
A friend of mine found a needle in her tastycake. She pulled it out and we managed to convince her to continue eating. "What are the odds there will be two needles in one tastycake?" Of course there was another one and she too got free coupons as compensation.

On October 13, 2004 at 08:40 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Nice friends.

On October 28, 2008 at 05:14 PM, GUEST (guest) said...
Tomato plants are a night shade. I read on another site that the sprouts, leaves and green fruit are toxic. So you don't want to eat the sprouts. It also said that bell peppers are supposed to be red and yellow, green bell peppers are not ripe and have the toxin also.

On October 28, 2008 at 06:10 PM, Dilbert said...
bull feathers.

go look up "poison control center" and ask them about tomato, tomato anything.

peppers, see same

potatoes, the green stuff under the skin of potatoes (solanine) comes from exposure to light. some folks are sensitive to it; most are not.

and just in the last few months, not one but TWO young and otherwise healthy females died from drinking water.

now, based on the science presented by the National Enquirer, how you gonna live without consuming water?

On April 30, 2009 at 04:37 PM, guest (guest) said...
Subject: tomatoes sprouting seeds inside
Another lady told me that she had this happen. Her tomatoes were stored at room temperature and in a green bag. I was wondering if it might have something to do with the green bag causing that coating on the seeds to break down. Just a thought. I'm curious as to how many had this happen to tomatoes that were stored in a green bag. Anybody ?

On April 30, 2009 at 04:59 PM, Dilbert said...
"green bags" - by many names - supposed to retard spoilage...

the primary mechanism is the absorption of ethylene gas. ethylene gas is what makes fruits ripen.

so,,,,,,, if the ethylene is made to not be effective, and you keep the fruit "unspoiled looking" for a few dozen weeks, lotta things can happen inside a tomato.

I am extremely amused at the folks who rave about keeping their fresh vegetables for weeks in "green bags."

now, keep in mind, these are often the same folks who will not use a nasty chemically coated Teflon pan because some mysterious unidentified compound they heard about on the 2 AM shopping channel where "they" said "it's bad for you."

but they have no problem with putting their food in direct contact with magic pixie dust (bat guano and ground minerals from caves in south america, somewhere, and not at a fair trade price either, I suspect, just to take care of the raving econo-loonies along with the ecolog-loonies....)

whatever "stuff" is on/in the green bags is not revealed/disclosed, nor does not last forever; it absorbs some amount of ethylene gas and then it's shot - throw it away. at the price of those bags / containers, some simple math will prove very instructive as to how many pounds of vegetables you can buy and throw away when the excess spoils vs the cost of keeping it forever (not) in a green bag.

On July 21, 2009 at 12:34 PM, schroeem (guest) said...
Subject: Costco Sprouts
I just bought a pack of Roma tomatoes from Costco (I think there were 8-12 in the pack). Every single one of them was either sprouting or in the early stages of sprouting. i have seen this once or twice before, but not in such large quantity. It's kind of weird. I am wondering about the comment the man from Ann Arbor made about cooling the tomatoes and then them rewarming. I am wondering if they might be chilled too much in the travel process and then warm up again too fast in the store where they are being sold? I mean, that seems to be the only scientific evidence that someone has given. Sure Monsanto and etc are doing wacky stuff, but surely this has to happen in nature for a species to reproduce and survive. So maybe it is more environmental than due to GMO's? Maybe certain varieties are more sensitive than others? Does anyone know anymore scientific evidence vs. hearsay?

On July 21, 2009 at 02:14 PM, Michael Chu said...
Yeah - we've had another sprouter last month (here in Texas). That was a "normal" supermarket tomato (vs. the one in the original article that was an organically grown heirloom variety).

On October 12, 2010 at 11:42 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: Viviparous mutants!
I read this link about viviparous mutants ( a while ago and hunted it down again for you after reading this post. Academic citations provided! Hope this satisfies some curiosity. Love the site!

On November 10, 2011 at 10:21 AM, harris (guest) said...
Subject: in my dorritos
I found a tiny little thigh bone with raw flesh, it was wet in my mouth and felt slimey so I scraped the the slimey bit off to see what it was and it was a little bone :shock:

On August 30, 2013 at 05:39 PM, BGrubb (guest) said...
Subject: Black object in my Doritos- ugh
I found a black raisin lookin object in my small Doritos bag. Hope it wasn't anything that will make me sick! :(

On December 13, 2014 at 03:00 PM, anon. frito employee (guest) said...
Subject: seasoning accum
Well, yes, there is a plan in place to deal with seasoning accum.

There are also large-scale strategies to minimize it (about 4 people on any given shift are responsible for locating and removing seasoning accum. from the machinery) - but with 15,000,000 bags per week at our plant alone, a few are bound to get through.

It's kind of like winning the lottery.