Who invented cheese dip?

cheese dip with chips
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

Have you ever wondered who invented cheese dip? And when? I don’t always ponder these things, but I did wonder why the World Cheese Dip Championship was held in Arkansas. So I looked it up.

Apparently cheese dip was invented in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1935 by the owner of Mexico Chiquito restaurants. It seems hard to believe, I suppose because it’s so common now (around here, anyway), and it’s the type of dish you just assume always existed.

Let me back up, though, because I realize not everyone knows what cheese dip is (and you should know!). It’s basically melted cheese with spices that you eat by dipping chips into it. It’s important to get the consistency just right so it sticks to the chip while being thin enough to dip into and staying that way throughout the meal. In its most simple form, you can make it with a pound of Velveeta cheese and a can of Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies. There are countless variations on this, adding various cheeses, spices, meats, chili, etc. The most common chips used are tortilla chips, like Tostitos, or Fritos Scoops. (Doritos works well, too.) Adding lots of spices and seasonings tends to lead to diminishing returns, where it becomes considerably more work while producing marginal gains (if any). At the World Cheese Dip Competition, there are many variations, usually mostly good, but when they try too hard it sometimes doesn’t work well.

At the World Cheese Dip Championship website, there is a video about the history of cheese dip. It is very much amateur in production, but it’s somewhat interesting if you’re interested in such things. (See what I did there?) It’s 19 minutes long, so below are a few highlights if you aren’t going to watch it.

In the video, you meet a chef who trained under Emeril Lagasse and opened a restaurant in central Arkansas after Hurricane Katrina. He said he never even thought of offering cheese dip on the menu because, in his words, “I just don’t even think of it as an actual dish.” Then he started to notice it on menus all over the place, and all his workers started asking about it, so in a staff meeting he asked, “Is there something I need to know about cheese dip?”, and everyone was dumbfounded that he had no clue, because all the regulars here took it for granted. But later on, the chef said he still doesn’t consider cheese dip a “thing”, that it’s just part of nachos. The film director exposed the chef’s ignorance, stating that nachos were invented in 1943 by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya. (Side note: So it took people 8 years to pour the cheese dip over the chips and consider it a dish?) The story of how nachos were invented is at 14:20 in the video. Nachos aren’t the same thing, even if the ingredients are similar. If you also don’t “get it”, I encourage you to try it. It sounds simple (and it is), but it is awesome. And it complements many other foods well. (And by many, I literally mean many — that’s why most restaurants in Arkansas offer cheese dip.)

The editor-in-chief at the Arkansas Times said, “Cheese dip is the national food of Arkansas.” (Don’t think too hard about that… it just means it’s a big deal.) He also said the uniqueness of cheese dip in Arkansas is its ubiquity. (That’s an unusual way to put it.) Later he talked about which chip he prefers for dipping, based on the tensile strength for scooping up payloads of cheese dip (and chunks in some varieties). It does matter, and I have to agree that Fritos Scoops are my preferred choice, though many options are great (like Tostitos and Doritos).

Regarding the nutritional value of cheese dip, well, it doesn’t matter! 🙂 It’s one of those foods worth eating “right” even if you have to eat it less often than you’d like to. 🙂 Actually, you might be surprised to realize it has some healthy qualities to it. Rotel is basically a can of chopped up vegetables. Of course there’s cheese, but some nutritionists are saying the saturated fat in milk products is not as unhealthy as saturated fat in red meat. And if you use Fritos or Tostitos, those are vegetables. I know, no one believes me, but look at the ingredient list for yourself, and you’ll find: corn, corn oil, and salt. (In a discussion on this someone pointed out that corn can be a vegetable, fruit, or grain depending on what state it’s in, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.) So frame it from this angle and you’re dipping veggie chips into a cheesy veggie dip. (That doesn’t sound good at all, but remember we’re talking about cheese dip. I’m just trying to help you rationalize it in case you’re trying to lose weight and eat healthy, like me.)

I saw a website that lists a “cheese dip trail through Arkansas” that features several restaurants which are “famous” for their cheese dip. I haven’t tried all of these yet, so it sounds like a great idea to do someday.

There are even annual awards for the best cheese dip in the state, and every year that category receives more votes than any other category. It’s a big deal, even though we might take it for granted here.

I’d like to hear your thoughts about it. Are you familiar with cheese dip? Do you eat it regularly? If not, are you going to try it? What state/area/country are you from?

2014 National Cheese Dip Competition

cheese dip research, 11-8-12, 2A couple of the Buffet o’ Blog staff attended the National Cheese Dip Competition this year.  Let me just say it was AWESOME!  And let me also add that next time attendance is required for all Buffet o’ Blog staff — just because you don’t want to miss it.

Perhaps I should quantify my opinion.  It wasn’t like a carnival or state fair — there were a few side activities and music, but the primary event was trying lots of different cheese dip recipes.  If that sounds like a good time to you, then you should definitely go.

There were around 15 entries in the competition, including both amateurs and professionals.  Fortunately, there was plenty of cheese dip to go around, at least while we were there.  And all but one of the cheese dips were good.  The one that failed was trying to be healthy — which may not have been the whole problem — but it was both too liquidious (runny) and grainy at the same time, somehow.  Perhaps just that one batch was messed up, because I can’t see them entering that.

I think the amateurs outperformed the professionals in the competition, and I even voted for an amateur group.  When the final results came out, my choice didn’t win, but I don’t think the voting results are necessarily fair.  Each person who attends the competition gets two votes.  However, additional votes can be purchased, which is where I think it’s not fair.  For a restaurant entering, it would be worth investing several hundred dollars for more votes, in the name of advertising.  Being able to display the championship logo and advertising that you won the National Cheese Dip Competition is a big deal!  That will result in more sales, no doubt.  For amateurs, a group with more money can sway the votes in their favor.  So I don’t pay much attention to who won.

Most of the entrants were from around this area, but one group was from San Francisco.  I learned that most people there don’t know what cheese dip is, but a guy from Jacksonville, AR, married a woman from San Francisco, moved out there, and told them they should sell it in their restaurant.  On a related note, all of the entrants were friendly, and it was just non-crowded enough that you could talk for a bit with them, which made the experience more fun.  We enjoyed asking them what made their cheese dip special, or what the secret ingredient was — we received some amusing answers.

Overall, I would give the event 4.5 stars out of 5.  The only real knock against it is that they didn’t have sweet tea.  (Hello, we are in the South here!  Besides, tea is very profitable.)  At least the bottled water and other beverages were affordable.

Speaking of profitable, all proceeds were donated to a group that performs medical services for those who can’t afford it.  That’s admirable.

Also, if you’re wondering why the National Cheese Dip Competition would be located in Little Rock, Arkansas, I’ll explain that in the next post.  🙂

diet colas with artificial poop

The other day I wrote about a spa using bird poop in facials, and at the end of the discussion I joked about what would be the next use of poop.  At the time, I was unaware of a breaking news story about diet colas that is somewhat related.  (Are you getting scared yet?)

diet cola - now with more artificial poopRecently the patent details for the artificial sweetener aspartame became available online, and well, it’s made with a certain byproduct.  (Are you sure you want to keep reading?  It might get even worse.)  Obviously it’s an artificial sweetener, which has certain connotations, but there’s more than you’d expect.  Some versions of aspartame are made by harvesting the protein waste (i.e., poop) of genetically modified E. coli bacteria, then adding methanol to it.  (On a side note, how someone invented this process is beyond my imagination, so I looked it up.  In 1965 a chemist was trying to create an anti-ulcer drug, and while generating a hormone for it, he licked his finger and accidentally discovered the sweet taste of aspartame.  Go figure…)

Aspartame is one of the most common artificial sweeteners, and it’s sold under the brand names NutraSweet® and Equal®.  It’s used because it’s about 200 times sweeter than table sugar, so less can be used, which lowers the calories in the food or beverage.  It is used in thousands of different food products.  The FDA maintains that it is completely safe.

It may be safe, but this is one of the those things that I kinda wish I didn’t know…

eating bacon to live longer

bacon - sea of baconI just heard about a 105-year-old woman in Texas who says her secret is that she eats bacon every day.  I don’t know if that will stand up to medical scrutiny, but it’s worth something.

The article reveals her bacon “secret”, which should be enough for the whole article.  But then it talks about her birthday party, which featured over 200 guests, which is okay, I guess.  But then it goes into explaining why bacon has gotten a bad rap lately.  It’s somewhat ironic, given the subject of the article.  Apparently some research study linked processed meat to a premature death.  But check out their results — they claim that eating less than 20g per day (which is 0.7 ounces) could prevent an estimated 3% of premature deaths each year.  So if you eat only a bite or two of meat per day, you have a 3% chance of living longer.  For people who follow that advice, I wonder what the odds are on premature death due to not enjoying life as much…  (To each their own, but that advice wouldn’t work for me.)

The article then references another study saying that even a single serving of processed red meat increased the risk of participants dying by 20%.  I may not be a statistician, but I figure the risk of dying is 100%.  🙂  You can eat all the plants you want, but it is appointed for everyone to meet their Maker at some point.

Obviously bacon is somewhat unhealthy — not completely, but in some ways.  However, if a single serving of bacon (or any red meat) increases your risk of dying by 20%, and this woman has eaten bacon every day for 105 years so far (which could be up to 38,000 times), what would her risk of dying be?  I’d like to see one of those researchers calculate it and go tell her.  Maybe she’s like one of those cartoon characters who is invulnerable to the laws of physics because they don’t understand it.  🙂  Either way, whatever she’s doing has worked for her.

This breakfast platter from Tony's I-75 restaurant in Birch Run, MI, has 1 pound of bacon.
This breakfast platter from Tony’s I-75 restaurant in Birch Run, MI, has 1 pound of bacon.

I’m not claiming that all this research is bogus, but I think there’s a LOT more to it than just saying eating meat will kill you early.  I’ve known quite a few people — including my grandparents — who ate big country meals all the time (which included lots of butter, gravy, and fried foods), yet lived to be 90+ and still had above-average health.  I know that’s a small sample, but when you consider how Americans used to eat versus what we now “know” about nutrition, it’s amazing any of them lived past 25.  I’m not saying fattening foods are healthy, but I do wonder if natural / organic fattening foods might be healthier than much of the modern stuff with preservatives and additives and chemicals.  I can’t prove it, and I’m not convinced either way yet, but I do think there’s a lot more to nutrition and healthiness than we currently know.

Regardless of whether bacon is good for me or not, I’m now hungry for bacon…