Cheese puffs are a popular treat made from puffed corn and covered with a seasoned, powdered cheese coating. They are available under many different brand names, and they come in a variety of styles, including round, corkscrew, free-form, and straight. The most common flavor for cheese puffs is cheddar cheese, but there are also other flavors to add spice and variety.
Cheese puffs were discovered by accident in the 1930s by a man named Edward Wilson. He was working on a flaking machine at the Flakall Company, making flaked corn for cattle feed. Workers were pouring moistened corn into the hopper to keep the machine from clogging. Wilson noticed that the damp, ground corn came out in long strands, cooked by the heat of the running machine. He took some of these sections of puffed corn home, added some flavoring and, in doing so, created the first cheese puffs.
In the early 1950s the Adams Corporation mass-produced cheese puffs, then called Korn Kurls, for sale to the snack market. Many other companies followed, with varying degrees of success. Companies experimented with extruding the corn through different dies to create snacks of different shapes and sizes.
The main ingredients in cheese puffs are still the same as when they were first created: cornmeal and water. Different sprays are used to add texture and flavor, and to hold the coatings. Such sprays include cottonseed oil, soybean oil, and coconut oil. Any one batch will normally have only one of these oils sprayed on it.
As soon as the puffs are sprayed they are coated with cheese powder, to add the signature cheese flavor. This flavoring may include powdered cheddar cheese, artificial cheese flavoring, whey powder, salt, and other spices, as well as food coloring to give the cheese puffs their characteristic orange color. Manufacturers looking for ways to increase their sales of this crunchy snack created many different kinds of cheese puffs by adding additional flavorings and by cooking them in different ways.
Cheese puffs can be purchased in a wide array of flavors in addition to the familiar orange cheddar. Choices, which vary by manufacturer, include white cheddar, Asiago peppercorn, hot chili pepper, jalapeño, salsa picante, chili cheese and many more. In addition to being made in different shapes and flavors, they are also sold in baked and fried versions, which provide significantly different textures. With so many different choices, it could take a fan of these cheesy snacks a long time to try them all.