How to Make Puffy Cheetos at Home with Packing Peanuts

Visiting Davida last weekend in Las Vegas was one of the best spontaneous decisions I’ve ever made.

I had so much fun with her. We laughed a lot, wandered around Las Vegas, and ate some great food that wasn’t the crap at Heart Attack Grill. And yes, like a bunch of you guys have needled me about, there was some romance involved. Sorry, ladies, there’s someone halfway across the country who’s got a new moniker: Girlfriend of The Pizzle. 

You all had like, three years to get on this love train. Of course, since my life is consistently backwards, and considering I’m in Chicago, expect some uproarious hijinks involving my long-distance pining. Breaking up with my right hand is going to be really difficult, so please send me your thoughts and prayers at this time.

Anyway, you’re here to watch me possibly kill myself with my diet before I see her again, so let’s continue with my usual shitshow.

Harvey Bee Peanuts

When I was in high school, I had a summer job at my best friend’s father’s shoe store.

If you work at most retail stores, you have to deal with a lot of boxes, packages, and packing peanuts. One day, one of the other employees walked up to me with a packing peanut, looked me straight in the eye, and ate it.

I looked at him and said, “Are you messing with me?”

He said, “Try one!”

I cautiously put a packing peanut in my mouth and to my surprise, it dissolved almost immediately. It didn’t taste like much aside from a bit of starch. Turns out, they are in fact, made of corn starch. I ate a lot of them that summer, straight from the box. And look where I am today. I’m the greatest food writer that ever walked the face of this planet. That’s not saying very much.

So I said to myself, “Dannis Ree, puffy Cheetos are a really good snack if you basically want a salty cheese bomb in your hole. However, they are impossible to make at home. Do you think you can use these packing peanuts to make a quirky version that aspiring mommy bloggers can use to poison their shitty children?”

The answer is yes. My recipes can poison anybody. Except for me. I’m like the Rasputin of food bloggers.

Packing Peanut Cheetos Ingredients

For today’s experiment, I bought a giant bag of Eco-Flow Corn Starch Pellets, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Kernel Seasons Nacho Cheese Powder, and pure monosodium glutamate (MSG). 

You can purchase a giant bag of Eco-Flow Corn Starch Pellets at places like The Container Store for about five bucks. Since I did not want to carry the large bag around on public transporation, I hailed Uber for a driver.

“Hey, man,” he said. “Are you moving?”

I looked at him with some confusion until I realized what was in the giant bag next to me.

“No,” I said, laughing. “This is for my food blog. I’m trying to make puffy Cheetos at home.” I mean, come on. It was obvious what I was going to use them for.

“You serious?” he asked, looking at me suspiciously. I put one in my mouth and ate it. Then I handed him one and he cautiously took a bite.

“Huh,” he said. “It tastes like a Japanese rice cracker.”

I’d probably say getting a complete stranger to eat packing peanuts is one of the greatest achievements of my life.

Packing Peanut Regular Cheetos

While they aren’t exactly the same poo-shaped treat, biodegradable packing peanuts aren’t terribly far off from puffy Cheetos.

Plus, these packing peanuts are made out of corn, much like Cheetos are — but only with starch and no cornmeal.

Packing Peanut Water Test 1

If you don’t believe me, these things really do dissolve in water.

I let these sit for about a minute and swirled them around once.

Packing Peanut Water Test 2

The result basically looks like disintegrated toilet paper.

If you let it sit for even longer, they dissolve almost completely. Are you supposed to eat these things? No. Has that ever stopped me? No. They are technically non-toxic, but so is sidewalk chalk. But I’ll save that one for another day when I’m feeling really frisky and low on calcium.

Packing Peanut Oil Wok

To try and recreate the crisp yet light crunch of the Cheetos, I decided to try and deep-fry the packing peanuts with vegetable oil.

I do not own a fryer, because if I did, I would try to deep-fry pencils or something and burn my entire apartment building down with me in it. It would not be a great loss to the world, because in general, food writers are pretty useless when you think about it. We write about calories that are extruded out our asses out the next day. As I’ve said previously, never take a food writer too seriously. We’re just advertising a lifestyle you think you want.

I’m clearly doing a good job with mine.

Packing Peanut Deep Fry

Frying packing peanuts is not very easy.

These little troublemakers float and do not flip. Every time I tried to flip a peanut, it would just roll back over, fried side down, since it had soaked up oil through the bottom. People have been getting irritated by my incessant jokes about your mother, but if I were to insert one here, I’d probably talk about her supernatural ability to soak up oil through her bottom too.

I think I’ll focus on your father from now on. Dads just don’t get their bottoms oiled nearly enough.

Packing Peanut Nacho Powder

For flavoring, I bought two types of cheese powder.

One of them was a nacho cheese powder you can sprinkle onto popcorn at home, by a company called Kernel Season’s. It comes in a shaker for infantile tastebuds who can’t handle the regular taste of popcorn.

Packing Peanut Toss Nacho

If you’re coating fried items in seasoning, you have to do it right after they come right out of the oil, otherwise the seasoning won’t stick.

If you’re coating fried packing peanuts in store-bought nacho cheese powder, then I really wouldn’t be worried about proper technique too much.

Packing Peanut Deep Fry Comoplete

Both Harvey and Mr. Bee were getting a little upset that my blog experimentation has gotten this far.

As you can see, I did a really good job frying the packing peanuts, because they look exactly like Cheetos, if Cheetos were tiny fried dog turds. The texture wasn’t totally off, but man, packing peanuts soak up a ton of oil (considering they’re basically air sponges, that’s not a big surprise).

Plain puffed corn starch burns very easily, causing each bite to taste acrid, and nacho cheese powder does not taste like Cheetos at all — it’s spiced with things like dehydrated garlic and onion, and end up tasting slightly more of Doritos than Cheetos, but the fact that the puffs were burned really detracted from the whole fried packing peanut experience.

I asked myself why I was trying this again and I had no good answer.

Packing Peanut Pan Fry

Since the deep-frying method didn’t work so well, I decided to try and pan-fry the packing peanuts next, for a lighter texture.

Like the deep-frying method, the packing peanuts kept rolling over, heavy side down, so only one side ended up fried no matter how hard I tried shaking the pan.

Packing Peanut Macaroni Powder

Rather than use popcorn seasoning this time, I decided to use Kraft Macaroni and Cheese powder.

After snorting a bunch of it, I realized that Kraft Macaroni and Cheese powder does not taste much like cheese at all. It tastes like a salty vague dairy product that comes flaked off your father’s hairy ass.

Sentences like that last one are quickly turning me into a legend.

Packing Peanut Pan Fry Result

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese powder does not stick to packing peanuts very well.

These are really interesting life lessons. Explaining this kind of thing to people in person is very difficult sometimes. Everyone looks at me in horror when I recount the time I tried to cook a steak dinner in my clothes dryer.

Packing Peanut Pan Fry Complete

The color ended up being a lot closer to the real thing.

Taste-wise? It was still quite a bit off. Cheetos have such a distinct flavor that it’s hard to recreate the taste from cheap store-bought hacks. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese powder is like a hazy memory of cheese if the apocalypse happened and cheese stopped existing.

The key to puffy Cheetos, I’ve found, lies in the texture. While pan-frying the packing peanuts didn’t quite nail it, the texture was much closer. The outer texture had the right crispness in a thin shell, and the insides remained soft, but I had a feeling that was about as close as I’d get.

Packing Peanut Macaroni MSG

In order to give the homemade puffy Cheetos that really addictive flavor, I decided to spike the macaroni cheese powder with a dose of pure MSG.

It’s not labeled as MSG at the store, but you can actually buy monosodium glutamate in shakers by the salt in the grocery store. I bought McCormick’s Accent Flavor Enhancer, and despite what anyone says, there’s no proven link between MSG and health complications.

Packing Peanut Macaroni MSG Toss

After pan-frying another batch of packing peanuts, I mixed the nacho cheese dust with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese powder along with MSG, and gave it all a good toss.

Your father’s really good at tossing things too. Specifically salads. He tends to prefer mixed greens like arugula and baby kale, but he’s excellent with buttholes. I bet you guys are regretting complaining about the mother jokes now.

Again, the powder mixture didn’t stick too well, but after multiple batches of fried packing peanuts in vegetable oil, I stopped caring. Mainly about life in general.

Packing Peanut Macaroni MSG Toss Completed

The end product was the closest I think I’ll get to making homemade Cheetos (with the exception of the packing peanuts).

I know that the picture seems to show naked packing peanuts, but they kept rolling over even on the plate. The bottom of the mock Cheetos were actually coated in the salty cheese mixture, at least as well as could be expected. Was it super accurate? Not really — but it was closer than my last attempts. A combination of generic cheese along with spiced nacho powder and additional monosodium glutamate helped me inch closer to the holy grail of spongy crispy puffy Cheetos. The texture was still fairly far off, but I did what I could. I mean, come on. I tried to cook with biodegradable packing supplies that aren’t meant to be eaten in the first place.

I was still disappointed, but oh well. Eventually the sun will become a supernova and blast all traces of Earth away, along with this blog.

Packing Peanut Regular Finished

Just do yourself a favor and eat the addictive puffy Cheetos instead.

Do not fry packing supplies and coat them with anything labeled “cheese product.” Instead, strike up a conversation with someone across the country. Decide you like them, then spontaneously go visit, as if you’re in a twee romantic movie starring Joseph Gordon Leavitt and Zooey Deschanel. Have the greatest time of your life. Return home breathless and full of angst.

Then you can start frying packing peanuts.


  30 comments for “How to Make Puffy Cheetos at Home with Packing Peanuts

  1. Adam Habig
    June 14, 2016 at 10:46 AM

    What if you used Pam to coat them? Then maybe toss them in a bag with the cheese powder. Microwave? I need more experimentation. I think your new-found happiness is affecting your experimentation. Misery is your muse.

    • Dennis Lee
      June 14, 2016 at 11:29 AM

      I do not believe this experiment is over quite yet. The journey continues.

      • skullboy0
        June 14, 2016 at 12:51 PM

        What about baking instead of frying? You know, for health reasons.

        • Dennis Lee
          June 14, 2016 at 4:20 PM

          I seriously considered it! I had a feeling they’d burn very quickly that way, though I suppose I wouldn’t be able to help it no matter what since they are practically just air.

          • skullboy0
            June 14, 2016 at 8:17 PM

            & that is why you are a world-famous food blogger, & I am not

    • June 14, 2016 at 3:02 PM

      The first time I read this I forgot about the cooking spray and thought you meant Dennis’ unseen assistant, Pam

      • Dennis Lee
        June 14, 2016 at 4:23 PM

        Let’s not talk about Pam.

        She’s unseen.

  2. June 14, 2016 at 12:46 PM

    ROMANCE!!!! YEAAAH, DANNIIIISSS!!! <3 <3 <3 😀 😀 😀

    I just wanted to let you know, I ate my first biodegradable packing peanut when I was in middle school (not many peanuts followed after that). I had a huge bag of 'em (my friends and I were making costumes with them for a school project) and I had read somewhere that they were edible, so I licked one. Then I ate it. Then I told all my friends, "GUYS YOU CAN EAT THESE THINGS, THEY'RE MADE OF CORN, TRY IT!!!!" I thought it was awesome. I'm pretty sure none of my friends felt the same way, but whatever.

    Awesome post as always!

    • Dennis Lee
      June 14, 2016 at 4:19 PM

      Well, clearly I felt the same way. I’d forgotten about them until I walked by a UPS Store and a lightbulb went off in my head. Either that or it was the bath salts.

      And thank you!

  3. Peyton
    June 14, 2016 at 1:40 PM

    I feel the urge to correct you- the sun will not go supernova, instead it will expand until it’s a red giant and then form a planetary nebula, and finally a white dwarf. In any case, we will all be dead then.

    • Dennis Lee
      June 14, 2016 at 4:22 PM

      HI PEYTON!!!

      You know what? I knew that and you are totally right. I screwed up, but I’m going to keep my misinformation in the post due to dramatic effect. Remember, I’m n expert and I know everything about nothing.

  4. Emily
    June 14, 2016 at 1:51 PM

    Aw, romantic! Also, if you’re going to live out a movie plot, better it should be a twee romantic comedy than some sort of Phantom of the Opera sitch where you take a hot-oil-laden homemade Cheeto to the face. (Also also, I’m glad I’m not the only one who secretly likes the way packing peanuts taste. TOTALLY like Japanese rice crackers.)

    • Dennis Lee
      June 14, 2016 at 4:23 PM

      Em, knowing my luck, an errant bullet in Chicago will strike me in the nuts violently. This is how all romantic movies should start.

  5. Graham
    June 14, 2016 at 7:18 PM

    A wise man once told me: packing penis then packing peanuts. Congrats on the new relationship! Might want to air the clamato smell out of your apartment before she comes to Chicago though.

  6. Neurozach
    June 17, 2016 at 12:44 PM

    Just saw the headline, and sighed out a very sad “No, Dannis…”

    • Dennis Lee
      June 17, 2016 at 6:01 PM

      I did it anyway.

    • Neurozach
      June 17, 2016 at 8:06 PM

      Of course, then I READ the article, and find that it’s full of good news for everyone but my mom (You broke her HEART, Dannis Ree!). And fans of Cheetos. I never made it past one starch packing peanut back in middle school, because it was pretty nasty.

      I like the oven and spray oil suggestions. I was thinking that it might be good to start in the oven, then spray when they’re warm, toss back in the oven for a little bit, then toss in the outer coating.

      Have you considered just putting Cheetos in a food processor, and using them to coat their flavorless doppelgängers?

  7. Nathan
    August 10, 2016 at 11:26 AM

    While he intended it for popcorn, Alton brown actually made a pretty good attempt at cheeto powder:

  8. Erwin Green
    October 3, 2016 at 6:46 AM

    Almost like “Soylent Green” minus that special ingredient.

    • Dennis Lee
      November 6, 2016 at 3:46 PM

      It’s soy, right? That’s the ingredient. Or is it people? I get the two mixed up all the time.

  9. March 27, 2017 at 1:18 PM

    Your posts are so funny and interesting! (Where have you been all my life?) I love your experiments. I fricken love everything about your blog. Say hi to Harvey and Mr. Bee for me!

  10. Tony
    July 3, 2017 at 10:34 PM

    As a chef, I don’t think I’m supposed to like these packing peanuts. Now as I read through all of these comments, I find myself eating through almost a box of these puffy treats! I think they are just fine the way they are!

  11. Slimpy Greg
    December 10, 2017 at 7:12 PM

    Love the idea, but it makes me wonder; is there any record of anyone getting sick from eating biodegradable packing peanuts?
    I’m on a quest to find the blandest, most nutritionally-void snack food there is and these seem like an ideal candidate- except for the fact that it’s a pretty dumbass way to get hospitalized and/or die. Sure they’re not produced under “food-safe conditions,” but who wants to pass up the diet of a lifetime just based on that?

  12. Kristin Stone
    April 11, 2018 at 10:11 AM

    So I stumbled across this blog as I was trying to find out if my dog needed to go to the emergency vet after eating a whole (big!) box of these last night while we slept. He’s been sleeping for hours…I can only assume digesting two cubic feet of packing peanuts takes a lot out of you. I now feel relieved and so excited that I now have a decent food blog to read. Thanks!

  13. Raven
    May 24, 2019 at 2:49 AM

    Except that packing peanuts are actually made of styrofoam because they are literally styrofoam.

    • Steve
      June 5, 2019 at 11:43 PM

      Some are starch based. I wonder what would happen if one sprayed them with water before coating them in the cheese powder?

      • Jan
        April 30, 2020 at 1:06 PM

        The get soggy, sticky, gummy and then start to dissolve.

  14. August 17, 2019 at 4:56 PM

    This is amazing. Bravo! I have been under a rock until now. WOKE FO SHO!!

    My favorite line was “so they can feed them to their shitty kids”

    I was slightly aroused by that type of genius writing. Keep it going my good sir

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