Why Are Tortilla And Nacho Chips Triangular? (The Story)

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Tortilla chips and nacho chips are two of the most famous kind to date! They are extremely versatile in how you can use them, come in a wide variety of flavors, and can even easily be made at home.

But have you ever wondered why tortilla and nacho chips are triangular? The simplest answer is because of tradition. Rebecca Carranza famously cut up misshaped tortillas into triangles before deep-frying them in oil. 

They became an instant hit and ever since have been produced globally by the millions! While you do get other shapes today, the most traditional will always stay triangular.

Today, we will explore the history behind the world-famous chips. From how they came about, how they have changed since, and how they actually differ.

We’ve also included a guide so that you can learn how to make these chips at home from scratch!

What Exactly Are Tortilla Chips And Nacho Chips? Are They The Same?

With so many different variations of tortilla or nachos chips, it’s no wonder that people get confused about what exactly they are.

So first things first, nacho chips and tortilla chips are actually (technically) not the same thing. Let’s start with nacho chips.

Nacho chips are chips that are ONLY used to make nachos. They are always made from a corn-based chip mixture and often flavored with a cheese spice or taco seasoning.

More often than not, they are shaped into triangles. It is rare that you will find round nacho chips.

Then, you get tortilla chips. These are sometimes one of the main ingredients used to make nachos.

However, the main difference between them and nacho chips is that they can be made from a corn base OR a flour base. 

Tortilla chips arguably also offer more options because they come in many different flavors, shapes, and sizes. 

These chips can not only be used to make nachos but can be served as a snack with some salsa, used in baked cheesy casseroles for texture, and used as a crumbly topping for other Tex-Mex dishes.

So, while both of these chips have many similarities and are often used interchangeably, it’s important to know that they are technically not the same.

Why Are Tortilla And Nacho Chips Triangular?

So, here’s why it’s important to note that they are not the same. It helps explain how this unique shape came about.

It is believed that the triangular shape of these chips was accidentally discovered in 1940. Rebecca Webb Carranza worked at her family-owned and operated tortilla manufacturing factory.

When they initially used the automatic tortilla manufacturing machine, they were left with a bunch of rejects!

The tortillas came out completely misshapen, rendering them useless and unsellable.

So, as any reasonable person would, she took them home. Apart from their shape, there was nothing wrong with them.

The broken tortillas were cut into smaller triangular shapes and deep-fried in oil.

Then, she served them as snacks to her family for dinner and they instantly became a hit!

Ever since they have produced tortilla chips and Rebecca actually received many awards as a pioneer of Mexican cuisine and products.

Unfortunately, despite what many people think, these weren’t indigenous snacks that were passed down through many generations in a family.

They were pure accidental creations that ended up taking the world by storm!

Are Tortilla Chips Still Produced This Way Today?

Because these chips became such a staple ingredient in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, they aren’t really produced from flawed tortillas anymore.

The demand is so incredibly high that they are purposefully made and shaped in this unique way.

However, there are still many smaller companies that do use off-cuts or misshapen tortillas to produce small-batch tortillas or nacho chips.

Most tortilla chips though, are made similar to the video below:

Are They Functional?

There are many arguments that you can make that say “Yes, they are functional” or “No, the shape is just very fun.”

We personally, like many others, believe that the shape is purely for aesthetics and tradition.

It’s what makes nacho chips and tortilla chips instantly recognizable.

Plus, it makes them stand out above other corn-based chips, like Doritos.

Now, what we will say is that it does seem SLIGHTLY easier to pick up toppings with a  triangular corn chip than a round one.

The sharp tip makes it easy to insert into thick sauces and heavy toppings.

That being said, the tips also tend to break off a lot easier.

So, are they the superior shape when it comes to functionality? 

Probably not.

If you are looking for a functional chip, just buy from a brand that offers thick ones. The shape will really not change the outcome THAT much.

Plus, you often pay more for non-traditional tortilla and nacho chip shapes – basically anything that isn’t triangular.

Do You Get Other Shapes Of These Chips?

As we’ve briefly mentioned before, you do get other chip shapes.

More often than not, nacho chips are triangular.

Tortilla chips, on the other hand, do come in a couple of different shapes. Again, traditionally they are triangles.

However, you can find some that are round, squares, rectangles, and even novelty shapes like stars or hearts.

How To Make Triangle Tortilla Chips At Home

Making tortilla chips is extremely easy. You can also make nacho chips at home using corn-based tortilla wraps.

However, these are more difficult to find in some parts of the world, PLUS they are generally more expensive than flour-based tortilla wraps.

What You Will Need

To start, you will need some tortilla wraps. We like buying large ones because you can make more at a time and in much less time. 

Again, you can buy corn or flour tortillas. Just make sure that they are good quality and relatively thick. Thin tortillas make thin chips, which are fragile and break apart VERY easily.

Next, you will need a seasoning spice or mix. This can be anything as simple as salt and pepper or something a little more complex like a Cajun spice mix or Taco seasoning. It’s up to your preference.

And finally, you need a deep-fryer or air-fryer. Obviously, air-fried tortillas or nacho chips are much healthier.

However, they won’t have that unique golden brown color that a deep-fryer gives – unless you coat the tortilla triangles with oil.

Some handy tools to have to include a plate covered with layers of paper towel to drain the excess oil.

Step By Step Guide

1. Preheat your deep-fryer or air fryer to 350⁰F (180⁰C).

2. Place the tortillas on a chopping board. You can stack them on each other.

3. Use a very sharp chef’s knife and cut the round tortillas into triangles. It’s easiest to create large diamond shapes and cut them in half.

4. Once cut, separate the layers from each other. As you do, place them directly into the deep-fryer or inside the air-frying basket.

5. If you are deep-frying, leave the chips to cook until they become golden brown and crispy. This takes roughly 1-3 minutes. If you are using the air fryer, leave them to fry for 2-3 minutes or until they are crispy.

6. Once cooked, drain the excess oil on some paper towel. 

7. Season the crispy tortilla or nacho chips with the seasoning of your choice. Remember, nacho chips usually have a cheesy seasoning.

8. Serve these chips warm or completely cooled.

Tips And Tricks

You can play around with the size of the nacho or tortilla chips that you are making. Personally, we like them slightly bigger than the traditional size.

This makes it easier to get more fillings, sauce, and toppings in each bite.

To store these chips, place them in air airtight container and leave them at room temperature. Always store chips in a cool and dark place, away from any direct sunlight.

These elements will make them stale or soggy very quickly.

Related Questions

Why are tortilla chips called nacho chips?

As mentioned, tortilla chips and nacho chips are very similar in nature and are often used interchangeably.

However, some do believe that the name comes from the chef who originally created nachos, Chef Ignachio.

He fried up tortilla chips, added a generous topping of cheese sauce, and a final thin layer of sliced jalapenos.

Are Doritos nacho chips?

Kind of, but not really. Doritos are corn-based tortilla chips that come with a wide variety of seasonings.

While they may have originally been intended as nacho or tortilla chips, they’ve become so heavily seasoned, they are simply sold and marketed as chips.

In contrast, tortillas and nacho chips aren’t as heavily spiced.

Why are some tortilla chips curved?

Not all tortillas and nacho chips are curved. Some manufacturers shape the chips this way intentionally though.

This is to help the scooping process and allow the tortilla chip to hold more filling. 

I know personally that I don’t always go for the triangle tortilla chips if I’m hosting a party.

I’d instead rather use chips like the ones you see to the right so that people can really get a big scoop of whatever salsa or dip I’ve made!

I hope that you learned something today about why tortilla chips and nacho chips are triangles!

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