Tater Tot

Napoleon Dynamite

A tater tot is a side dish made from deep-fried, grated potatoes. They are widely recognized by their crispness and cylindrical shape. Tater Tots is a registered trademark of Ore-Ida (a division of the HJ Heinz Company), which has become genericized.

The product was created in 1953 when Ore-Ida founders F. Nephi Grigg and Golden Grigg were trying to figure out what to do with leftover slivers of cut-up potatoes, which at the time was being sold to feed livestock at low margins. They chopped up the slivers, added flour and seasoning, then pushed the mash through holes and sliced off pieces of the extruded mixture. The product was first offered in stores in 1956.

Originally, the product was very inexpensive. According to advertising lectures at Iowa State University, people did not buy it at first because there was no perceived value. When the price was raised, sales increased. Today, Americans consume approximately 70 million pounds of tater tots per year.

When the tater tot product was first produced, there was no name for them. The owners of Ore-Ida decided to hold a contest among the employees that would help determine the product name. Clora Lay Orton, then a young house mother, submitted the name ‘tater tots.’ The name was a hit and she won the contest.

In the US, tater tots are common at school-lunch counters and cafeterias. The supermarket chain Safeway Inc. sells a generic brand of tater tots known as ‘Tater Treats.’ Sonic drive-in also features tater tots on their regular menu; available toppings include cheese and chili. Several restaurants in the Pacific Northwest offer a nacho version of tots (‘totchos’), covered in nacho cheese sauce and toppings.

In the Midwest states, ‘Tater Tot Hotdish’ is a very popular soup-based casserole consisting of tater tots, ground beef, and various vegetables. In some areas of the Northeast, however, they are often called ‘juliennes’ or ‘potato puffs.’ In Australia, tater tots are known as ‘potato gems,’ ‘potato royals,’ or ‘potato pom-poms’ (also used in New Zealand). In Canada, McCain Foods Limited calls its line ‘Tasti Taters.’

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