ByMary Patterson Broome/Updated: Feb. 2, 2023 1:50 pm EST
Cheez-Its have been a fixture in the world of convenient, prepackaged snacking for nearly 100 years (that's a whole lotta cracker chomping). Whether in your cafeteria's vending machine or your mom's junk food pantry, they were and continue to be a cheesy, crunchy presence. Cheez-Its are as American as apple pie or spending way too much money at Target. It's hard to explain why they're more than just a cracker. Is it that surprisingly satisfying burnt aftertaste? The subtle greasiness? All we know is they taste like home and we love 'em.
Since they've always been around, it's easy to not think about the ups and downs they've experienced as an enduring, beloved snack cracker. There's some interesting history behind Cheez-Its, and plenty of trivia-worthy fun facts for your next cocktail party. Here's all the cool stuff you might not have known about the food that was responsible for oh-so-many crumbs in your mom's minivan growing up.
They've been owned by four different companies
The first Cheez-Its were made by a Dayton, Ohio cracker manufacturer called Green & Green Company in 1921. Green & Green was run by Weston Green, his father, John, and his brother, Joseph. The fam was so good at making crackers that they had several patents related to perfecting the snack, such as cracker coatings and a "baking article" to give the crackers the just-right crispness. Thank goodness there are people out there passionate enough about crackers to invent ways to make them better — can you imagine a world with the perfection that is Cheez-Its?
In 1930, after Weston Green had passed away, Green & Green Company was purchased by Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company. Loose-Wiles then became Sunshine Biscuit Company, AKA Sunshine Co. The infamous Sunshine label that we all know and love remained on the Cheez-It box even after Keebler acquired Sunshine in 1996, and even still after Kellogg's acquired Keebler in 2001. The box got a fresh look in 2015 and as a result, its Sunshine roots aren't as prominent. While owners and packaging may change, it seems the staying power of this tasty cracker surpasses all labels.
The company that started Cheez-Its supplied food during World War I
Before they introduced the world to Cheez-Its, the snack's original company, Green & Green, was already a pretty prominent figure in the world of cracker-like products. The Green family apparently really loved their crunchy carbs, and put their passion to noble use, too. During the first World War, Green & Green Company supplied the United States military with a cracker-like bread — a jaw-dropping 6.5 million pounds of it — for soldiers to consume.
The cracker-esque bread was known as hardtack (which sounds like the way you'd describe a horse who grew up in a rough neighborhood, but we digress). The food was popular among U.S. troops because Green & Green created special tins that were so durable they kept the hardtack edible and tasty in less than ideal conditions. So while Cheez-Its ultimately earned Green & Green a place in history, their supplying of a necessity during a time of turmoil in our country should also not be forgotten.
The cheese is real but not the primary ingredient
You probably already knew there is nothing fake about the cheese in Cheez-Its. Kellogg's launched a huge ad campaignin 2010 that aimed to really hammer over the heads of consumers that the "cheez" in Cheez-It crackers is, in fact, cheese, as in the real deal dairy product we all know and love. Of course, we believe you, Kellogg's, but that doesn't change the fact that cheese is not the dominant ingredient in the cracker. The ingredient list confirms that the flour and vegetable oil in each Cheez-It trump the cheese.
Not to throw shade, but Goldfish Crackers put cheese above vegetable oil in their ingredient list, right after flour. However, Cheese Nips (the long-time ultra nemesis of Cheez-It crackers — at least in our minds... they're probably super respectful to each other at cheese cracker conventions and parties) are more akin to the ingredient breakdown of Cheez-Its, with flour and oil existing in greater amounts than cheese.
What we're getting at is, if cheese is all you're after, you're better off buying a hunk of it to gnaw on. Just appreciate the Cheez-It cheese cracker for what it is: a cracker with some cheese artfully baked into it.
They're technically not square-shaped
Some people go with the birth of Jesus Christ, but we like to divide time between before and after we learned that a Cheez-It cracker is not actually a square. We know... it's a lot to digest, take as much time as you need. The size of the original, classic Cheez-It cracker is 26 by 24 millimeters. So technically, it's a rectangle, albeit a subtle one. Despite its rectangular status, the Cheez-It is often wrongfully described as a square-shaped cracker.
To be fair, the original Cheez-Its do, at first glance, more closely resemble a square than some of the brand's newer incarnations like Cheez-It Grooves and Cheez-It Snap'd. Maybe thinking of the first version of a Cheez-It as "the square one" helps to keep things straight in the face of so many variations of Cheez-It flavors and shapes. Thankfully, the slight difference in millimeters on two of the four original Cheez-It crackers' sides have no effect on the taste or endless snacking potential of the cracker.
The color isn't actually from the cheese
Most snackers assume the orange tint of the Cheez-Its they're munching on is coming from the (duh) real cheese they contain. While that's partially true, it's not the whole truth. In the ingredients list for the Cheez-It Original crackers, it breaks down the components of the cheese, and one of them isannatto extract color. Annatto extract color is a natural food dye, so while technically the cheese in these crackers isn't providing the color, it does contain an added ingredient that enhances it. The other ingredient responsible for the iconic Cheez-It color?The signature spice of the original-flavored, first-born Cheez-It —paprika. It all makes sense now, doesn't it? The ingredients include both paprika and paprika extract color that contribute to that iconic flavor and color.
While paprika is present in some of the other flavors, like Cheez-It Cheddar Jack, it's most firmly associated as the stand-out flavor in the Cheez-It Original cracker. (It's worth noting thatCheez-It White Cheddar,Cheez-It Pepper Jack,andCheez-It Italian Four Cheeseflavors do not contain paprika or cheese with annatto color added, which makes sense given their lack of orange-ness and classic flavor.)
Cheese may be the star of the show but paprika and annatto are clearly the wizards behind the curtain for these orange-hued boxed delights.
Kellogg's was sued over whole grain Cheez-Its
Cheez-Its haven't been free of controversy in their almost 100-year history. In 2016, their parent company Kellogg's was sued by the whole grain police. Okay, there is no such thing as the "whole grain police" but there was a group of Cheez-It consumers in New York and California that had some fighting words when Cheez-It tried to start selling a "whole grain" version of its pristinely reputed cheese crackers.
The plaintiffs alleged that the ingredient list on the box revealed the primary flour in the whole grain version was enriched white flour. While whole wheat flour also showed up on the list, it was below the white stuff. Further, they claimed that a side-by-side comparison of the original and whole grain Cheez-Its clearly confirm they're samsies when it comes to nutritional content, with the exception being one gram of dietary fiber present in the whole grain ones.
The district court eventually agreed with Kellogg's response, which was a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. But things got revived in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in December 2018, when they deemed the district court to be in error dismissing the lawsuit and allowed the plaintiffs to resume their lawsuit. So Kellogg's is back in hot water over their whole grain label. Though they should obviously be held accountable, who is honestly looking to Cheez-Its to get their whole grain needs met?
A former NYC mayor was called a hypocrite for eating them
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
It's all fun, games, and trans fats bans, until you're busted with a bag of Cheez-Its on your desk. In 2007, Wiredinterviewed then-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. The black and white photo accompanying the Q&A piece showcased a snack-size bag of Cheez-Its on the mayor's desk, and news outlets called him out on it. Why was the presence of Cheez-Its in his office so controversial? He had led the charge to ban the city's restaurants from using trans fats in 2006.
Then and now Cheez-Its claims zero trans fats on its nutritional content. However, the FDA, when it created rules around trans fat labeling, allows for a company to say its product has zero grams of trans fat if the amount is less than half a gram of trans fat. So, while on today's label, the vegetable oil in Cheez-Its is not labeled hydrogenated (which is an adjective that's usually code for artificial trans fat), at the time of Mayor Bloomberg's blunder, the ingredient list did include "partially hydrogenated soybean oil."
The press didn't look good for the mayor or Cheez-Its, who never asked to be dragged into the trans fat debate to begin with.
They stashed a year's worth of crackers in a secret bunker
The brand behind Cheez-Its has had some creative advertising ideas over the years. Remember the videos where a doctor was determining if cheese rounds were mature enough to go into the crackers? They took PR to another level in early 2019 when they hid a year's supply of Cheez-It Snap'd crackers in a bunker in an undisclosed location in New York City.
It was basically a city-wide scavenger hunt fueled by clues to the bunker's location gradually leaked on Twitter. The clues ultimately led to the location of the grand prize, but the location was revealed only after participants stepped on the correct sequence of "pressure-sensitive tiles."
The winner did indeed get herself a legit one year supply of Cheez-Its. While she can't take a load off in the actual bunker now that's she's won, she did get some of the other non-cracker stuff in it like a beanbag chair, TV, headphones, and gift cards. Bravo to Cheez-Its for keeping their promos creative. How can you not want to eat something when it involves a boatload of it in a cool hidden bunker?
Their box can be used as a weapon
The Cheez-It box does not come with a warning label for potential eye injuries, but maybe they should reconsider that policy. In 2010, a Florida man was arrested and charged with "battery and violation of an injunction" because police reported he hurled a box of Cheez-Its at his wife. The result was injury to her eye. Andy Gatz, the alleged Cheez-It box thrower, was apparently upset with his significant other because she attended an Earth Day concert in Orlando. Earth Day usually brings out the best in all of us but this clearly wasn't the case with Gatz. As a result, Cheez-Its temporarily took on a villain status that we're sure they'd like to forget.
But that wasn't the only occasion when Cheez-Its were involved in a domestic dispute. In February of 2019, a man allegedly set a home containing his mother and brother on fire in Atlanta, Georgia after an argument. The start of the fight that led this man to retaliate with fire was supposedly a disagreement over a box of Cheez-Its.
Both these incidents are the rare occurrences in which Cheez-Its somehow caused more harm than good. While they might have been accessories or incentives for crime, they certainly didn't intend to be. Snack at your own risk, nonetheless.