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  • Writer's pictureScott Rotella

Nacho Cheese Dust: A versatile ingredient for great flavor!

Updated: Jan 4

Nacho Cheese dust and cheesy popcorn
Nacho cheese dust and cheesy popcorn

First, let’s start with a guilty admission. I love nacho cheese tortilla chips. I rarely eat them anymore, but they still hold a special place in my heart. I realized at one point that it was the cheesy, salty, spicy umami coating on the chips that I loved more than the chips themselves. Hmmm! Can I replicate that dust? I thought that would be a great addition to sprinkle on things like vegetables or popcorn. So I decided to try to make my own.

With the package in my hands, I started to write down ingredients from the bag. Of course, the list included generic things like “spices” so I had to use my tastebuds to try and decipher some things.

With an initial list of ingredients, I went to Amazon to get things like cheddar cheese powder and dehydrated tomato powder (I actually started with tomato bullion, but that was just too salty).

After much trial and error and taste tests, I landed on something I really liked… but it was certainly different from my beloved tortilla chip snack. I think the main difference is the lack of the corn flavor. I thought about addressing that, but then realized that I liked the “dust” as is–even though it was different.

Fast forward a few years and I have found many uses for the dust. My absolute favorite is sprinkled on lightly buttered popcorn. When I entertain, I always like to have some sort of nibbles around so that folks can munch a bit before appetizers. Nacho Cheese Dust popcorn fits the bill as one of my permanent nibbles. Sure, I may have some mixed nuts, or a pub mix or some small bowls of sesame sticks, but I now always have some popcorn available. People love it.

Making the nacho cheese dust


  • Cheddar cheese powder: This is the main ingredient, of course. I like this brand as it has just the right flavor. Buying a pound might seem like a lot, but trust me, you will find many uses.

  • Tomato Powder: I use this brand. I tried to dehydrate and grind my own, but my results were not as tasty.

  • Granulated Garlic

  • Granulated Onion

  • Chili powder

  • Sweet paprika

  • Black pepper: Make sure to use a fine grind.

  • Cumin

  • MSG: Do not be afraid of MSG. There is a very small percent of folks that have a slight allergic reaction to it. If you eat packaged foods and snacks or mushrooms or tomatoes or parmigiano, you already consume it.

  • Citric acid: This adds a nice tang to the dust. If you are looking for other uses for citric acid, check out my homemade margarita mix. You can also use it to clean and disinfect your dishwasher. Just run an empty load with this instead of your typical soap and it will be fresh and sparkling!

  • Salt: I do go light on salt as I use this dust for many things that may already be salted.


  • Mix all ingredients together and store in an air-tight container

Making cheesy popcorn

I like the ease of microwave popcorn. However, most commercial microwave popcorns contain ingredients that I do not want to consume. The most prominent is palm oil. Air popped is fine with a drizzle of butter, but I really don’t want another single use appliance that I need to store. Traditionally cooked popcorn in a covered pot works well also. I just find it a little messy and it does always have a slightly unpleasant oily flavor to me.

I purchased this microwave popcorn maker in the spring and love it. Yes, it is single use, but certainly much easier to collapse and tuck away than a large air popper.

It took me a couple of batches to find the right power level and cook time for my microwave. I assume you will need to experiment also. However, it couldn’t be easier. There are fill lines in the bottom. The first line is for your oil of choice–I use avocado oil. The second line is for your popcorn. The kernels matter so use a good one. I like Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet. Next you pop on the lid and place in the microwave. The popcorn cycle did not work for me. For my 1,000W microwave, I found that cooking at 90% power for 3 minutes is perfect. However, as stated, you will most likely make adjustments to this to match your microwave.

I also melt a few tablespoons of butter that I pour over the popcorn when it is done popping. I then stir it a bit and sprinkle with liberal amounts of nacho cheese dust before separating into serving containers that I can place around my entertaining area. Just remember to test for salt.

Other uses

  • Soup and chili: Not only does it add a cheese flavor, the spices really enhance things like tomato soup, baked potato soup, broccoli cheddar or any soup where a little cheese would be complementary.

  • Mac and Cheese: I love a good mac and cheese. I will share my fool-proof recipe and techniques later, but adding a sprinkle of nacho cheese dust really adds a nice flavor kick. It also works for other types of pasta.

  • Vegetables: Want to amp up your broccolini? Sprinkle some dust on it after you have tossed it with butter. I also really like it with roasted cauliflower.

  • Cheese balls: Although it seems that cheese balls are not as popular as they once were, I love a good cheese ball with a mix of flavors. I like to hand smear cream cheese with things like a little blue cheese, some freshly grated parmesan, a bit of grated cheddar, a sprinkle of nacho cheese dust plus a bit of granulated garlic and onion and a little salt. I then form it into a shape and cover it with some form of lightly toasted nuts–usually almonds. Yum!

  • Potatoes: In any form, from mashed to scalloped, this will take it to the next level.


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