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What are Tater Tots?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Tater tots are a form of hash brown, developed by the Ore-Ida company in 1953. They are especially common in the United States, where they often appear in school lunches and at fast food restaurants. Outside of the United States, they can also be found labeled as “oven crunchies” or “potato pom-poms.” In addition to being available in some restaurants, these little cylinders of potato are often found in the frozen foods section of supermarkets, for consumers who would like to make them at home.

The name for the food emphasizes the small size and playful shape of tater tots. In American slang, “tater” is another word for a potato. The word is used in many parts of the American south, although it is reasonably well known in the rest of the country as well. A “tot” is a small child, and the word could have been used to reference the size of the food, or the fact that it is frequently served to children. Alternate names for the food include “potato tots,” for the more formally minded, or just “tots” as a form of shorthand.

To make them, potatoes are shredded and then compacted into bite-sized logs. Initially, they were developed as a way of using up the remainders from French fry cutting. The grated potatoes are then deep fried, so that they acquire a crispy exterior. Ketchup is a common accompaniment to tater tots, although other condiments may be used as well, depending on the region. Some cooks also prefer to bake the cylinders, making them a slightly lower fat food.

The fried potatoes tend to be especially popular with children, since they are designed as a finger food. Some adults also enjoy them, in part because they are a nostalgic food, evoking childhood memories. Variants may be made with other root vegetables as well, for a more interesting flavor, and they also sometimes appear in other shapes, such as flattened discs. Tater tots are also famously included in some classic American foods, such as the Midwestern hotdish.

It is certainly possible to make tater tots from scratch, although many consumers prefer to buy them frozen for convenience. The potatoes should be peeled, and then shredded or coarsely grated. The resulting potato shreds can be compacted by hand into the desired shape, and then fried or baked, depending on personal taste. Including a small amount of flour will help the potatoes to stay together, while adding salt and pepper spices up the flavor.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By JessiC — On Aug 25, 2011

My husband begged me recently to cook a dish that he was raised on called tator tot casserole.

I’ve got to tell you that I am not too keen on this dish myself, but he begged so hard that I conceded.

The only times I had ever had it, it was still partly frozen or the hamburger was freezer burned or all of the ingredients were not there (the person who always cooked for us wasn’t really big on cooking).

So, I set out to make an edible and tasty version of tater tot casserole. And believe it or not, it came out okay.

Instead of using all canned and dried ingredients, I went with at least some fresh.

Basically, it included fresh ground chuck (which I browned with a little beef broth), a bag of frozen tots, mushrooms, onions (dried and freshly diced), mushroom gravy and milk.

I sautéed the mushrooms and freshly diced onions. Then, I layered the bottom of an oiled baking dish three times over with tots, the sautéed veggies and hamburger.

I poured the mushroom gravy over it all and baked it for forty five minutes. I took it out, put the dehydrated onions on top and baked another five minutes for crispiness.

It was actually quite tasty.

By tlcJPC — On Aug 24, 2011

Has anyone ever tried sweet potato tater tots? I adore sweet potatoes, and actually live in sweet potato country where they are grown. However, this is one sweet potato dish I haven’t run across.

I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, and for people with that you do much better if you can avoid as many carbohydrates as possible. So, while tater tots are one of my favorite easy lunch time remedies, it is also bad for my health.

I’ve already replaced a lot of my regular potato dishes with sweet potato substitutes (sweet potato fries, sweet mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes) but the tots are still a mystery to me.

I’d love any feedback you could give on if they are tasty and whether or not my kids will eat them.

By snickerish — On Aug 23, 2011

@tolleranza - Great news - the infamous Ore Ida tater tots are gluten free! Apparently it is easy to find this information out; but one of the gluten free blogs I have seen has a blogger who actually wrote in to Ore Ida.

This blogger received a letter back that stated that the tater tots were gluten free. And in case you did not know - for a fabulous gluten free pair add Heinz ketchup! This ketchup, and I think quite a few others, are gluten free as well.

By tolleranza — On Aug 23, 2011

I have recently tried to go gluten free, and was curious if tater tots were gluten free?

It seems as though they should be, as they seem to be mostly potato (of course) and oil and probably some preservatives. Kind of like potato chips, which are usually gluten free as well. When you go gluten free you need some sort of easy accessible junk food and I was hoping to add tater tots to that list!

By Sinbad — On Aug 22, 2011

Sadly, I had not been around kids in a while and a friend of ours was bringing her two kids to come to our pool and swim and have lunch, and my husband and I were not sure what to feed them.

So as we walked down the grocery aisle we looked for what we thought were kid friendly foods. Both of us stopped immediately when we saw tater tots! I think they were oreida tater tots as they almost looked like they were in the same package as when we were kids.

Needless to say we bought the tater tots and were very excited to have them for the kids. The kids were not as excited as we had hoped and were a little frightened of the oddly shaped cylindrical potato.

No worries, my husband and I ate them all and relived our childhood memories without worrying a bit about how many tater tots calories we had consumed.

But it leaves me to ask - do kids still eat tater tots or is it all adults buying them to relive their childhood memories?

By golf07 — On Aug 21, 2011

I am trying to eat a much healthier diet than I have in the past, and one of the things I gave up first was fried foods. Even before I started eating healthier, I always wondered how many calories were in tater tots.

It seemed like my fingers were always greasy after eating them, and knew they probably weren't very healthy for me. There are only about 20 calories in one tater tot, but the problem with that is - who eats just one?

I could mindlessly finish off a bowl of tater tots and not even consider who many calories I just consumed. When they are crisp and seasoned just right, they can be as addicting as eating potato chips.

By SarahSon — On Aug 20, 2011

I like to cook and make a lot of things from scratch. I have several recipes using tater tots for a topping, so thought I would try making my own.

A quick search online and I found quite a few recipes showing me how to make my own tater tots. They turned out OK, but they seemed to take forever to make.

At least I can say that I have made my own tater tots, but since then I have always bought the ones that are already made. They are so economical and much less time consuming than making your own!

By orangey03 — On Aug 20, 2011

My boyfriend loves loaded tater tots. They are covered with cheese, sour cream, and bits of bacon.

I know this is abnormal, but I hate both cheese and sour cream. So, even the smell of these tater tots turns my stomach.

To me, tater tots have enough flavor that they don’t need anything added to them. However, I will admit that bacon bits with tater tots sounds yummy.

I think that if I made my own tater tots, I would cook some bacon, shred it up, and pack it into the logs before baking them. That way, the bits would not need cheese to keep them from falling off the top.

By cloudel — On Aug 19, 2011

Tater tots remind me of happy times as a teenager. I often went to slumber parties, and we would have them for a late night snack.

My friend’s mother who hosted the parties bought frozen tater tots so that we could heat them up and eat them ourselves after she had gone to bed. We were craving something sweet and salty, so we decided to dip them in chocolate.

We heated up some chocolate chips in the microwave until they melted. We poured the dip onto each of our plates beside the tater tots. We all agreed that it hit the spot.

By Perdido — On Aug 18, 2011

If you like to eat your meat and vegetables in one dish, then you might like tater tot casserole. It’s easy to make and full of flavor.

I put a bit of olive oil, a pound of ground beef, and half a cup of a chopped onion in a skillet and cook it until the meat browns. Then, I drain the juices off and put the meat and onion in a two quart casserole dish.

I pour a can of cream of celery soup over the meat. Then, I place the tater tots on top in a single layer.

I bake the casserole for forty-five minutes at 375 degrees. It is a very satisfying meal.

By kylee07drg — On Aug 18, 2011

@sunshine31 - I sometimes long for the days when I didn’t think of calories. The lunchroom at my school frequently served tater tots as well, and I looked forward to the days that they were on the menu.

Over the past few years, I have cut a lot of fat and greasy foods out of my diet. Now, when I eat a tater tot from a fast food restaurant, it makes my stomach feel a bit nauseated. My body is not used to all that grease that they are deep fried in anymore.

These days, lunchrooms are serving baked tater tots instead of fried ones. They are so much more health conscious now than when I was in school.

I have tried baked tater tots at home, and they are really quite good. They go well with grilled chicken sandwiches or broiled fish fillets.

By sunshine31 — On Aug 18, 2011

I remember when I was elementary school we used to have tater tots with Salisbury steak and I used to love it. I would always add ketchup on it and never thought twice about the calories in tater tots.

Now I don’t eat them because they are a little fattening and if I am going to indulge in the calories I would rather have French Fries instead.

I read that nine pieces of tater tots have about 160 calories. This is for the store bought brand. I am not even talking about calories in Sonic's tater tots which have about 225 calories per serving.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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