History of Funyuns


© History Oasis

As the 1960s drew to a close amidst great societal upheavals—the Vietnam War, civil rights movements, the first moon landing—an ingenious snack was born that would become an iconic pillar of pop culture for generations: Funyuns.

In 1969, when seismic shifts were reshaping America's ideals, landscape and appetite, astute Frito-Lay food scientist George Wade Bigner tapped into the zeitgeist by creating a revolutionary new snack marrying whimsy, escapism and defiant nonconformity under one audacious oniony mantle—ushering in the unrollable history of Funyuns.

This beloved encircled snack emerged from tensions of the times to become the improbable fried onion-flavored cornmeal treat that has deliciously imprinted itself on multiple eras of snacking history.


Funyuns ad
Source: Frito-Lay

The origins Funyuns snack dates back to 1969 when they sprung forth from the inventive mind of George Wade Bigner, an industrious employee of the Frito-Lay (subsidiary of PepsiCo).

Though little is recorded of Mr. Bigner's early life, we know he had a fascination with novel snacks and bold flavors stemmed from his upbringing in the small town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

Known for its hot springs and arid climate, this distinctive desert community likely influenced the young Bigner's appreciation for pungent onions and zesty spices.

As an adult, George Wade Bigner channeled this penchant for intense flavors into his work as a chemical engineer for the food processing giant Frito-Lay.

Though the mid-century American appetite leaned towards hearty yet bland starch-based snacks, Bigner dreamed bigger. He envisioned a snack that married the satisfying crunch of fried cornmeal with the intrigue of onions—a daring and unprecedented combination for the era.

In 1969, after months spent tinkering and testing in Frito-Lay's flavor innovation labs, Bigner finalized the formula for his masterpiece snack.

With the hearty base of cornmeal and a liberally applied seasoning mix of salt and onion powder, the quintessential Funyun flavor was born.

Bigner's ingenious use of an extrusion process to shape the snacks into rings was the final touch, mimicking the aesthetic of beloved onion rings while still retaining crispy bite.


Source: General Mills

When cornmeal mastermind George Wade Bigner first conceived his revolutionary onion-flavored ring-shaped snack in 1969, he dubbed his creation "OnYums"—a seemingly fitting moniker for an onion-y delicious treat.

However, as Bigner prepared to take his snacks to market under this catchy appellation, tragedy struck!

Legal documents reveal that just months before Funyuns' slated launch, Bigner made the shocking discovery that the trademark for "OnYums" already belonged to snack food competitor General Mills.

A frenzy of chaos no doubt ensued behind Frito-Lay's closed doors as Bigner and executives scrambled to ideate a new brand worthy of the snack.

Focus groups were hastily assembled, naming contests held amongst staff, and desperate late night brainstorming sessions called to resolve this unexpected calamity.

Finally, as if guided by the Divine hands of Lady Luck herself, a new name emerged: Funyuns!

Evoking whimsy and playful enjoyment, it was the perfect epithet to emblazon on Bigner's bags of fried cornmeal and oniony zest. The newly christened Funyuns burst onto shelves only months after their trademark turmoil first erupted.


portrait of Susan Chrisie
© History Oasis

The initial television promotional campaigns for Funyuns did make quite peculiar use of the song "I Love Onions" by the charming songstress Susan Christie.

As jingles go, it was hardly what Madison Avenue executives would have envisioned to appeal to heartland American households in 1969.

Christie's track, released just years prior, has all the markers of an eccentric novelty tune meant for hip urbanites, not supermarket shoppers.

Her warbly vocals effuse knee-slapping proclamations of passion for the humble onion set against twangy orchestral strings and odd electronic beeps.

It was hardly the sausage-frying, hee-hawing country song most might envision selling an onion-flavored corn snack. But therein lay the odd brilliance!

Those first Funyuns television spots featuring Christie as a ditzy onion-worshiping convert must have leapt from screens to sear themselves unto viewer memory banks.

In the effects-studios echo chambers where those Spock-banged haunting lyrics dwelled, moms and tots alike were introduced to Bigner’s peculiar new snack.

As they casually lip-synched “Onions, onions I love them, every kind of onion,” a craving was surely sparked for Funyuns’ curious crunch.


Funyuns spicy queso
Source: Frito-Lay

Funyuns has had its fair share of hit-or-miss dalliances with exotic flavors over the years. This adventurous spirit of innovation has birthed some peculiar limited-batch varieties which have beguiled and befuddled fans alike!

The curious case of Wasabi Funyuns in the early 2000s certainly lives on in infamy.

On paper, one can grasp the logic of blending the beloved split onion burn of Funyuns with the nose-tingling jolt of Japanese horseradish. But in execution, the clash of flavors was a startling bridge too far for many palates.

Reviews from the brief time Wasabi Funyuns graced shelves range from “intriguing texture, questionable taste” to the more adamant “holesome abomination!”

Their run was short-lived, but they’ve earned a cult following as one of Funyuns’ boldest missteps.

Equally eyebrow-raising were 2015’s Steakhouse Onion Funyuns, which aimed to elevate the humble onion ring essence of the original to luxurious smoked cheddar and A1 Steak Sauce flavor profiles.

Another swing-and-a-miss for fans, but an A for effort in this historian’s book!

While some novelty flavors have tanked, others like the recent Spicy Queso Funyuns have better struck that elusive balance between innovation and integrity to brand identity.


Source: Frito-Lay

As Funyuns mania reached fever pitch stateside in the early 1970s, parent company Frito-Lay set sights on sharing creator George Wade Bigner’s fried onion rings with snack enthusiasts the world over.

But they wisely knew that to win foreign hearts and taste buds, Funyuns would need more than a mere translation—they required cultural adaptation.

Thus when Funyuns landed on Brazilian store shelves in the late 1970s, they shed their Yankee name for a new local identity: Cebolitos!

Roughly meaning “little onions” in Portuguese, the snack’s new handle aligned seamlessly with the South American palate’s love of fresh, flavorful cebolas.

The name Cebolitos conveyed quaint diminutiveness, hinting at the cute onion ring form factor so central to Funyuns’ visual appeal.

More importantly, it nodded to the iconic status onions hold in Brazilian cooking tradition through dishes like cebola caramelada. By adopting a Portuguese name, Funyuns forged an intimate link with the essence of Brazilian flavor identity itself!