This year on Black Friday I slept in and ate pie for breakfast. From then until a matinee showing of Harry Potter, I had time to kill, so I embarked upon a ruthless search for my first review topic. My strategy was to go where the crowd most definitely would not be: CVS.
Like all drug stores, CVS isn’t meant for the early, targeted bargain shopper. Drug stores are where the most terrible gifts are born around midnight every Christmas Eve. The Bumpits. The ShamWows. The best of the past year’s late night infomercial onslaught, proudly on display for the non-insomniac market, ready to proclaim, “The only thought I put into this was whether or not it would fit into this mostly mold-free, empty box I found in the basement yesterday. Happy frickin’ holidays!” On the biggest shopping day of the year, however, I saw maybe four or five people in the whole store who didn’t work there and weren’t related to me. It was consumer heaven.
Faced with many horrible convenience food options, some of which might technically be considered “dietary supplements” or “experimental chemical amalgams” rather than “food,” I felt a little like a sacrificial product sampling lamb — an experience I had hoped to stave off at least until my second review. Luckily, I took a last minute jaunt down the candy aisle, where I found all three varieties of Extra Dessert Delights sugar-free gum lined up like shining beacons of hope in the midst of a texture-impaired, corn syrupy storm.
I tore into the mint chocolate chip flavor first. Unwrapping the plastic released a surprising burst of what I would’ve assumed was real mint chocolate ice cream, if I’d kept my eyes closed. Inside, the gum appeared greenish blue and fairly nondescript. No chocolate flecks. No color swirls. No frills whatsoever.
At first chew, the stuff tastes like any other mint gum, but then it gets oddly cold, in this deeply unnatural yet refreshing way. It’s like slightly melted ice cream with a gum base. Given a few seconds of chewing, the chocolate finally kicks in. The whole process is very Willy Wonka. You’ll wonder what the hell is happening in your mouth until gradually you stop caring and settle into the delicious symphony of flavors and disconcerting chilliness (which I have to admit I’d miss had they not cooked up some creepy chemical way to include it). I feel like there’s another obvious joke to be made in correlation with that last statement, but I can’t quite wrap my head around it. Hmm, oh well.
The strawberry shortcake gum smelled authentic, too. I could definitely perceive the shortcake. Don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about. Go buy a package of shortcakes. Rip it open. Inhale. Now go smell this gum. I’ll wait and then, as your eyes grow wide and you acknowledge the accuracy of my account, I’ll say, “I know, right?”
I found myself suddenly transported back to Midwestern days of yore, picking strawberries right from the patch under the blazing June sun, wearing one of those cute little shirts that tied at the shoulders along with my heart-shaped sunglasses, my hands sticky with berry goop from accidentally grabbing rotten ones.
And – oh God, it’s so cold here! Southern California is broken! On top of that, I decided to hang a decorated glow-in-the-dark skeleton over the heater rather than have the gas turned on. I felt so bold back in the summer when I made that decision. I was tough, damn it – a gritty, blizzard-beaten Illinoisan through and through. But now it is December and I’m very worried about hypothermia. Word on the street is that it is quite the insidious killer.
Oh wait. Sorry. Gum.
The gum basically gave my mouth a brief vacation from reality without ever truly overwhelming my senses. The taste is a bit more muted than the mint chip kind, but pleasant. Mostly I got a sweet real strawberry flavor with hints of something more, but none of the bold shortcake experience promised by the gum’s aroma. I would’ve said this knocked it out of the park had I not just witnessed the spectacular home run blasted into the stratosphere by mint chip. Even so, this definitely manages to clear the wall somewhere far out in right field. It’s fair, people. Cue the fireworks. I wish it were at least April. Can you hear me weather gods? I’m willing to settle!
Finally, we come to my citrusy old friend, key lime pie. On Sunday, my brother-in-law knocked a bunch of limes off the tree in his backyard, prompting some spur-of-the-moment baking. Quite out of the blue, I had the real thing handy for comparison. Yay! The real thing definitely wins. Just putting that out there. I mean, seriously, the only way to make that pie fresher would’ve been to juice the limes straight from the tree, and that just seems unnecessary. On the flip side, this version has five calories. So there’s that.
The gum definitely does taste pie-like, following closely in the footsteps of its excellently rendered neighbors. The flavor is very middle-of-the-road family restaurant key lime pie, harkening back to a particular slice I consumed at the Bonanza in Mt. Vernon, Illinois back in the late nineties. I must say, it’s less daunting as a gum. I was a little leery of the lime flavor becoming monotonous and too sour, because I am a wimp. I’m sorry I ever doubt you, Extra. Please forgive me. It tastes like a Starburst with more longevity and no real sugar. I appreciate that even the pie on the box hasn’t been artificially dyed electric-green…ålike that pie at Bonanza. I only remember it so vividly because I found an entire old hot dog under my chair that same night. I wonder if that place is still around?
Anyway, you’re done reading now. Go try these gums, especially the choco-minty kind, unless you don’t like mint chocolate or happiness. Extra has blessed us all with holiday-levels of indulgence, minus the added layer of seasonal blubber. Even if you were to blow through a whole pack in one sitting (which I totally considered) that’s still twenty-five calories short of a single Double-Stuf Oreo.
(Nutrition Facts – 1 stick – 5 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of sodium, 2 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of sugar, 2 grams of sugar alcohol and 0 grams of protein.)
Item: Extra Dessert Delights Sugar Free Gum (Mint Chocolate Chip, Key Lime Pie, and Strawberry Shortcake)
Size: 15 sticks/pack
Purchased at: CVS
Rating: 10 out of 10 (Mint Chocolate Chip)
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Strawberry Shortcake)
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Key Lime Pie)
Pros: Pie for breakfast. Post-apocalyptic shopping situations. The Willy Wonka flavor presentation method. Five calorie desserts. Glow-in-the-dark skeletons. Shortcake. The chill of ice cream without subsequent tongue numbness. Fresh picked limes made into a pie. Starbursts you can chew on forever. Pretty much everything else about the mint chocolate chip variety. Warmth.
Cons: Last minute gifts. Corn syrup storms. The mystery of how it’s possible for gum to stay cold for twenty minutes. Grabbing rotten strawberries. Hypothermia. The shortcake element being a total tease. Most of my trips to Bonanza. Trying to juice a lime without picking it.