REVIEW: Limited Edition Strawberry Cheerios Cereal

Limited Edition Strawberry Cheerios Cereal

If you were to put a gun to my head and demand I rank every single Cheerios flavor in history, my first thought would be, why are you willing to kill me over something as trivial as one man’s opinion on a toasted oat cereal?

And then I’d proceed to rattle off the definitive guide to 22 flavors.

Apple Cinnamon Cheerios would be up there. So would Peanut Butter Multigrain Cheerios. And, being the purist that I am, I wouldn’t forget the golden bee of Honey Nut Cheerios.

But at the very top? The discontinued Strawberry Yogurt Burst Cheerios.

Taken off shelves sometime in the past three years, but long adored by adults and kids alike, the sweet strawberry notes of the O’s still haunt me. Yeah, I could get Fruity Cheerios and just eat the red ones, but it’s not the same. If Cheerios can give spelt, quinoa, and other ancient grains their own box, then America’s favorite berry should have its own flavor.

Thankfully, General Mills has finally taken note, albeit in a limited edition role with the new Strawberry Cheerios.

Just writing “limited edition” makes me want to sift through pages of Google search results for a viable answer to “how to freeze time” so I can endlessly replay the moment when my milky spoonful of red-freckled oat rings embraced my taste buds like a cold strawberry shake on a warm spring day.

Yes, Strawberry Cheerios are that good.

Those who fondly recall Berry Burst Cheerios will be filled with poetic memories of the subtly sweet strawberry flavor, oatey crunch, and sophisticated tart aftertaste of the bygone classic. Eaten dry, the new Strawberry Cheerios have an ideal combination of strawberry flavor (emphasis on the straw, as opposed to just vague berry; although, now that I think about it, don’t think about eating straw. That’s freaking disgusting) and wholesome Cheerios taste.

Limited Edition Strawberry Cheerios Cereal 2

There’s a wonderfully sturdy crunch in each oat ring — more crunch than the standard Cheerio — but unlike past Cheerios flavors, Strawberry Cheerios has no identifiable defect. Gone are styrofoamy freeze-dried fruit; banished are fake palm kernel oil yogurt coatings; and exiled are the annoying original Cheerios that taste like insipid islands of plainness amidst an ocean of strawberry islands.

They also get better in milk.

Limited Edition Strawberry Cheerios Cereal 3

The strong strawberry tartness in the aftertaste dissipates, replaced by mellow yet sweet flavor that, when enjoyed in the presence of whole milk, takes on notes of milkshake or ice cream. The gluten-free oat rings stay crunchy even through a long soak, slowly giving away their sweetness to a light red bowl of pure strawberry milk.

If you’re going to put a gun to my head and demand I give you one slight suggestion of improvement for the new Strawberry Cheerios, I’d admit they could be a little sweeter, since I recently figured out how awesome macerated strawberries taste. But it’s hard to nitpick, especially with how accurate Cheerios nailed the strawberry flavor. Are Strawberry Cheerios the best of the now 23 Cheerios varieties that have been created? It’s tough to say, but if you’re going to demand an answer from me, I’d say they’re up there, and are probably the purest, tastiest strawberry cereal on the market.

(Nutrition Facts – 28 grams – 110 calories, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 mg of cholesterol, 120 mg of sodium, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 8 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.38
Size: 21 oz. box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Delicious and bright strawberry flavor combined with solid oat crunch. Tart, sophisticated aftertaste. Serious strawberry milkshake vibes when eaten in milk. No crappy freeze-dried strawberries. Best strawberry cereal on the market.
Cons: Limited freaking edition with no scientifically verifiable way to stop time. Could be a tad bit sweeter. Random people putting guns to your head and asking you to rank cereals.

REVIEW: Coffee Nut, Honey Nut, and Chili Nut M&M’s (M&M’s Flavor Vote)

Coffee Nut, Honey Nut, and Chili Nut M&M's (M&M's Flavor Vote)

Let’s get one thing straight: Peanut M&M’s are the best.

Well, technically, Peanut Butter M&M’s are the best, but the classic whole-roasted peanut M&M’s, represented by the overly optimistic, decidedly plump yellow guy, are right behind them.

Don’t agree? Sorry, you’re in the minority. Pretty much anyone with a computer and a sweet tooth will rank either Peanut Butter or Peanut M&M’s at the top of the M&M’s kingdom, which if you ask me is a not to be overlooked accomplishment given that Mars has mostly been focusing flavor additions more in the white chocolate and milk chocolate spectrum.

Well, Mr. Yellow Guy is finally getting the last laugh, because M&M’s has introduced three new Peanut flavors that America will get to choose from before the winner gets rushed into the regular M&M’s rotation. And by last laugh, I mean literally last. He is, after all, about to get eaten.

Coffee Nut M&M's 1

First up is the Coffee M&M’s. As anyone from Canada knows, coffee and candy just belong together (Dear Canadians: I live in Texas, please mail Coffee Crisp.) These are really awesome, and get my vote for the next Peanut flavor.

Coffee Nut M&M's 2

While I was hoping for an earthy, robust roasted coffee finish that gradually overtakes the sweetness (like you might get in a chocolate-covered expresso bean), I can’t complain about the mocha vibe that resonates as soon as the shell begins to dissolve, even if it is a mocha vibe with seven extra pumps of vanilla syrup and four Splendas. Come to think of it, these taste a lot like coffee Jelly Belly beans, except with a peanut. Frankly, that makes them all the better.  

Honey Nut M&M's

Moving right along, I imagine the idea for Honey Nut M&M’s came into being at the weekly golf outing of yellow anthropomorphic food spokespeople. Given the natural friendliness of both the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee and the Yellow M&M’s guy, this flavor combination was bound to happen. I was also bound to like the flavor given the fact that Honey Nut Chex is in my Top 10 cereals of ALL TIME, but unfortunately the M&M’s didn’t live up to expectations. The characteristic almond flavor of Honey Nut Cheerios is definitely present as soon as you get at the chocolate, but a weird and distracting artificial sweetness comes with it.

I was hoping, if nothing else, the peanut would have the salty and caramelized texture of a honey roasted peanut, but this wasn’t to be. Not that a whole peanut in a milk chocolate shell is that much of a disappointment, but Honey Nut M&M’s weren’t nearly as good as they should have been.

Chili Nut M&M's

Finally, Chili Nut M&M’s push M&M’s into new territory, namely the somewhat fading food trend of pairing chocolate with spicy food. These are interesting; they’re not fireballs by any mean, but there’s an initial cinnamon red hots flavor that enters your mouth as soon as the shell starts to dissolve. A tingling backheat resonates through the milk chocolate, and then really comes on strong once you crunch through the peanut. The last sensation you get is cayenne burn that lasts for a couple of seconds after you’ve finished. I know its tantamount to declaring the wuss card, but I’ll admit it: I needed to grab a glass of water after eating these. All in all, it’s an interesting combination if you’re a heat seeker, although more of a mild annoyance if you’re just a standard M&M’s eater.

Adding to the Peanut M&M’s lineup was long overdue, but I’d be lying if I said any of the new flavors catapulted to the top of the M&M’s flavor list. While Coffee Nut is a welcome addition, the other two flavors taste more like novelties than anything else. And even though I don’t think any of them take a lot away from the smooth milk chocolate and crunchy roasted peanut taste of our adorable yellow friend, I will say there’s something about the classic that’s just hard to improve on.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 pack or 49 grams – 250 calories, 120 calories from fat, 14 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 25 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 25 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: 88 cents each
Size: 1.75 oz.
Purchased at: CVS
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Coffee Nut)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Honey Nut)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Chili Nut)
Pros: Coffee Nut flavor has lasting notes of coffee and vanilla. Familiar crunchy shell roasted peanut, and smooth milk chocolate of Peanut M&M’s. Yellow anthropomorphic food spokespeople golf outings.
Cons: None of the flavors beat the classic Peanut M&M’s. Not an overly robust coffee finish. Honey Nut flavor has cloying artificiality. No honey roasted peanut. Chili Nut M&M’s only brings heat, not additional flavor.

REVIEW: Chick-fil-A Frosted Coffee

Chick-fil-A Frosted Coffee

If there’s a third rail of fast food menu boards — a single item deemed too risky to sell consistently — it might just be coffee flavored milkshakes.

Think about it: you can get a green minty Shamrock Shake at McDonald’s, a Dr Pepper-flavored shake at Burger King, and about seven billion milkshake flavors at Sonic, but none of them coffee.

You can get frappes and frozen lattes and all sorts of sugary, cold coffee “drinks” at most chains, but with the exception of a few outliers in which coffee is really just a supporting flavor — like Arby’s Jamocha Shake and Wendy’s discontinued Coffee Toffee Twisted Frosty — coffee remains untouched when trending closer to the shake side of menus.

Why coffee-flavored shakes are so underrepresented has got to be among the greatest mysteries of all time, especially since 64 percent of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee a day.” What the hell, fast food companies? Do you not want to sell milkshakes or what?

Chick-fil-A’s new Frosted Coffee is not quite a milkshake, but it’s damn near close. And it’s damn near delicious.

If you’re a coffee snob but have never had Chick-fil-A’s iced coffee before, you’re missing out. Not quite as bitter as Starbucks, but much more sophisticated and full-bodied than McDonald’s, it could definitely pass for an independent coffee shop’s brew. Well, at least it could pass for better than fast food coffee. That flavor is apparent as soon as you take a sip of the Frosted Coffee. It has a robust-but-not-really dark flavor that conjures up images of happy farmers in some Latin America country.

Not that into coffee? Great, neither am I, which is why I’m happy to report a milkshakes worth of Chick-fil-A soft-serve Icedream goes a long way into making this much more a dessert than a breakfast. The combined flavor is a good deal lighter and refreshing than just the coffee itself. And combined with the rich milky notes and sweetness, the shake-drink-frappe hybrid might as well just text the family of the late Dave Thomas and be like, “What’s up, Wendy? We made a better coffee Frosty than you ever did.”

Chick-fil-A’s Frosted Coffee is awesome, but it would be even more so if it got the full milkshake treatment and was a bit thicker and came with whipped cream (but not a cherry, because, you know, coffee and cherry sounds gross).

Chick-fil-A Frosted Coffee 2

While it’s thick enough to eat with a spoon, annoying little pools of coffee crop up as you make your way down in the container, which makes me think that some kind of additional thickener wouldn’t kill the purity of the experience. The flavor is definitely there; now they just gotta up the texture a bit and you have a fast food dessert item that at least two-thirds of us caffeine-dependent Americans want.

Why don’t more fast food companies hit the ground running with coffee-flavored milkshakes? I don’t know. Most have already taken the first step with Frappuccino-like beverage, and Chick-fil-A has added a much needed leap by adding ice cream. Here’s to hoping it sticks around well into summer.

(Nutrition Facts – small – 240 calories from fat, 55 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of sat fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 160 milligrams of sodium, 41 grams of carbohydrates, 38 grams of sugar, 7 grams of protein, 25% DV calcium..)

Purchased Price: $2.69
Size: Small
Purchased at: Chick-fil-A
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Sophisticated and full-bodied coffee flavor in the guise of a milkshake. Smooth, creamy, sweet soft serve balances the coffee’s flavor perfectly. Not watered down with any syrups or off flavors. Milkshake-like appeal at only 240 calories.
Cons: ould be richer and more indulgent. Begs for whipped cream. Fair-trade farming propaganda.

REVIEW: Hershey’s Carrot Cake Kisses

Hershey's Carrot Cake Kisses

Carrot Cake is always a cause for celebration.

History proves it: when the Red Coats turn and ran from the Lower East Side in 1783, George Washington celebrated with a big old slice of carrot tea cake. Why? Because nothing says BOOM, ‘MURICA like sneaking vegetables into dessert. It is just our way. You can call it the best of both worlds, or having your cake and eating it too, or just a pretext to improve your night vision while not giving up the sensual pleasure of cake.

But whatever you call it, call it what it is: America’s most beloved combination of vegetables and cream cheese this side of pumpkin spice season.

Carrot Cake is also the newest seasonal Hershey’s Kisses. Non-chocolate Kisses (which are not to be confused with French kisses, which are equally as delightful as Hershey’s Kisses) are a rarity in the candy world, and in my experience, a mixed bag. Sometimes good, sometimes meh, you never know what to make of the seasonally-themed flavors until you try them. This of course is possible thanks to the miracle of capitalism, and the tireless efforts of the overnight employees stocking the Walmart candy shelves the day after the last holiday ended.

Hershey's Carrot Cake Kisses 2

I have a theory about carrot cake: aside from being an “Easter” flavor, its appeal derives from the fact that it has a little something of everyone’s other favorite cakes and flavors.

But if your idea of carrot cake is the kind of cake you eat when you really just want fruitcake, then these Kisses are not from you. There are no raisins, pineapple, or nuts of any kind in the filling, and as far as I know, they don’t have any booze in them.

Hershey's Carrot Cake Kisses 4

Likewise, if carrot cake is the kind is cake you turn to for the moist, super-carroty experience, then these Kisses don’t quite do the job, because the carrot flavor isn’t very distinct. And, finally, if carrot cake is what you’re looking for when you really just want an excuse to lick cream cheese frosting, the white center of each Kiss — which tastes like a combination of fondant and buttercream and a little bit of sour cream — leaves much to be desired.

Who are these Kisses for? They’re for people who like super sweet carrot cake with a little, but not a lot of, tang; those who enjoy the saccharine smell of fondant; people who are looking for a less assertive flavor still reminiscent of pumpkin spice during the spring; and, finally, folks who enjoy sucking on candy whose shape recalls infant memories of breastfeeding.

In all honesty the Kisses aren’t bad. While they are hyper-sweet, there’s a milky appeal to the orange layer, with an artificial spice flavor that lingers. It’s not a bad flavor though. A slightly tangy finish with the fondant and buttercream-like center leaves the tongue with the impression that you’ve eaten more than just sugar and vegetable oil.

Hershey's Carrot Cake Kisses 3

It’s not a moist and decadent carrot cake, but it’s a respectable, albeit too sweet and artificial, celebration of familiar spices and buttercream flavors in the convenient nipple-looking package of a Hershey’s Kiss. And at just under 25 calories a Kiss, it’s a bit easier on the waistline than a carrot cake. The Kisses might not be kicking the British out of Manhattan in the Revolutionary War, but my celebration standards are not quite so lofty, so I’ll go ahead and have another.

(Nutrition Facts – 9 Kisses – 220 calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 55 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 23 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.98
Size: 9 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Enjoyable melt-in-your mouth Kisses quality. Sweet warming spices. Pretty good combination of buttercream, white-chocolate, and fondant frosting. The American way.
Cons: Lacks really deep carrot cake flavor. Cream cheese tang and richness is missing. Cloying. Doesn’t contain any of the usual carrot cake mix-ins. Awesome source of saturated fat and Yellow Lake #5.

REVIEW: Lay’s Korean Barbecue Potato Chips (Flavor Swap)

Lay’s Korean Barbecue Potato Chips

Funfetti.

Chocolate-covered olive.

Nashville Hot Chicken and pickles.

These are but a few flavors we won’t be tempted to try as part of Lay’s annual “Do Us A Flavor” contest. After a three-year run with some highs, some lows, and frankly just some seasoning that had no business coming into contact with a potato, Lay’s is asking for America’s feedback in a totally new competition. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Flavor Swap offers a chance to pick the next Lay’s chip flavors, but only at the cost of an existing flavor, which will be exiled to the world of Oreo O’s cereal, Dunkaroos, and Black Pepper Jack Doritos. One of the flavors on the chopping block: the iconic and always reliable Honey Barbecue.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. We are getting a choice, and when it comes to the barbecue category, the new Korean Barbecue chips offer something totally different from the eight other barbecue chip flavors listed on the Lay’s website — a taste of one of America’s hottest trends.

I first discovered Korean barbecue when a crapload of Kalbi and Bulgogi restaurants showed up in my Maryland suburb. I couldn’t speak a word of Korean, but the language of grilled marinated rib eye transcends ineffective Google translators. Marinated in a combination of soy sauce, ginger, sugar, and other spices, the thin cuts of grilled meats are totally unlike those loaded with vinegary Carolina sauces or sweet Kansas City sauces. Dare I say it, in some ways they’re better.

Lay’s Korean Barbecue Potato Chips 2

I can’t say that’s necessarily true about Lay’s take on the Korean barbecue. The chips are definitely unique; I’ll give them that. And they’re tasty too. Darker, with a grey shadow and specs of onion and garlic powder, they’ve got an initial salty and meaty flavor which tastes like instant beef bouillon, except not quite so disgusting-sounding. The strong umami notes soon give way to a prominent smoky flavor and a touch of sweetness, and when eaten straight from the bag, they’re almost impossible to put down.

Lay’s Korean Barbecue Potato Chips Head-to-Head 1

Almost. The thing is, Lay’s Honey Barbecue chips are impossible to put down. It’s an orange chip with a light tomato and paprika flavor that perfectly complements its sweet brown sugar and molasses touch, and its finish is distinctly potato-ey. It’s clean, simple, and just a good old potato chip.

Lay’s Korean Barbecue Potato Chips Head-to-Head 2

To use a rough barbecue analogy for the chips, Honey Barbecue is about the sauce and the spice, and Korean Barbecue is about the meat and the smoke. They’re both really good, and in the case of the Korean Barbecue flavor, the chips are distinct from other flavors we’ve seen before. But the former flavor is what I’m craving on a chip, and the latter on, well, actual meat.

As much as I love the idea of Korean Barbecue potato chips and want these to stick around, I’m not ready to exile Honey Barbecue to the island of misfit snacks for them. Salty, smoky, and meaty, the Korean Barbecue chips are just a little too heavy for a potato chip flavor, and could have really used a bit of ginger or additional backend sweetness to round their flavor out. Nevertheless, I hope Lay’s toys with the idea of keeping the chips around, because the Korean Barbecue has more than earned its place at America’s culinary table.

(Nutrition Facts – 28 grams – 150 calories, 10 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 mg of cholesterol, 140 mg of sodium, 330 mg of potassium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 2 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein..)

Item: Lay’s Korean Barbecue Potato Chips
Purchased Price: $1.28
Size: 2.75 oz bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Nails the smoky meaty flavor of bulgogi meat in chip form. Complex saltiness with sweet notes in the background. Breaks relatively new ground in an already saturated barbecue chip market. Not chocolate-dipped olive.
Cons: Soy sauce flavor tastes a bit more like Worcestershire sauce. Umami flavor covers up clean finish of the potato taste. Not enough sweetness and no ginger. Not as good as Honey Barbecue flavored chips. Kind of wanting to try a Funfetti flavored chip.

REVIEW: Kellogg’s Smorz Cereal (2016)

Kellogg’s Smorz Cereal (2016)

If the early 2000s taught us nothing else as a society, it was that transposing the letter S with the letter Z in a word made you instantly credible and cool. LOL, once trite and overused, took on new life thanks to LOLZ, while I would argue that Anheuser-Busch owes its entire advertising success of the decade to the phonetic pronunciation of WAZZUP.

Thankfully, we as a civilization have largely moved past this momentary lapse in linguistics. Well, everyone except a dedicated group of cereal lovers who’ve helped bring back Smorz Cereal.

It’s been four years since Smorz left our shelves, and to be honest, I have yet to circle the five steps of grief; mostly because I thought the original Smorz had some room for improvement. Now I’m not saying I disliked Smorz — as far as chocolate and graham cereals go, it was good as a snacking cereal — but the marshmallows had a funky artificiality and lighter-than-Lucky Charms ‘mallow give that made them taste stale after a few days.

Nevertheless, as interweb excitement grew for the return of an extinct specimen of chocolate and graham, I was hopeful this newest version of Smorz would combine everything I loved about the original Smorz, as well as everything that I hoped a mainstream s’mores cereal should have.

Kellogg’s Smorz Cereal (2016) 2

When it comes to the chocolate and graham squares, the rebirth of Smorz lived up to its predecessor and to that campfire taste. Ok, so it’s not exactly a “rich chocolate” cereal coating, but this is Kellogg’s, not Ghirardelli. The squares have a pleasant malty milk chocolate flavor that’s highly addictive when you snack on them, like a graham-flavored version of Chex Muddy Buddies.

The first few times I crunched on the squares I was disappointing in the graham flavor. It’s definitely muted in milk, and not honey glazed like Golden Grahams. But when eaten out of hand the flavor is mellow and slightly whole-wheaty, like that moment you bite into an actual s’more.

But then something happened: my mouth met the marshmallows.

Kellogg’s Smorz Cereal (2016) 3

If I wasn’t sold on the marshmallows in the old Smorz, then I’m selling off like a oil stockbroker with these marshmallows. Eaten dry, they have a dusty stiffness and chalky, sugary flavor. Not a sweet flavor, a sugary flavor. It’s a flavor I remember well from candy cigarettes I once bought from the ice cream man when I was 10 years old. It is not a yummy flavor, especially in milk, where the saccharine sweetness and candy cigarette aftertaste does a disservice to the synergy of chocolate and graham. What’s more, they don’t taste toasted. What is the lesson to take from this? Smoking is not a yummy flavor.

For the most part, I consider myself a cereal populist. Even though I was a bit ambivalent toward the original Smorz, past cereal resurrections like French Toast Crunch had me excited to step back into the world of bowls we thought were extinct.

But in the case of the 2016 version of Smorz cereal, I’m wondering if we shouldn’t just let bygones be bygones. The chocolate and graham squares are definitely good — probably better than I remember — especially as a snack. But the marshmallows bring the cereal down, and, like transposing “Z” for “S,” are unnecessary and potentially maddening.

(Nutrition Facts – 8 grams – 120 calories, 2 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 mg of cholesterol, 135 mg of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 13 grams of sugars, and 1 grams of protein..)

Item: Kellogg’s Smorz Cereal (2016)
Purchased Price: $2.98
Size: 10.2 oz. box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Muddy Buddy-type chocolate and graham coating is really good. Awesome level of crunch. No more partially hydrogenated oils. Enjoyable snacking cereal when not eaten with marshmallows.
Cons: Lackluster toasted s’mores flavor. Notrichness. A slightly distracting corn aftertaste in milk that overpowers the graham flavor. Marshmallows taste like candy cigarettes. Early 2000s linguistic fads.