REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Donettes Pumpkin Spice Mini Donuts

Hostess Limited Edition Donettes Pumpkin Spice Mini Donuts

“I just don’t know what’s wrong with me, Doc.”

She stared at me through horn-rimmed glasses. I’d seen the look before on psychologists, and knew I’d better continue.

“I just have no enthusiasm anymore. Worse yet, I’m completely ravenous. Nothing seems to satiate me.”

“Interesting. What have you been eating?”

“Eh, I guess the question is what haven’t I been eating. It’s fall, you know, and pumpkin spice is my jam. Actually it’s more like by butter, because I’ve never heard of pumpkin jam. But anyways…just this morning I stopped and picked up a bag on Hostess Donettes Pumpkin Spice Donuts.”

She blinked rapidly. “And tell me, how did those make you feel?”

I thought about it for a moment. I’d been anxious to pick them up; each glazed orange cake donut calling my name. I’d loved Donettes as a kid, and now that Hostess had built a pumpkin spice version, life seemed complete. Yet here I was, mere hours after mindlessly eating the entire bag, feeling so…incomplete.

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“Horrible,” I blurted out, the memories suddenly coming to the forefront of my mind. Then every lackluster pumpkin spice product I’d ever eaten entered my stream of conscious, overflowing in a river of confectioner’s sugar glaze and a mere trace (trace, mind you) of cinnamon. I’d been holding the memories back, repressing the thoughts of pumpkin spice rolls that tasted instead of Twinkies and pumpkin spice M&M’s that tasted of, well, M&M’s.

“That’s what I thought,” she said. “I’ve seen the case many times, with increasing frequency. What you seem to have is MPSFS”

“Misspsfs? Say what?”

“MPSFS. Mediocre Pumpkin Spice Fatigue Syndrome. Tell me, were cinnamon, ginger, and allspice listed in the ingredients of these donuts? How about pumpkin puree?”

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I thought back to the ingredient list, remembering I had seen cinnamon and pumpkin. But then I remembered where they were listed. The dreaded “less than 2%” section, with pumpkin puree coming in dead last, even behind “Blue 2 Lake.” I kid you not, you can’t make this stuff up.

I hung my head in disappointment, more memories materializing. Each donut had the presence of cinnamon, but nothing more. Something between just the aroma and a slight taste of something slightly spicy, the cinnamon flavor had been fake and one-note, like a Red Hot candy without the heat. No other spices rounded it out, and despite the orange hue, pumpkin had never registered on my taste buds. (Thankfully, neither had Blue Lake 2.) A decent packaged donut, cloying glaze and all, but nothing more.

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I looked back up at the doc, my eyes beginning to water up in shame. How could I have been so duped? And by Hostess, no less!

She must have noticed my shame, saying, “There’s a cure, you know. But you’ll have to give up cheap imitations of pumpkin spice—including the Donettes.”

That was fine by me. After the Donettes, I was ready to leave anything pumpkin spice behind, even the memories of great pumpkin spice products. I got up to leave, ready to embrace whatever it is people embrace when they decide to forsake an entire season’s worth of flavors. That’s when she stopped me.

“You’ll find something someday that will remind you of why you love pumpkin spice. Don’t let a few bad apples, um, pumpkins, ruin what pumpkin spice should be.”

With that I smiled, knowing lackluster Donettes couldn’t be the last word on pumpkin spice.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 mini donuts – 210 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 160 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of dietary fiber, 20 grams of sugar, and 1 grams of protein..)

Item: Hostess Limited Edition Donettes Pumpkin Spice Mini Donuts
Purchased Price: $3.00
Size: 10.5 oz bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Light crumb and cakey interior. Crispy, sweet glaze. Possible dual use as an air freshener.
Cons: Overly artificial “fall spice” flavor. Cloyingly sweet. Too dry to be a really good cake donut, but not airy like a yeast donut. A lifetime of repressed pumpkin spice disappointment.

REVIEW: Little Debbie Pumpkin Spice Rolls

Little Debbie Pumpkin Spice Rolls

Little Debbie is a girl who’s got dresses for every season, every holiday, and every occasion. I can imagine her right now examining her extensive wardrobe of flavors. “No, a Boston Creme Roll won’t do for June, nor will a Strawberry Shortcake Roll quite capture September. I must put on something distinctly autumnal!”

Of course, something “distinctively autumnal” means changing out the vanilla cake with “pumpkin spice.” But is Little Debbie’s beauty only skin deep? Are all the dresses and flavors just scaffolds covering a stale, cloyingly sweet snack cake whose best days are long behind her?

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Clearly, further investigation was in order. Each individually wrapped roll is easy on the eyes, their orange hue are attractive this time of year. A drizzle of icing and voluptuous cream filling practically spills out of the cake, and despite a $1.99 price tag and and no mention of pumpkin on its ingredient list, I fell hard.

But after trying them, I realized the rolls are all style and no substance. A pretty face but no personality. There’s pumpkin-flavored, pumpkin spice-flavored, and then there’s these; orange with specks of brown suggesting cinnamon and nutmeg which just aren’t there. Through many pumpkin seasons, I’ve learned few pumpkin products can ever live up to the platonic idea of a pumpkin pie. But as for the Little Debbie Pumpkin Spice Rolls, this brings pumpkin spice to a new low.

That said, I can’t turn away from Little Debbie. I can’t just shoot her a text and be like, “Hey, that’s cool, but yea, no.” To tell you the truth, I kind of liked them, albeit in a secret rendezvous, tell absolutely nobody about this sort of way.

The cake is at first dense, chewy, and hyper sweet, a common theme the icing carries on with a fake vanilla flavor. Yet the filling, normally a mix of confectioner’s sugar and cream cheese in traditional pumpkin or pumpkin spice rolls, is where it’s at.

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If I didn’t know better, I would have said Little Debbie robbed a Hostess plant, because the filling tastes exactly like what’s in a Twinkie. It’s lighter than you’d expect, but ooey-gooey just the same, degenerating into a cloying and sticky cream that has just enough artificial palm oil richness to make you sort of put it in the realm of Oreo filling.

Little Debbie: I’m on to your game. And frankly, all these bells and whistles of the seasons, the changing of the dresses, they work and they don’t work. Your Pumpkin Spice Rolls offer absolutely nothing seasonal, and although the Twinkie filling and super sweet cake may be enough to make schmucks like me enjoy them, they won’t be confused for an actual pumpkin spice roll.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 roll – 260 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 1.0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 270 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Little Debbie Pumpkin Spice Rolls
Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 6 pack
Purchased at: United Supermarkets
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Twinkie-inspired cream filling. Super-sweet and ooey-gooey. Moist and dense cake. Giving into childhood cravings. Perhaps the first Little Debbie product I’ve found without partially hydrogenated oil.
Cons: Doesn’t taste like pumpkin or pumpkin spice. Very one note in sweetness. Not nearly as good as the pumpkin roll your mother made, or the one you bought at the Walmart bakery. Incredibly messy to eat.

REVIEW: Funyuns Steakhouse Onion

Funyuns Steakhouse Onion

Of all the snacks in the crunchy family and salty genus, Funyuns remain one of the more overlooked specimens. Like the wild Australian Dingo, it defies simple classification. Are Funyuns onion rings? Nope. Are they fun? Not really. What exactly do they taste like? Um…you get the point.

Still, like the untamed dog-wolf hybrid that only lives in the Australian dessert, the corn-based, popped onion ring-shaped “things” have their place. Granted, this place is usually confined to the tops of guilty-pleasure snack lists and last second checkout line additions, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

In fact, I’d go so far to say that Funyuns are easily one of the most underrated snacks on the market. That’s why I had to get my hands on one of the few flavor variations we’ve ever seen from Funyuns — the new Steakhouse Onion Flavored Rings.

If you’re expecting a trip to the Australian Outback Outback Steakhouse in the strip mall down the street, you may be disappointed. Consuming a Bloomin’ Onion appetizer (preferably on your own) is an experience unto itself, and I would never deny a skilled botanist the chance to cultivate what is essentially a 2000 calorie deep fried allium in the shape of a sagebrush.

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Still, the Funyuns Steakhouse Onion Rings capture that zesty flavor and crisped texture which makes “onion-flavored” a flavor, while providing just enough savory and salty corn aftertaste to remind you that you’re not actually eating a raw onion, which would probably be pretty disgusting.

The thing is, they’re not terribly different from the standard Funyuns, a fact which could either be good or bad depending on your stance on Funyuns. The additional flavor—in reality just a bit of tomato-y sweetness, black pepper, and garlic seasoning—is moderate, but doesn’t win the battle for the aftertaste, which remains distinctively like the classic Funyun.

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Similarly, the there’s no texture variation from your good ‘ol Funyuns. For me that’s a big deal. I love the aerated fried crispness of Funyuns, which in a lot of ways remind me of Asian shrimp chips, but I can see how the lack of a really substantial crunch can be problematic. Likewise, the salty corn and onion powder aftertaste which characterizes regular Funyuns still wins the flavor fight, so unless you’re already well indoctrinated into team zesty onion ring snack, it’s unlikely you’ll be swayed over by the additional seasoning.

Funyuns Steakhouse Onions rings have all the great characteristics that have helped to make Funyuns such a niche (some might say cultish) snack, with just enough zest and seasoning to kind of sort of taste like Outback Steakhouse’s iconic appetizer. They won’t leave you saying “g’day,” and aren’t going to win over any new converts from the chip world, but they make a great addition for those of us looking for a new take on a guilty pleasure snack.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 ounce – 140 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 1.0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 270 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Funyuns Steakhouse Onion Flavored Rings
Purchased Price: $3.28
Size: 6 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Classic Funyuns texture and fried crunch. Zesty seasoning is a bit sweet, a bit salty, and very garlicky and peppery. Aftertaste combines the best of the shrimp chip world with the best of the corn nuts world. The wild Dingo of the chip aisle.
Cons: Not an acceptable substitute for an iconic Outback Steakhouse appetizer. Seasoning adds only moderate flavor value. Strong corn aftertaste may be distracting for some. The inconsistent spelling and phonetic usage of “onion” compared to “Funyun.”

REVIEW: Kellogg’s Limited Edition Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice Cereal

Kellogg’s Limited Edition Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice Cereal

This autumn, tens of thousands of students will head back to school with great expectations for their upcoming social and academic year. By the end of their first week, though, they’ll have those expectations checked; or as I like to say, completely and miserably crushed.

Such is also the case for millions of Americans, who’ll be reminded that eating something labeled “pumpkin spice” in August or September does not always equate with being served a rich and indulgent slice of pumpkin pie at the Thanksgiving table. But that doesn’t mean all pumpkin spice products are the equivalent of your 11th hour essay for which you received (and deserved) a D-minus. As a matter of fact, some of these pumpkin spice products are actually pretty good, even good enough to disguise the fact that there’s no actual pumpkin in the product.

Take the new Kellogg’s Limited Edition Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice Cereal. When I first heard a mainstream cereal company was doing a pumpkin spice (and not pepita) flavored cereal, I pretty much decided my life was complete. I mean, we’re talking about my two great loves here, and combining them had the potential to answer the “what do you want for breakfast” question for the rest of my life.

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But when I finally bought the Mini Wheats and realized there was no pumpkin in their eight layers of whole grains and fiber, I realized I may have fallen into the yearly trap of getting my pumpkin hopes set too high. Sure, there’s cinnamon, allspice, and ginger, but the lack of pumpkin puree gave me second thoughts. Experience tells us the pumpkin spice spectrum ranges are pretty wide with just as many misses as hits. Would this be the pumpkin spice of the excellent Pumpkin Spice Oreo Cookies? Or, as I suddenly feared, a repeat of the Pumpkin Spice M&M’s?

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Much to my taste buds’ delight but my guts’ chagrin, those eight layers of fiber coated in pumpkin spice tasted much more like the former. The pumpkin spice is sweet, loud, floral, nutty, and hardly resigned to being the proverbial afterthought of vague cinnamon flavor and orange hue that some products hide behind. I thought the spices complemented each other nicely and tasted extremely fresh when eaten as a dry snack. When I sampled them against an industrial-sized bag of pumpkin spice (eh, like I said, pumpkin is one of my great loves), it compared favorably.

The downside of the cereal is that, like so many other cereals, it just has no way to convey a sense of richness. This is definitely a must for any product trying to capture some of the seasonal synergy of pumpkin, and it would have distracted my taste buds from the much-too-healthy wheat-y underside of each biscuit.

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This wheat-y taste was actually more apparent when I ate the cereal in, go figure, whole milk. Unfortunately, the “frosting” of the biscuits is very one-note in sweetness. Unfortunately, the “frosting” of the biscuits is very one-note in sweetness, and it’s not the kind of brown sugar and cream sweetness which, for lack of a better explanation, transforms a squash into the most iconic of fall sweets. Knowing that Frosted Mini Wheats has nailed Cinnamon Roll and Maple flavors before makes accepting the sweetness’ lack of depth all the more disappointing.

Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice Cereal is a reminder that it’s easy to get caught up in unrealistic expectations during pumpkin season, and in hindsight, expecting a pumpkin spice cereal to taste like pumpkin pie is like expecting to graduate summa cum laude while also being an All-American on the football team and Homecoming King.

Possible? Yeah, but no worse for wear if you only nail one of the three honors. Because in capturing the multifaceted spices that make up “pumpkin spice,” Frosted Mini Wheats breaks new ground in a seasonal cereal realm usually reserved for Apple Cinnamon, and kicks off pumpkin spice season with a worthy addition in a saturated market.

(Nutrition Facts – 25 Biscuits – 190 calories, 10 calories from fat, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium, 46 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of dietary fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.)

Item: Kellogg’s Limited Edition Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice Cereal
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 15.5 oz box
Purchased at: Giant Food
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Very good representation of pumpkin spice flavor. Doesn’t taste too heavily of cloves, which everyone knows is the most heavy and distracting of fall spices. Crunchy, sweet biscuits with mock icing. Eight layers of fiber and whole grains.
Cons: Getting a B when you’re expecting an A+. Doesn’t taste like pumpkin pie. Lacks richness of cream and maple flavors in milk. Binging on cereal. Back to school.

REVIEW: McDonald’s McCafé Strawberry Lemonade

McDonald’s McCafe? Strawberry Lemonade

Part of me feels guilty for buying McDonald’s new McCafé Strawberry Lemonade because I’m probably driving some little girl’s lemonade stand out of business and killing her budding entrepreneurial spirit.

But part of me doesn’t feel guilty because I’m probably teaching her valuable lessons of business innovation which will allow her to up her game and develop sound marketing and costing principles for future lemonade stand expansion. So you might say I have mixed feelings about my purchase. Just like I have mixed feelings about the taste of McDonald’s newest McCafé beverage.

The fast food chain says that their new take on lemonade is “hand shaken for a perfect balance of sweet and tart,” but neither of those points are actually correct. The woman making my lemonade didn’t shake it so much as she pushed a few buttons on a big machine with strawberry lemonade in it, which is a real bummer because everyone knows lemonade is a lot like martinis -— better shaken, not stirred.

Also, the strawberry lemonade is really only the “perfect balance” of sweet and tart if your definition of balance means tasting more tart than sweet, which for a lot of people isn’t the preferred ratio for fruit-flavored foods and drinks (thus, why we have Sweetarts and not Tartsweets.)

Still, the strawberry lemonade is definitely refreshing and unexpectedly sophisticated in its flavor. The tartness, while outweighing the sweetness, isn’t mind blowing like a Warhead, and actually tastes reminiscent of eating a Lemonhead and a Swedish Fish at the same time.

There’s definitely a nuanced strawberry flavor that rounds out the lemon’s acidity, while the three slices of strawberry I received in my lemonade made for a favorable presentation that I really doubt most little boys and girls setting up lemonade stands this time of year can match.

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Still, I can’t get past the tartness, nor can I get past the big machine of lemonade that serves up one of the most quintessentially homemade beverages with what I can only describe as “questionable” freshness. The strawberries, while aesthetically very nice to stir around with your straw, are actually pretty insipid and obviously frozen, with a thawed-out sliminess that screams for added sugar. More than anything else, I thought that added sugar would have helped bring out the inherent fruitiness of the strawberries, and justified the $1.79 I paid for a small.

There’s been a lot of McDonald’s Secret Menu talk as of late and I’d like to add a little tip to the conversation. If you’re lucky to live in an area where McDonald’s soda dispensers come equipped with both Minute Maid Light Lemonade and Strawberry Fanta, you can get a sweeter, more strawberry-y lemonade drink for less money.

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I like what McDonald’s is trying to get at with their McCafé Strawberry Lemonade, even if the execution is off and the tartness overpowering. Given my guilt over contributing to the decline of brother and sister lemonade stands, I can only hope that our country’s next generation of venture capitalists responds by correcting this imbalance and reclaiming the lemonade market through fresher strawberries and more sugar.

(Nutrition Facts – Small – 120 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 10 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 28 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s McCafé Strawberry Lemonade
Purchased Price: $1.79
Size: Small (12 oz.)
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: More sophisticated flavor than usual takes on lemonade. Nuanced strawberry taste. Comes with real strawberry and lemon slices. Chilled and refreshing on a hot day.
Cons: Too tart for general lemonade drinking public. Strawberry flavor isn’t as concentrated as it should be. Pricey. Questionable freshness, including lack of discernible pulp. Supporting corporate giant over youthful small businesses.