REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Nutty Caramel Swirl

Ben & Jerry's Nutty Caramel Swirl Ice Cream

While these reviews are always a lot of fun to write, and hopefully slightly enjoyable to read as well, I want to be serious for a second. A few weeks ago, we found out my younger daughter is allergic to peanuts (and tree nuts, and sesame), culminating in a Mother’s Day trip to the emergency room. Fun! She’s perfectly fine — we’re learning what foods to buy and our house contains more adrenaline shots than the sets of Pulp Fiction and Crank combined — but it really caught us off guard. Between this and my older daughter getting a peanut stuck up her nose last year, I’m starting to think my ancestors owed George Washington Carver money or something.

Regardless, I mention this to explain why I was hesitant to pick up this new, peanut-y flavor of Ben & Jerry’s, exclusive to 7-Eleven. I could always keep it in the freezer at work, but it’s hard to write a review when you’re supposed to be… well, working. (Okay, it’s not HARD, but it’s frowned upon.)

Eventually I relented and brought it home, but I’ll say this: it’s a new experience to run out to the garage fridge every time I want to eat some ice cream, then make sure I wash my hands when I come back in. At least it’s summer; can you imagine me huddled out there in December, piteously lifting the spoon with shivering blue hands? Honestly, the lengths I theoretically might have gone to for you people.

Eschewing cutesy names like Karamel Sutra or I Wanna Dip My Malt Balls In It, this time B&J have elected to just tell you what it is: there’s nuts, there’s caramel, it’s swirled together. Transparency can be nice, though it feels a bit like watching a Michael Bay film titled “Stuff Blows Up and Also There’s a Pee Joke, Plus Boobs.” Maybe 7-Eleven stockholders hate puns, or possibly they just figured anyone making an impulse ice cream purchase while picking up a gallon of milk and some smokes wouldn’t properly appreciate clever wordplay. 

Your loss, 7-Eleven.

Ben & Jerry's Nutty Caramel Swirl Ice Cream Closeup

As for the appearance, you’ve seen B&J’s cartons before, obviously. The most noticeable difference is that the little emblem denoting the ingredients to be Fair Trade has changed — before it kind of resembled a stick figure, now it looks like the logo to Sea World. Maybe the peanuts were harvested on the ocean floor or have been secretly replaced with kelp?  Beyond that, the description promises nougat ice cream with peanuts, fudge flakes, and a salty caramel swirl. To put it mildly, that’s a lot to be getting on with. Your grandparents couldn’t find that many ingredients in an entire ice cream parlor, and B&J have crammed it all into one flavor. How will that play out?

Rather well, as it turns out, though not without some flaws. The peanuts are instantly recognizable, and extra enjoyable since they’ll pretty much never be allowed in this house again. The nougat ice cream is very rich and sweet; I’m a nougat fan, and this definitely gets the job done. The fudge can likewise easily be detected, and it and the peanuts are present in impressive quantities.

So what didn’t I like? Well, either there isn’t much caramel or the fudge is serving to mask it, because it doesn’t completely disappear but can easily be lost in the shuffle. Likewise, you’re not going to be able to tell whether the swirl is salty or not, although the peanuts fill that niche anyway, so the end result in your mouth is basically the same. I guess if you’re reeeeally reaching, it can be a bit tough to chew at times, though I personally like the textural variety and it’s certainly not going to be breaking your jaw.  And as I mentioned earlier, the sheer number of ingredients can make for a slightly schizophrenic taste experience, though certainly not an unpleasant one.

I feel like nearly every Ben & Jerry’s review wraps up nearly the same, but this is another winner for the boys from Vermont. I’m fairly certain I’d enjoy it even if I weren’t on peanut lockdown, but the “forbidden fruit” aspect certainly doesn’t hurt. Even if you’re able to eat peanuts all damn day, though, I’d still recommend you pick a pint up and try it for yourself… that is, if you can afford 7-Eleven’s absurdly high prices without breaking the bank.

(As a postscript, my wife adds that she called Ben & Jerry’s to see whether allergens would be a problem in a factory tour we may take on an upcoming vacation, and found them to be “insanely helpful.” They offered to comp us a pint of allergen-safe ice cream when everyone else gets a sample of the day so that our younger daughter doesn’t feel left out. I must say, that’s super cool of them.)

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup – 310 calories, 160 calories from fat, 18 grams of total fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 90 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of total carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 23 grams of sugars, and 6 grams of protein.)

Other Ben & Jerry’s Nutty Caramel Swirl reviews:
On Second Scoop
The Ice Cream Informant

Item: Ben & Jerry’s Nutty Caramel Swirl
Purchased Price: $5.49. Five and a half freaking dollars!
Size: 1 pint
Purchased at: 7-Eleven
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Illicit peanuts are the best peanuts. Full nougat flavor. You will not get bored eating this ice cream. Father’s Day night officially NOT spent in the ER.
Cons: Not quite enough caramel. Mother’s Day night in the ER. Price suggests every other carton is expected to be shoplifted. Unimaginative name. Bringing something potentially lethal to your child into the garage is not Father of the Year material.

REVIEW: Chewy Chips Ahoy! Sweet ‘n Salty Salted Caramel Chunk

Chewy Chips Ahoy! Sweet 'n Salty Salted Caramel Chunk

A cookie is one of those foods that really should be review proof, right?

It’s a sweet mound of dough and sugar, sometimes with something tasty contained within. People who don’t enjoy sweets aren’t going to eat them, and people who do are almost automatically going to like them. Yeah, you can get some outliers like shortbread cookies or Fig Newtons that some people hate, but by and large, there’s no way to mess up a cookie…EXCEPT by messing with the formula.

Sometimes successful companies who have plateaued on expansion with their existing lines will try dreaming up new variations of a product they’ve already mastered. Occasionally this works out really well. Frequently it…doesn’t. But it’s why we’re here today to discuss Chips Ahoy!’s latest offering, a dual attempt to increase market share and to make my spellchecker commit suicide.

The premise behind Sweet ‘n Salty is that they’re part of the “chewy” sub-line of Chips Ahoy!, but in addition to chocolate chips, they also contain salted caramel chunks. Since caramel is inherently sweet, it seems like more of a 2-1 ratio, but I guess “Sweet ‘n Salty ‘n Sweet” isn’t as marketable.

As you’d expect, the package is strongly modeled on Chips Ahoy’s “house style,” where you exchange some originality for instant recognition. If you’ve ever seen an EC horror comic, you know what I mean — any issue of Tales from the Crypt, the Haunt of Fear, etc. had a large box in the upper third with the book’s title, a small rectangle on the far left with an eye-catching noun like “Terror” or “Horror,” and three circles showing the trio of hosts (the Crypt Keeper, the Vault Keeper, the Old Witch). The individual cover images would vary, obviously, but you always recognize an EC cover or parody immediately.

As the “chewy” variety of Chips Ahoy!, this package is primarily red, with the standard logo and lettering and background. However, the image depicts a cookie with both chips and caramel chunks and supplements this with the ubiquitous “New!” tag in the upper left.  Overly creative? No. Recognizable? Quite.

To my non-cookie-expert mind, it seems like the key to success here lies in achieving the right balance. Too salty and it’ll turn away people who came for a cookie, not a cracker.  Too sweet and you risk rendering the salt unnoticeable/irrelevant. I’m happy to report that Chips Ahoy! seems to have found a pretty good balance, albeit with just a little less salt than I might have liked.

Chewy Chips Ahoy! Sweet 'n Salty Salted Caramel Chunk Closeup

The cookies are the same size and consistency as any other Chips Ahoy! cookie you’ve ever had, and yes, they are indeed chewy, almost oozing rather than crumbling into your mouth.  The chocolate is sweet, the chips are plentiful, and the caramel definitely makes its presence felt, though not overbearingly so. As a caramel fiend, I actually could have used just a bit more, but overall it’s a good proportion. 

And yes, you will taste some salt, though it takes some time to hit; and as I mentioned before, remains fairly subtle. You might get the impression that these are chocolate chip-caramel cookies that some factory worker just accidentally dumped some salt into, and while that doesn’t make them taste bad by any stretch, I could see some people (like me) wishing for more.

Still, it’s hard to fault Chips Ahoy! too much for that. A pleasing taste, soft texture, and sweet smell combine, Voltron-style, to form a pretty darn good cookie, at least by prepackaged grocery store standards. I do think they could have just not bothered with the salt, but maybe that’s one of the things that attracts people and moves product in a way that plain caramel wouldn’t have. And that’s why I’m not one of the cookie mavens.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 140 calories, 60 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 2 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 95 milligrams of sodium, 25 milligrams of potassium, 20 grams of total carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 12 grams of sugars, and less than 1 gram of protein.)

Other Chewy Chips Ahoy! Sweet ‘n Salty Salted Caramel Chunk:
Junk Food Guy

Item: Chewy Chips Ahoy! Sweet ‘n Salty Salted Caramel Chunk
Purchased Price: $3.79
Size: 9.5 ounces
Purchased at: Acme
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Strong brand marketing. Seeking the sweet/salty nirvana. Enjoyable smell.  Plentiful chips and caramel. Stay chewy, my friends.
Cons: “Subtle salt” not just a good band name. Certain people (wives) might find them overly chewy. Could get lost among similar-looking Chips Ahoy! Chewy varieties. Suicidal spellcheck (also a good band name).

REVIEW: Oscar Mayer Bacon Dogs

Oscar Mayer Bacon Dogs

If I understand the moral objections some vegetarians have toward eating meat, it’s that a human life has no more intrinsic value than an animal life, so eating an animal is as ethically wrong as killing a person… i.e., “meat is murder.”  And as anyone whose wife watches as much Criminal Minds and C.S.I. as mine does can attest, serial killers are generally classified as having killed three or more people in separate incidents.  So if I eat a hot dog that contains more than two kinds of meat, am I complicit in serial murder?

(If it wasn’t obvious, these kinds of thoughts are the reason I didn’t have a real girlfriend until college.  Also the mullet.)

Anyway, as you might have surmised by the first paragraph, today we’re looking at a hot dog containing not one, not two, but THREE different kinds of meat.  (Maybe four, actually… the package lists “pork” and “bacon” as two different kinds of meat, but unless there’s something I’d reeeeeally rather not know, they both come from pig, no?)  The exact quote is “Franks made with turkey and chicken & pork and bacon,” and your guess is as good as mine as to why there’s an ampersand separating the poultry from the good meats.

Regardless, I’ll admit that my confidence was not high going into this review.  Hot dogs?  Good.  Bacon?  Shut your damn mouth if you just said anything other than “Effing fantastic, sir!”  But combined?  Hmmm.  I’ve had bacon-flavored beer before.  It was, uh, better in small quantities.  And… well, you hear things about hot dogs.  We already suspect pig anus to be one of the primary ingredients (12% by volume!), so is bacon really going to offset that?  Nevertheless, I took this job knowing there’d be gross foods involved, and you don’t build cred reviewing nothing but ice cream and snack cakes.  So come at me, Oscar Mayer!

Normally I spend some time talking about packaging, but there is absolutely nothing exciting about this container.  It’s clear, you can see the franks inside, there’s an extremely small picture of some bacon strips at the top.  The word “New!” on one side of the label is literally the most eye-catching thing about it, but even that could be easily overlooked.  I don’t know if that’s standard hot dog protocol or if these are the equivalent of a TV show the network dumps on Saturday night in the summer, but you could easily bypass the bacon dogs unless you’re specifically looking for them.

Which (spoiler!) maybe you shouldn’t.  To give these a fair shake, I prepared them in a couple of different ways.  First was 20 seconds in the microwave (they’re precooked, obviously), after which I dug in.  The verdict is: no, they really don’t taste much like bacon.  It’s ever so much not at all like biting into a non-crispy strip of a pig’s ultimate evolution.  It tastes somewhat similar to a regular hot dog, though a bit more like ham, which does not mesh well.  My wife described it as “like hot baloney,” and I don’t think she intended that as a compliment.

The texture is likewise basically that of your average hot dog, and there’s an artificial smokey flavor that tastes really fake, not at all like these just came off the grill.  All in all, it’s not impossible to choke down so much as it’s just not as tasty as a regular hot dog, and not at all like bacon.

Oscar Mayer Bacon Dogs Up Close and Personal

But I’m nothing if not fair and thorough, so I also grilled one on the George Foreman, typically used for lesser meat products not worthy of the official Man Grill.  I will offer that it was better, though not a lot.  The baloney taste was slightly lessened and the texture a bit better, as you’d expect, but it still didn’t taste at all like bacon other than the artificial smoky flavor, and even that was pretty faint.

The lesson, I think, is obvious: whether it’s bacon-flavored hot dogs or unlimited all-you-can-eat shrimp cocktails, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.  The rating on these is reflective of averaging the difference between microwaving (3) and grilling (5), but it boils down to one thing: these are not significantly worse than a regular hot dog, but they’re a little worse; and if you’re going to tout bacon flavor, then dammit, your product had better deliver.  If not, don’t be surprised when some internet wiseass takes you to task for it.  It’s the American way.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 link – 130 calories, 100 calories from fat, 11 grams of total fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 370 milligrams of sodium, 2 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of sugar, and 6 grams of protein.)

Item: Oscar Mayer Bacon Dogs
Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 8 links/14 oz.
Purchased at: Shop-Rite
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Easy to prepare.  Concept of bacon dogs.  Slight smoky flavor which isn’t bad.  Not going to break the bank.
Cons: Hot baloney.  Full glass of bacon-flavored beer.  I’m barely willing to ingest that much fat for real bacon.  Smokey flavor is too artificial.  Regretting that 3 different animals gave their lives for this stuff. 

REVIEW: Nabisco Sea Salt & Black Pepper Brown Rice Triscuit

Nabisco Sea Salt & Black Pepper Brown Rice Triscuit

Not to frighten those of you who grew up on Pokemon instead of He-Man, but your thirty-somethings will really creep up on you.

One day you’re going out drinking on work nights, then coming home and five-starring some Guitar Hero before bed. Next thing you know you’ve got muscle cramps from your adult kickball league, you can’t remember the last video game you played that wasn’t on your cell phone, and you’ve officially become the guy who reviews crackers.

Crackers! What happened to you, man? You used to be… well, not cool. Kind of cool.

But if you’re going to be dragged forcibly into the middle third of your life, might as well embrace it, right? Start wearing that baseball cap forward. Get bacon OR cheese on your burger, not both. Let your wife finally get that minivan she’s been coveting. (Only kidding, dear. We’re not doing that.) But at the same time, if you find yourself looking at a grocery store shelf full of brown rice Triscuits, well… at least get one with a little flavor to it. If you’ve got to get old, be Mick Jagger, not Gene Simmons.

This brings us to Nabisco Sea Salt & Black Pepper Brown Rice Triscuit. The front of the box tells you all you need to know about the demographic they’re shooting for: there are no dinosaurs with sunglasses or randomly slanted words, and surprisingly few explosions. Just a nondescript brown base that gradually lightens into a burnt umber and eventually orange near the top, with a bright yellow glowing orb that most of us call “Almighty Ra” or “Mr. Sun.” Below it, two bowls: one filled with black pepper, the other grains of salt. A single image of a cracker. And that’s it. You want a spokesanimal or rainbow-colored letters? Fuck you, these crackers are for adults. Leave the kiddie crap at home.

The back isn’t much more interesting, filled with imagery meant to convince your subconscious that these are wholesome and good for you: rice, a few stalks of grain, some red beans, and what I initially thought were slices of bread until the text clarified them as sweet potatoes. One side of the box suggests topping the crackers with ricotta cheese and fresh strawberries, but overplays its hand by promising this will “thrill” your guests. Nice try…stick with “mildly enthuse” and I might buy what you’re peddling, Nabisco. The other side is just the nutritional info, which isn’t bad (130 calories from 9 crackers), although the total fat is a bit more than I would have guessed, 7 percent of your recommended daily intake.

Nabisco Sea Salt & Black Pepper Brown Rice Triscuit Closeup

I know this will disappoint those of you hoping for another round of great crackers, but like my beloved Phillies this year, it isn’t going to happen. And the reason is that (like the Phils), these crackers boast a certain amount of potential but just don’t make it happen in execution. Remove one from the box and you become mildly hopeful — it mostly looks like a standard Triscuit, but there’s a slight glaze reminiscent of melted butter (Spoiler! It isn’t), as well as visible pepper flakes in little enclaves around the cracker. Turn it back and forth under a light source and you can even see the glint of salt crystals, although don’t do it when anyone’s around because seriously, you look like a tool.

Take a bite, though, and you’ll remember why no one has ever come close to being excited about the combination of brown rice and crackers: these are dry as hell. They ARE crunchy, it has to be said, but have a drink with you at all times. And not just because of the salt, which is present in reasonable quantities, though it does vary some from cracker to cracker; that’s understandable, though. The pepper flavor is distinct and probably the best thing about the crackers — it’s plentiful enough to savor without overwhelming your palate.

That said, it’s still fighting a losing battle against the dryness and the texture of the crackers. And while the sodium level isn’t bad, they aren’t reduced fat or anything that might mitigate your feelings slightly like that. Sad to say, the sea salt and black pepper are both mildly pleasant, but not magic. They can enhance a steak, but ultimately, they just aren’t enough to make these crackers exciting.

(Nutrition Facts – 6 crackers – 130 calories, 40 calories from fat, 4.5 grams of total fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 2.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 1 gram of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 130 milligrams of sodium, 55 milligrams of potassium, 21 grams of total carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 0 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Nabisco Sea Salt & Black Pepper Brown Rice Triscuit
Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: 9 oz.
Purchased at: Giant
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Crunchy. Salt and pepper are both plentiful and reasonably tasty. 2008 Phillies. Pretty favorable sodium and (especially) cholesterol levels.
Cons: Quite dry, and after the crunch, not a great texture. 2013 Phillies. Does not move like Jagger. Not much excitement. Embracing your thirties.

REVIEW: Nabisco Chili Cheese Wheat Thins

Nabisco Chili Cheese Wheat Thins

Of all my shortcomings as a writer, one of the more noticeable tics is a tendency to bury the lede. If not for the numerical rating at the top, you could read three or four paragraphs into most of my reviews without having any idea whether I actually liked the product, and who has time to indulge a rambling narcissist for that long? Not you, you’re a busy person. Things to do, foods to try! So allow me to cut to the chase:

I had to buy a second box of these Wheat Thins because my family and I ate the first one before I had finished the review, and also just because I wanted to. That almost never happens, even when I really like the food. So there you go.

Now that we’ve gotten the metaphorical first kiss out of the way, we can move on to the rest of our evening. Let’s be candid: in terms of thrilling or exotic foods, crackers rank somewhere between canned tuna and oatmeal. No movie has ever featured a box of Saltines in a steamy seduction scene. Scarlett Johansson could not make crackers sexy. There’s a reason why it’s the preferred terminology for boring white guys like myself.

And even in that dubious company, Wheat Thins are not what you think of as the cutting edge, kick-ass cracker brand. Triscuits, maybe. Cheez-Its? Hell, those em-effers are crazy. But Wheat Thins? They’re what your parents put out as an appetizer before dinner. (Confidential to mom and dad: I still love them! But mostly when sandwiching pepperoni and cheese slices.) So when you hear Wheat Thins is putting out a chili cheese flavor, you scoff and think, “Targeted at who, retirement communities? 8-year-old girls? The Amish? Get real, Wheat Thins.”

And then you take a bite just to be indulgent and it’s like that Chappelle Show sketch where Charlie Murphy plays Prince in a game of pick-up basketball, and the only thing you can say after your first bite is, “Game… blouses.”

I’m serious — by cracker standards, these are really good. They aren’t going to immolate your tongue or make steam shoot out your ears like a 1930s cartoon. But you WILL taste some heat, especially in the crackers at the top of the box. (I noticed the chili flavor starting to get less intense around the middle of the package.) Yes, a Texan would probably pour oil and rattlesnake venom on these and call them breakfast cereal, but for the rest of us, the heat is enough to keep you interested.

In terms of the cheese, it’s definitely overshadowed by the chili. Which is not to say it’s bad — there’s a coating on every cracker that’s probably mostly chili powder, but I would guess also includes cheese dust. It’s just not especially noticeable unless you’re really concentrating, and even then… enh. Not bad, but you’re getting these for the chili, not the cheese. As for the texture, I know it’s incredible to believe but they remain, in fact, Wheat Thins. Same as it ever was.

So there you go: I said at the very beginning that these were great crackers that I willingly bought another box of, and here I am reiterating it. If you’re in a position to pick these up, you should definitely jump on it. That said, I am still going to take points off for unironic use of the word “kickin’” on the back of the box. Because at the end of the day, you are still Wheat Thins. Own that.

(Nutrition Facts – 15 pieces – 140 calories, 50 calories from fat, 5 grams of total fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 3 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 1 gram of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 180 milligrams of sodium, 95 milligrams of potassium, 21 grams of total carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Other Chili Cheese Wheat Thins reviews:
Junk Food Guy

Item: Nabisco Chili Cheese Wheat Thins
Purchased Price: $2.99 (on sale)
Size: 9 oz. box
Purchased at: Giant
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Putting stereotypes to rest. Brings some heat to the party. Would probably be great sandwiching some Swiss cheese. Not too bad for you. Game… blouses.
Cons: Could stand a little more cheese flavoring to keep up with the chili. tl;dr. “Kickin’” is a very cracker thing to say. Taking shots at the Amish is so 1996.