REVIEW: Nabisco Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice belVita Breakfast Biscuits

Nabisco Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice belVita Breakfast Biscuits

As lawn mowers, economic theories, and the fearsome Krang all prove, things that prevail are not simple.

Pumpkin spice is another one of those things.

Indeed, pumpkin spice requires subtly, nuance, a cautious hand. The nutmeg/cinnamon/ginger blend must be parceled out in a way that is generous rather than overexposed, compassionate rather than grating. When treated appropriately, pumpkin spice should perform one task and one task alone: highlighting the earthy-sweet qualities of the squash for which it was named. To do otherwise is but a fiasco, and me? I prefer to avoid fiascos, especially at 7:00 a.m., so I’m counting on you, belVita, to avoid another fiasco. Don’t let me down.

Nabisco Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice belVita Breakfast Biscuits 2

It can be hard to appreciate the belVita biscuit. I once stood firm in such a belief, excusing the flimsy crackers as a half-hearted granola bars stuck in a midlife crisis. That was until, after 18 days abroad in which 82 percent of my diet subsisted on such cracker-biscuits, I realized: these are just giant, non-animal-shaped Teddy Grahams.

Sure, they may contain oats and lack the inherent charm that comes with gnawing the ears off a biscuit shaped like a carnivorous mammal, but I was being given a hall pass to eat a giant, crunchy cookie for breakfast. My life choices (and sugar intake) would be forever altered.

And these biscuits hold the same qualities I found appealing in that initial experience: crunchy, thin, and tasting of cinnamon, sugar, and toasted oats. While not high in fat, there’s just enough of the oily stuff to give a good crumble to the texture while still providing a sturdy backbone should you choose* to spread them with peanut butter or dip them in your morning coffee-and-cream.

*You should choose.

Nabisco Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice belVita Breakfast Biscuits 3

It was mid-way through my second biscuit that it struck.

“What is that? That flavor?? Is that…????”

I squinted my eyeball and shoved it up real close to the box, pretending I didn’t look like a mildly insane, cookie-scarfing clown with cataracts.

There. Yes, right there, in the ingredients: dried pumpkin. I had my doubts, but there it was, both in the ingredients and the taste. Alongside that pumpkin, there’s little hint of nutmeg, perhaps even a spicy zing from ginger. These spices combine with the oat-y biscuit to keep the Beta-carotene-infused flavor of the pumpkin in check. If I search my memory, the whole experience harkens back to that piecrust that was left after I scooped all the pumpkin filling out: crunchy, sugary, with just a hint of pumpkin. This is just like that, only without the negative moral repercussions that come with scooping the pumpkin innards from a pie.

Nabisco Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice belVita Breakfast Biscuits 4

It’s easy for a company to use the celebrity powers of pumpkin spice for evil. Indeed, with the blend’s unstoppable presence in everything from Shredded Wheat to Yankee Candles, it takes a special determination to give the flavor the gentle hand it deserves.

While these aren’t groundbreakingly perfect (they certainly don’t keep me for the 4 hours promised), they are well-done. What with their light spices, sugary oat crunch, and mild pumpkin presence, it’s an honest biscuit. And, in a world in which pumpkin spice is flung willy-nilly, that honesty is worth something. Good on you, belVita, for putting one less pumpkin spice disaster into the world.

Now, if we could just do something about the Pumpkin Spice Jell-O…

(Nutrition Facts – 4 biscuits – 230 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 gram of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 220 milligrams of sodium, 95 milligrams of potassium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, 11 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.)

Item: Nabisco Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice belVita Breakfast Biscuits
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 5-packk
Purchased at: Publix
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Crispy. Crunchy. Oat-y. Well-balanced spices. Actual pumpkin included. Reason to eat cookies for breakfast. Good with peanut butter. Reflecting on the complexities of lawn mowers and the maniacal Krang.
Cons: Doesn’t sustain energy for 4 hours. Would be more fun if it were shaped like an animal. Midlife crisis. Negative moral repercussions. Mildly insane clowns with cataracts.

REVIEW: Pecan Pie Milk Chocolate M&M’s

Pecan Pie Milk Chocolate M&M's

So let’s talk about realistic images of ourselves.

Mine? Blurry.

For example: I always wanted to be a Girl Scout but hated going to the gatherings. As a consequence, I never learned how to tie/untie a cable knot, so, if, say, I wanted to become the next David Copperfield, was tied to a chair via cable knots, and plunged in the sea, I would promptly be consumed by sharks. All because I never attended my Girl Scout Meetings.

Similarly, M&M’s identity has become blurry as they, with both success and failure, attempt to stake claim on myriad confectionary treats, ranging from Candy Corn to Red Velvet to Birthday Cake, and, if one can make a morselized version of a fluffy, frosting-slathered baked good, why not give a shot at the illustrious goo of Thanksgiving’s iconic slab of caramelized sugar?

Pecan Pie M&M’s, here I come.

Pecan Pie Milk Chocolate M&M's 2

Out of the bag, nothing looks nefarious. We’ve got some charmingly lumpy M-stamped morsels that smell of sugar and vanilla and a curious bitter twinge…is it caramel? Perhaps burnt high fructose corn syrup? No matter as the yellow, brown, and white colors make a pleasant little arrangement, but, in terms of flavor, color is but an empty promise, silent as the sound of a mime directing traffic.

Biting in gives way to a crunchy shell and melty chocolate and…oh dear. Where are the pecans? The caramelized sugar goo? Perhaps there is crust filling that was somehow innovatively injected inside??


Not a pecan in sight. In fact, they feel and taste just like a Milk Chocolate M&M. A Milk Chocolate M&M that was combined with a cheap-o-matic caramel flavor and…is that low-grade bourbon? I can’t tell, but perhaps it’s because I’m having a mild panic attack: why, M&M’s, why have you betrayed me? Why does your delicious chocolate now taste of sugar and mildly burnt wood? What have I done that has resulted in this karmic-induce vengeance on my taste buds??***

**Unfortunately, during my inquiry, the M’s remained inorganic and, unable to respond, left me to conclude that, while sugary and melty, these are not about to change their flavor to mimic the Pecan Pie I desired.

Pecan Pie Milk Chocolate M&M's 3

If I were to tell my mother I’ve given up chocolate, I’m liable to get the same reaction as if I’d told her I was devoting the rest of my life to engineering an industrial tanning lotion for yetis. The kind of thing that elicits that Special Mom Smile that says I love you, but why do that to yourself?

And yet these M&M’s are encouraging me otherwise. They’re hyper sweet, bitter in aftertaste, and lack the qualities I look for in pecan pie (caramelized sugar, pecans, etc.). What emulsion of natural flavoring has shaken the identity of the cacao bean so that it tastes so obscure? How, dear confectionary world, did Pecan Pie become this? Where is the goo? The crust? The pecans?

I do not have these answers.

But I do have hope. Hope M&M’s will set this aside, tossing it up as R&D learning experience as they quietly retire these for better horizons. Till next time, dear M’s, I’ll be over here, waiting hopefully and shoveling my pecan pie by the spoonful.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/4 cup – 210 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 gram of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 30 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 27 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Item: Pecan Pie Milk Chocolate M&M’s
Purchased Price: $2.98
Size: 9.9 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Crunchy shell. Melting chocolate. Milk chocolate is involved. Tanning lotion for yetis. Mimes directing traffic.
Cons: Where are the pecans? Where is the caramel? Why is the green M&M standing beside a hay bale on the cover? Unanswered inquiries. I will never be the next Houdini.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp

Instructions for Sadness:

Don’t think about brownies.
Or fudge chunks.
Or crispy edges.
In fact, just throw all the chocolate near you away.
(Slow motion:) Nooooooo!!
Your only thoughts should be about canned beets.
And standardized tests.
Please. No.
Maybe stare at a broken clock, read a self-help book, and reflect on your recurring nightmares about the one-eyed, door-to-door orange juice salesman.
But not brownies. Or cookies. Or both.

Promise me something: if you like chocolate, crispy bits, fudge chunks, and crumblies, ignore the above instructions. I know I did as I grabbed these Brownie Crisps from the shelf, puzzling over the image on the polymer bag. “Is that a Brownie Brittle replica? Or just an ugly cookie? Perhaps some mutant Cocoa Puff?” Only one way to find out…

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp 2

Before we get going I feel the need to talk about the original Brownie Brittle. By now, you might be familiar with those slivers of chocolate crunchies, but, if not, allow me to introduce you. Brownie Brittle is a crispy, crunchy creation, much akin to a very, very thin chocolate cookie. The cookie-like shards are pummeled with teensy round chocolate chips, broken up, and served up in wackadoo shapes.

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp 3

As you can see by my poorly constructed tent resort camping facility, the structural integrity of these brownie crisps rivals that of Lincoln Logs. The Original Brownie Brittle was a bit thinner and more delicate, breaking into shards at the ill-angled toss of a bag. Not so with these chunks: they’re sturdy, yet also crumbly, holding an integrity that transmogrifies an Oreo with a graham cracker with an especially wonky-shaped Tollhouse. Basically, it’s a giant, thin brownie-cookie hybrid that’s been baked on a sheet, sent through an identity scrambler, and smashed by Thor (that’s how they do it in the production facility, right?).

Of course, the hybrid’s success hinges on said brownie-cookie’s execution. This one? Is splendid. The outside base starts crunchy, then disintegrates into a dutch cocoa, sugar-filled crumble. None of my crisps are burnt, avoiding the charcoal bitterness that so easily throws off a brownie corner’s game. I’m working to eat the crisp alone, but it’s hard to get a bite without konking into a chocolate chunk.

And those chunks? They’re everywhere. Scattered on top. Scattered inside. Moderately mammoth-sized. Peewee mammoth-sized. These chunks are special in their flavor’s capacity to complement the cocoa base. The chocolate here is nothing exotic. No citrus or nutmeg or hints of pine. Just some very simple pudding, butter, and coffee notes, maybe a hint of vanilla, all of which contributes a dark, melty bitterness that rounds out the sugary grit in the chocolate crisp base. I ate them. I ate them all. My regrets are nill.

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp 4

Of all brownie’s transmutations, this is surely its most hardship-free: crunchy, crumbly, cocoa buttery fragments scrambled with chocolate chunks. If any of that sounds like something you might enjoy, hustle on over to Trader Joe’s. While extremely similar in concept to Brownie Brittle (i.e.: shards of a brownie-cookie hybrid), these crisps are a bit thicker with chocolate chunks the size of a small child’s eyeball. I’m knocking them a few for lacking ingenuity, but, between the chunks and the crispy crumblies, these are downright delicious.

If you enjoy the last crumbs of brownie corners, make haste to your Trader Joe’s. To hesitate? Means one would miss out. This would make one sad. One might cry. One might cry a river so deep, one’s Industrial City Planners would have to construct a new bridge to redirect the water hazard created by one’s tears. Save yourself from sadness and city tax dollars. Get the brownie crisps. Nothing about brownie cravings should involve delayed gratification.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 crisps – 100 calories, 35 calories from fat, 3.5 gram of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 35 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 11 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Item: Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp
Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 5 oz. bag
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Crispy. Crumbly. Lots-o-chocolate chunks. Chunks’ flavor complements crispy cocoa base. Structural integrity of a Lincoln Log. Chunks the size of small child’s eyeball. Smashed by hammer of Thor.
Cons: Copycat of Brownie Brittle. Won’t appease anyone looking for chewy/fudgy brownies. Bag empties quickly. Standardized tests. Recurring nightmares of the door-to-door orange juice salesmen.

REVIEW: Carnival Fruit Roll-Ups

Carnival Fruit Roll-Ups

Finally, General Mills has cornered the market on adults who have a suppressed desire to run off and join the carnival.

Having often risked my life on drop towers, fried Oreo cookies, and questionably constructed bungee cords, to say I am a fan of the carnival would be an understatement, and I am flat out excited to see Fruit Roll-Ups paying a tribute to the land of rickety rides with not one, but TWO special rolls. Let’s see what this is all about.

Carnival Fruit Roll-Ups 2

Attempting to unravel the rolls proves that there has been no evolution in General Mills’ plastic wrap since 1993. Indeed, it took me a good eight minutes to attain my first roll, a process which involved unrolling, re-rolling, unrolling again, tearing a hole in the roll, trying to patch it up, tearing 3 more holes, bonking my knee on a coffee table, and plenty of bad-mouth sailor talk.

While I have higher hopes for your agility, you, too, may find yourself frustrated in unwrapping your Roll-Up. Instead of resorting to my low, sailor-mouth tactics, perhaps you might look at peeling back the cellophane as not a struggle, but a lesson in how to better manage oneself in a harsh, unforgiving world.

Once you finally get these suckers unwrapped, the rolls’ images reveal a wealth of inspiration for aspiring carousel engineers and balloon salesmen. Each roll is split into two flavors: Cotton Candy/Caramel Apple and Berry Lemonade/Cherry Slushie. Let’s take it one flavor at a time, shall we?

Carnival Fruit Roll-Ups 3

Berry Lemonade – The lemonade is strong with this one. Sweet and tangy with hints of juice, this one avoids the zest and goes straight for lemonade’s sugary qualities. There’s a slightly floral aftertaste that reminds me of blue raspberry Air Heads. I am not certain that blue raspberry qualifies as a berry, but its presence doesn’t offend the lemonade. I dig it.

Cherry Slushie – A bit of a snoozer, although it’s still good in its own artificial cherry way. It’s a deep, sour cherry flavor, much along the lines of a cherry Starburst. It’s a little one-note, which makes me wonder if it may have benefitted from a bit of vanilla or some lime. Still, quite good.

Taken as a whole, the two make a solid cherry-lemonade mock-up. A less formidable lemon would wilt in the presence of such strong cherry, but there’s a tang that brings the deep cherry notes back into place and makes the experience surprisingly balanced. Well done, General Mills. You found equilibrium and put it in a pectin fruit roll.

Carnival Fruit Roll-Ups 4

Caramel Apple – Snap dog, this is one tangy apple. It reminds me of that crisp, tart Jolly Rancher Apple flavor, which I greatly appreciate, but where is the caramel? Nowhere to be found.

I initially hoped the Caramel Apple might be a roll on its own, allowing the tang of apple to come into play with a separate Werther’s caramel-like flavor, much akin to the flavors found in Tootsie’s Caramel Apple Pops. But no. Instead of burnt-sugar caramel, the apple was paired with another, more nefarious flavor…

Cotton Candy – Not for the weak of spirit. Imagine the sugary, floral taste of six feet of Bubble Tape. Distill that into a microcosm of liquid flavoring. Combine with hydrogenated cottonseed oil and squish out onto a piece of dollar store plastic wrap. Voila. You have this flavor.

I ate this roll last, hedging my bets that its strong flavors would eliminate my powers of taste. They did. While I appreciate the green apple flavor on its own, I discovered that bubblegum-flavored apples are not for me. Those with sensitive taste buds should approach with caution.

Taken as a whole, the experience of these rolls ranged between surprisingly great to mildly terrorizing. I hammered through the Lemonade/Cherry combination with gusto, but the Cotton Candy/Apple? That’s filed under the clunkers.

While neither flavor will replace my favorite (Strawberry), I appreciate that General Mills branched out with their Roll-Up offerings in a fun, summery way that celebrates the carnival. The next generation of humans may never experience Mayor McCheese or the way, way back seat of station wagons, but I have hope we’ll hang tight to the questionably safe swings and giganto funnel cakes at the carnival.

Just maybe keep the cotton candy-flavored apples out of it.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 roll – 50 calories, 5 calories from fat, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 55 milligrams of sodium, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Carnival Fruit Roll-Ups
Purchased Price: $4.98 (Triple Pack)
Size: 3 boxes – 10 rolls per box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Berry Lemonade/Cherry Slushie)
Rating: 3 out of 10 (Cotton Candy/Caramel Apple)
Pros: Lemonade/Cherry nicely balanced. Cherry tastes like a Starburst. Pears in ingredient list. Jolly Rancher Apple. Inspires balloon salesmen. Mayor McCheese.
Cons: Cotton Candy can get too sweet. No caramel in Caramel Apple. Blue raspberry is not really a berry. Dollar store plastic wrap. Bonking knee on a coffee table. A harsh, unforgiving world.

REVIEW: Trident Layers Swedish Fish Gum

Trident Layers Swedish Fish Gum

Are you the one who wished that a fish-shaped gummy named after a Scandinavian country would be transformed into a piece of gum?

Zoltar says: your wish is granted.

While I am not sure which species of fish the original gummies are meant to mimic (Salmon? Halibut? An artistic rendering of Basking Sharks?), I’ve always admired the fish-shaped chewable candies for their sweet and tart tang, so to find them in gum form ruffled me with confusion, hesitation, and impossible joy at the possibility of such greatness.

Trident Layers Swedish Fish Gum 2

The berry gets a massive double layer, while a teeny bit of lemon smooshes itself in the middle. That ratio of flavor distribution comes out immediately in the gum’s taste.

If there was a Seismic Scale of Flavor Intensity, the Lemon of this gum would get a .004. Its lemony, citrus twang just disappears at first chew. Where did you go, Lemon Flavor? Are you jealous that Berry got two layers? Jealousy isn’t good for relationships, Lemon. Haven’t you heard about Brutus and Caesar? The first two Godfathers? That crazy witch in Snow White? Jealousy only brings knives, poison apples, and horse heads in your bed. Don’t let jealousy happen to you, Lemon.

But on the note of vague feelings of injustice, it seems there has never been an official word on Swedish Fish’s actual “berry” flavor, and yet my anxiety and rapidly expanding fear of the unknown seemed fixated on finding the answer. Is it raspberry? Cranberry? Lingonberry? Sour cherry? Berry punch? Is there a professional horticulturalist with a highly refined palate on the blog?

Whatever identity that berry beholds, it presides over the entire chewing experience. I chewed for a solid 30 minutes, enjoying its non-rubbery berry tang that’s both tart and sweet. There was a slight bitterness that came in every now and again (I’m a little sensitive to red dye, so it may have been that), but the overall sugary-tartness made this chewing experience an enjoyably long-lasting one.

But I feel I should give you a warning. This gum lasts very long. So very, very long. Even after you have disposed of your little red knob of rubber, brushed your teeth, and gargled a glug of Spearmint Scope, the berry presence continues to linger somewhere in the back of your throat, which may result in it infiltrating everything you eat. Your tomato soup. Your tuna salad. Your medium-rare bacon cheeseburger. All of them, getting overthrown by a peculiar artificial berry tang.

Trident Layers Swedish Fish Gum 3

But, on the whole, I enjoyed this gum. Like a dentist reaching into the jaws of a wild boar just to see if it has teeth, Trident took a risk, and all in the hopes of seeing if they could transform an iconic gummy into a piece of gum. It was dangerous. It was spontaneous. It was successful. Facing such a risk is admirable in its own right. To have it come out successfully? Earns it big points.

Sure, the lemon got lost and the berry flavor comes across as bitter and overpowering at times, but there’s no question that Trident went all-out with flavor authenticity. I will chew my Swedish Fish gum again. Perhaps while staring at Swedish furniture in IKEA after eating some Swedish meatballs.*

*Thank you, Sweden, for being great.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 piece – less than 5 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 25 milligrams of sodium, 2 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 0 grams of sugar, 2 grams of sugar alcohol, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Trident Layers Swedish Fish Gum
Purchased Price: $1.49 (single pack)
Size: 14 pieces
Purchased at: Publix
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Tastes just like berry Swedish Fish. Flavor lasts forever. Tangy. Soft and chewy. Stays non-rubbery for a good 30 minutes. Zoltar. Basking Sharks.
Cons: Makes cheeseburgers taste like Swedish Fish. Lemon flavor gets jilted. Not shaped like a fish. What is the berry flavor?? Poison apples. Horse heads in your bed.