REVIEW: Starbucks Berry Prickly Pear and Mango Pineapple Frappuccino Cremes

Starbucks Berry Prickly Pear and Mango Pineapple Frappuccino Cremes

Starbucks created THE fall drink with its Pumpkin Spice Latte.

And it might’ve created the drinks of summer with its new Berry Prickly Pear Frappuccino Blended Crème (berries and prickly pear with side notes of hibiscus and passion fruit) and Mango Pineapple Frappuccino Blended Crème (mango, caramelized pineapple, and a hint of lime).

Visually, both scream SUMMER with the pretty magenta and yellow color schemes. Even though magenta/yellow/white looks better than magenta/yellow/brown, I was a little bit wary of the crème base because the said coffee-less line is generally more like an icy milkshake.

The base was icy as expected but worked better than I imagined because it was fruit-forward. It’s supposed to be blended with milk, ice, and mango syrup, but I picked up a subtle coconut flavor instead. As for the purées, the mango overpowered the pineapple and the berry prickly pear mainly tasted like prickly pear. For those who are wondering, prickly pear has a very subtle sweetness – it tastes like a wax/rose apple or a less-pronounced watermelon. I was relieved that neither of the purées tasted artificial.

Starbucks Berry Prickly Pear and Mango Pineapple Frappuccino Cremes 2

However, I must warn that form does not follow function for these drinks. The layered purée is only good for the ‘gram! I made the mistake of not mixing it enough. I swirled my straw a few times, but still sucked up a hidden pocket of purée. It was very unpleasant texturally as the viscosity reminded me of Children’s Motrin Syrup. I think real mango or strawberry bits would help. Be sure to take your ‘gram first and then stir vigorously!

Starbucks Berry Prickly Pear and Mango Pineapple Frappuccino Cremes 4

As I continued sipping, the mango pineapple began to stand out as my frontrunner. I kept thinking it would taste fantastic with rum. It was like a virgin piña colada minus the artificial sweetness that usually accompanies it. The familiarity of mango, pineapple, and coconut also gave the flavor a leg up over the berry prickly pear which had an unpleasant note that reminded me of cough medicine.

Both drinks included lime, and like having it in a cocktail, it helped break up some of the sweetness and add brightness. However, the lime flavor floated in and out. I guess you could brand that as having a flavor adventure with each sip being slightly different than the last, but I prefer consistency.

Also, I’d say that I have a pretty discerning palate but I didn’t pick up on any of the caramelized pineapple in the mango pineapple or hibiscus in the berry prickly pear.

I was able drink both of these in the same sitting without feeling a sugar high and neither tasted artificially or disgustingly sweet. They still delivered on Starbucks quality as I could tell they used real fruit as opposed to sno-cone high fructose corn syrup.

Much like the PSL returning this fall, I can see these drinks being brought back next summer.

(Nutrition Facts – Tall – Berry Prickly Pear – 180 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 150 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 34 grams total sugars, 3 grams of protein. Mango Pineapple – 180 Calories, 30 calories from fat, 3 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 170 milligrams of sodium, 35 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 34 grams total sugars, 3 grams of protein.

Purchased Price: $4.45
Size: Tall
Purchased at: Starbucks
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Berry Prickly Pear)
Rating: 9 out of 10 (Mango Pineapple)
Pros: I don’t feel a sugar high drinking these unlike other Frappuccinos. Mango Pineapple is a better piña colada. High quality – none of that sno-cone high fructose corn syrup!
Cons: MAKE SURE YOU STIR. Viscosity of purée reminds me of Children’s Motrin – real fruit bits might help. Inconsistent sour notes. Where’s the caramelized pineapple and hibiscus?

REVIEW: Cheetos Crunchy Flamin’ Hot Chipotle Ranch

Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, which I refer to endearingly as OG Hot Cheetos, and I go way back. Almost three decades ago, its street cred and my love for them was established. They were basically the currency of my elementary school days – traded in snack-size Ziploc bags for durables like shakeable Dr. Grip mechanical pencils (very cool back then too).

Of course, my enterprising after-school institution caught on. They sold “individual packs” to us crazed hooligans for 25 cents. Adult me is pretty sure that those one-ounce packs were the kind you buy in a variety pack labeled “not for individual sale.” Point is – the OG trusty, just-enough-heat deliciousness has never failed me.

So when the new Cheetos Crunchy Flamin’ Hot Chipotle Ranch hit shelves, I thought, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” However, I went in with little to no expectations because I wasn’t quite sure what chipotle ranch was supposed to taste like dusted on a “cheese-flavored snack.” To me, it sounded more like a dipping sauce or something over-slathered on a sad sandwich.

There was no shock value when I opened the bag because they looked like the same ol’ same ol’. When examined closely, I saw more flecks of seasoning so it looked slightly redder, but that was about it. What did shock me was the BBQ-esque smell coming from the bag. I rationalized that chipotle was supposed to evoke a smokier connotation, which could be similar to BBQ. I also couldn’t un-smell Fritos Honey BBQ Flavor Twists.

Even as I took my first crunch, the more pronounced corn flavor totally reminded me of said Fritos. The initial corn note evolved into a whisper of ranch – thank goodness, the last thing I wanted was cool ranch-esque flavoring – that was rounded out by a slight smokiness from the chipotle, and ended with heat.

I will say that it wasn’t spicy as the OG. The ranch seems to dampen the heat, but I was okay with that because it didn’t completely kill the burn. The diminished heat actually allowed me to shovel them into my mouth at a quicker pace. There was definitely still an undeniable addictiveness. But it was a mind-trip the entire time like when I ate a deconstructed Caesar salad at some hoity-toity restaurant. It tasted like Caesar salad but the form looked nothing like it. But in this case, I was tasting Fritos Honey BBQ Flavor Twists but seeing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

Just to make sure, I did a taste-off between the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Chipotle Ranch and Fritos Honey BBQ Flavor Twists. They definitely smelled similar, but said Fritos tasted way more pungently BBQ, sweeter from the honey, and weren’t spicy at all. So there’s definitely a difference.

If you put a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in front of me, I’m going to eat them no matter what flavor. But, if I had a choice, I’d stick to the OG.

(Nutrition Facts – about 21 pieces – 170 calories, 11 grams total fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, less than 1 gram sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.00
Size: 8.5 oz. bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Still have an addictive quality. Diminished heat allowed me to shovel Cheetos into my mouth at a quicker pace. Not exactly like Fritos Honey BBQ Flavor Twists. Complex flavor journey – giving R&D props!
Cons: OG Flamin’ Hot Cheetos still taste better. Tasting Fritos but seeing Cheetos. Lots of justification needed for the flavor nuances, like why it’s less spicy, etc.

REVIEW: Dairy Queen Guardians Awesome Mix Blizzard

Dairy Queen Guardians Awesome Mix Blizzard

With the launch of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Marvel teamed up with Frito-Lay for a Doritos bag that plays music and Dairy Queen for the Guardians Awesome Mix Blizzard Treat.

I think Frito-Lay got the better end of the integration stick, even though everything about the Guardians Blizzard sounds fantastic. I mean what’s not to love about mini brookies (brownies and cookies baked together), caramel, and choco chunks blended with creamy vanilla soft serve?

Brookies are pretty frickin’ awesome! Except when you can’t really taste them.

Dairy Queen Guardians Awesome Mix Blizzard 2

I should have suspected that it would be a hodge-podge of unidentifiable sweetness when the received treat looked nothing like hero shots featuring healthy chunks of brookies. My Blizzard looked more like chocolate chip ice cream and it tasted that way. It was good, but if I wanted plain chocolate chip ice cream, I would have just gone to the supermarket for a pint.

As I continued to eat, I would occasionally get a bite of rich, delightful fudge – guessing that was from the brookie. Unfortunately, it was a fleeting delight that quickly faded back into the sugary indistinctness. I want bigger chunks, dangit! I think a brookie sundae in DQ’s Hot Desserts section would have been much more satisfying.

Dairy Queen Guardians Awesome Mix Blizzard 3

Also, I couldn’t taste the caramel. I could see the remnants lining the cup, but no warm caramel notes at all – just cloying sweetness. As the cherry on top, said sweetness was paired with a strange artificial aftertaste. I couldn’t tell if it was coming from the soft serve, the caramel, or the brookie?!

Dairy Queen Guardians Awesome Mix Blizzard 4

Even though all the mix-ins were a bit too blended for my liking, I did enjoy the texture. The soft serve was creamy and the mix-ins broke up the monotony of vanilla soft serve. I kept thinking that Cold Stone Creamery would make a killer version of this.

Don’t get me wrong. The Guardians Awesome Mix Blizzard isn’t bad. It just isn’t awesome.

(Nutrition Facts – Mini – 380 calories, 14 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 170 milligrams of sodium, 56 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 45 grams of sugar, 8 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.09
Size: Mini
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Tastes like chocolate chip ice cream. Good texture.
Cons: Hodge-podge of unidentifiable sweetness. Cloying sweetness + artificial aftertaste = Ugh.

REVIEW: KFC Zinger

KFC Zinger

The spicy chicken sandwich market has heated up (no pun intended) lately, from Jack in the Box’s Pepper Jack Ranch Spicy Chicken Sandwich to Wendy’s Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich to Burger King simply revamping their new Crispy Chicken Sandwich, and now – KFC’s new Zinger Spicy Chicken Sandwich!

Well, the Zinger is only new to the U.S. as it’s apparently already in 120 other markets. Per QSR Magazine, the Zinger was launched in 1984 and over 22 million Zingers are sold in Australia alone. ?
No offense, but our Australian friends’ taste buds must be coated from all the Vegemite they eat because the Zinger is incredibly uninspiring. Even the new Colonel’s (Rob Lowe) Parks & Rec self would lit-er-ally find this repulsive. Okay, repulsive is a harsh word – I’ll stick with uninspiring.

KFC Zinger 2

The ingredients are simple: 100 percent Chicken Breast Filet – double hand-breaded and fried – served with lettuce and Colonel’s mayonnaise on a toasted sesame seed bun. I should’ve suspected that this wouldn’t be very spicy because nothing about that description speaks to heat.

When I received the sandwich, I liked the orange-gold foil – guess it’s “zinger”-y – and that the label actually listed what the sandwich was – unlike other fast food chains.

KFC Zinger 3

KFC Zinger 4

When I opened it, I was happy to see that the chicken looked like a breast at least. Low standards, I know. Cutting it in half, it looked like a solid piece of juicy chicken breast. On the edges where the breast meat met the breading, there seemed to be some chili oil-esque looking run-off so I was thinking that maybe the Colonel would come through with the heat after all. But, nope. After taking a bite, I could only detect a little fleeting singe.

To give some context to the heat – in this same meal, I ordered KFC’s Nashville Hot Chicken just to try. The Nashville Hot is nowhere near the real heat level of Nashville Hot Chicken BUT that’s the amount of heat I expected from the Zinger. It was mainly just a salty crunch followed by an umami that I can only describe as the Colonel’s secret recipe blend of 11 herbs and spices.

KFC Zinger 5

But the “hard way,” which is hand-breading chicken daily which is supposed to make it juicier and crunchier, definitely paid off. I conducted a crunch-off between Wendy’s Spicy Chicken, Burger King’s Crispy Chicken, Chick-fil-A’s Spicy Chicken and the Zinger. The Zinger was significantly crunchier than the rest. The breading to chicken ratio was comparable to Chick-fil-A’s (and they’re the gold standard in fast food chicken sandwiches in my opinion). It’s not juicier than Chick-fil-A, but it is juicier than Burger King and on-par with Wendy’s.

As for the rest of the sandwich, I was 50/50 on the bun. On one hand, I really liked how soft the bun was. On the other hand, it flattened out really quickly which made the chicken play slip & slide with all the mayo in it. Speaking of the mayo, the Colonel’s mayonnaise just tastes like mayo. Also, they kept trying to upsell bacon & cheese but I don’t think the Zinger needs it. I think it would take away from the crunch and the subtle Colonel spices.

This uninspiring sandwich left me thinking: Where’s the zinger?! In the competitive fried chicken sandwich landscape, the Zinger sits right in the middle of mediocre land. I wouldn’t eat it over Chick-fil-A’s chicken sandwiches but would absolutely eat it over all the other chicken sandwiches on the market right now.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available on U.S. website, but here’s the info from the KFC Canada website – 570 calories, 27 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 1220 milligrams of sodium, 58 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 6 grams of sugar, and 25 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: N/A
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Deep-fried chicken breast actually looked like a piece of chicken breast. The Zinger wins the crunch off over Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s, and Burger King.
Cons: Big statements for something pretty standard. Chicken played slip & slide with the mayo and flattened bun. Colonel’s mayo just tastes like mayo. Where’s the zinger?!

REVIEW: Ritz Crisp & Thins (Salt & Vinegar and Cream Cheese & Onion)

Ritz Crisp  Thins  Salt  Vinegar and Cream Cheese  Onion

When I first heard that Nabisco’s Ritz Crackers were moving into chips, I was terrified. I have PTSD from Cheez-It’s attempt to move into chips with Grooves. Grooves didn’t do the Cheez-It cracker justice! I have almost the same love for Ritz as I do for Cheez-It; I love those damn buttery Ritz crackers. Point is, I had high expectations for Ritz’s new Crisp & Thins.

So, what are they?

It’s Ritz’s attempt to hop on the “Better For You” train – touting oven-baked, not fried, potato & wheat chips. It launched in the U.K. first and now they’re rolling out globally. There’s a lineup of four flavors on U.S. shelves: Sea Salt, Bacon, Salt & Vinegar, And Cream Cheese & Onion. I picked out Salt & Vinegar (because I like salt & vinegar chips) and Cream Cheese & Onion (because I kept thinking it was sour cream & onion and wanted to see why Ritz had to be all frou frou about it).

Ritz Crisp  Thins Cream Cheese  Onion

I first smelled the Cream Cheese & Onion ones, which didn’t really smell like much. On that basis, I vigorously inhaled the Salt & Vinegar, which was a mistake. The pungent vinegar invaded my olfactory with no mercy. 100 percent user error, not Ritz’s fault.

The chips themselves were very, for the lack of a better word, artsy but the kind of pretentious and annoying artsy. I say this because they couldn’t just choose a damn circle or square like all other crackers. Instead, they chose a puddle shape. But we all know that it probably took their manufacturing team way too long to perfect the mold for these. These puddles also had seemingly random air pockets/bubbles.

Ritz Crisp  Thins Cream Cheese  Onion Orange

In the same vein of pretentious artsy, it looked like they tried very hard to have a baked look – one side of the chip had scorch marks. They really reminded me of naan bread – oblong-ish shape, air pockets, and with the occasional imperfect scorch marks. The Cream Cheese & Onion had a slight orange tinge, while the coloring of the Salt & Vinegar was just normal, pasty cracker color.

Ritz Salt  Vinegar Crisp  Thins Salt  Vinegar

At this point, I concluded that these would probably be nothing like the buttery crackers that I know and love. But, you know what, I was okay with it – I knew I couldn’t hold Ritz back from their healthy chip dreams.

The Cream Cheese & Onion surprisingly tasted more like subtle cheddar & sour cream than sour cream & onion. Trusty ol’ cheddar & sour cream is always salty cheesy goodness, but it’s nothing mind blowing and I’m still eye rolling at the artsy fartsiness. However, I can’t believe I dismissed the air pocket/bubbles because they made the texture. Something about the crunch of the cracker with the extra oomph from the air pockets is amazing. Never judge a book by its cover, y’all!

As for the Salt & Vinegar, same textural amazingness but unlike other salt & vinegar flavored chips, there was a subtle-y sweet aftertaste. After almost an entire bag of them, I concluded that it might just be from the chip itself being wheat and potato that’s helping to balance out the vinegar tang.

After two bags of munching, I really appreciated that my fingers weren’t left with a greasy, powdery residue. There was some, but nothing like the usual chip residue mess.

Valiant “Better For You” attempt, Ritz! It might actually work; I liked the Salt & Vinegar ones so much that I’d consider replacing my usual salt & vinegar kettle chips with them.

(Nutrition Facts – 21 Pieces – 130 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium, 270 grams of potassium 21 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar and 2 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price:
Size: 7.1 oz. bag
Purchased at: Kroger
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Cream Cheese & Onion)
Rating: 9 out of 10 (Salt & Vinegar)
Pros: Nothing like a Ritz Cracker, but tasty AND “better for you”. Textural amazingness. No greasy, powdery residue.
Cons: Why the artsy fartsy chip shape & names? Cream Cheese & Onion is just semantics for cheddar & sour cream.