REVIEW: Crystal Pepsi (2016)

Crystal Pepsi (2016)

Full disclosure: I’m a Coke person. But I like Pepsi.

The sweetness of a cherry Pepsi contrasts particularly well with the sodium bomb of an extra crispy two-piece KFC meal, flanked with a side of comfortingly bland mac and cheese. And on Friday nights before I knew anyone with a car, Pizza Hut would deliver a meat-lovers pizza to the house, accompanied by bulbous onyx two-liter tanks of soda—always Pepsi.

I just like gross, adult stuff now: Bitter, sour, spicy, stuff that tastes like medicine, Coca-Cola. I like the harsh carbonation of Coca-Cola. If we’re picking teams, I’m Team Coke. But Pepsi is fine. And I definitely got my mother to buy me Crystal Pepsi multiple times the twenty-or-so odd years ago it was available.

Crystal Pepsi is back. It’s visually striking, the label’s bold blue and red logo against a foggy clear backdrop. The nostalgia factor is enough to get one buy out of me, but even on pure aesthetics, it’s compelling. A 20-ounce bottle of regular Pepsi looks like a familiar product. A 20-ounce bottle of Crystal Pepsi looks like the absence of Pepsi. It looks naked, vulnerable, honest even. It looks like it’s missing something. And it is.

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What Crystal Pepsi lacks is the almost-metallic taste that hits the back of the throat that regular Pepsi has. It’s hard to tell if the subtraction of the caramel coloring is the reason for this, but without the light medicinal quality, it kicks the balance of the drink into being really sweet. I would say too sweet. If you took a poll of what people thought of OG Pepsi, I think a lot of the answers would be “sweet,” especially in comparison to Coke. So this is even more than that.

At first taste it has the same sugary hit of Pepsi regular. Without the complexity of the rest of Pepsi regular, though, it seems like the soda boosts into maple syrup, lip-curling sweetness territory. I would have assumed a taste test between Crystal and regular would have been at least interesting, but it’s really not difficult to tell them apart. It’s an entirely different beast. It carries the lightness of a ginger ale with the sugary ceiling of an apple juice.

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Crystal Pepsi also has a smoother finish, and the carbonation is less harsh than most other sodas, so the texture in the mouth is also not compensating for the added perceived boost in sweetness. The sugar contents compare to regular Pepsi, however, and the ingredient differences are “gum arabic” and “sodium citrate.” Sure. Who knows what that means. Crystal Pepsi does now contain caffeine, which it didn’t have in the 90’s. So for people looking for a weird ass coffee replacement, that’s good information. “Nothing better in the morning than a cheese Danish and a mug of hot Crystal Pepsi.”

With 90’s nostalgia in full swing, Pepsi is surfing the trend wave. I mean, look at that label. I can’t remember if this is how Crystal Pepsi tasted like this in the 90’s but if it did, it was too sweet then. I probably just didn’t care. I was too busy playing pogs at Taco Bell while listening to Dookie. Now I sit in my breakfast nook and do my taxes and listen to a self-made Train’s Greatest Hits. And I drink Coke. Diet Coke. You got me to buy one, Crystal Pepsi. But I think that’s all you’re gonna get.

(Nutrition Facts – 20 oz – 250 calories, 0 grams of fat, 90 milligrams of sodium, 69 grams of carbohydrates, 69 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.89
Size: 20 fl oz
Purchased at: Walgreens
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Nostalgia factor. Nice looking label.
Cons: Too sweet.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Swedish Fish Oreo Cookies

Limited Edition Swedish Fish Oreo Cookies

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Dr. Ian Malcolm famously spoke this line in Jurassic Park, and ever since, it echoes in my brain whenever a particularly weird, strange, or repulsive snack food is released. But I bet even Dr. Malcolm would choose an ocean cruise in a plesiosaur’s stomach over a tall stack of Swedish Fish Oreo Cookies. Nabisco might as well have printed the word “WHY?” on the side of every wafer.

But I plan to eat these Oreo cookies with an open mind. Why?

Because I may not be a Jurassic paleontologist, but I am a self-described gummy-ologist. I’ve documented every species of gummy bear. I once caught a 30-pound blue gummy shark with a single gummy worm. Heck, I even rallied for gummy octopus rights when I discovered their intelligence was nearly on par with humans.

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But Swedish Fish Oreos are an entirely different creature. Even though they have Oreo’s iconic, pleasantly crunchy, and cocoa buttery chocolate cookie wafers, Swedish Fish Oreo have a unique creme filling the world hasn’t tasted since the Paleozoic era.

Or so I’m assuming, since the decision to make Swedish Fish Oreo could’ve only been made by either a Neanderthal or a giant roulette wheel in Nabisco’s office.

See, this creme isn’t perfectly pillowy, soft, and squishy. It’s a little more sticky, chewy, and dare I say…slimy. It cracks and falls apart like a child’s Play-Doh diorama of the Berlin Wall, and each Oreo I opened contained a different Rorschach test image in its pasty folds. Below I see Donald Trump angrily looking out a castle window:

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The creme’s taste, though, is just like Swedish Fish. It has potent, puckering pops of candied cherry and a slightly off-putting finish of waxy gelatin. I could probably recreate it with a box of Swedish Fish and a blender, but like shooting fish in a barrel, eating fish in an Oreo is way easier.

I can’t say if it’s more pleasant, though. Eating the cookie and creme together, I can really only taste the overpowering cherry creme. There’s a processed chocolate aftertaste, but even then, it has to battle for supremacy with the cherry cough syrup layer that the creme plastered on the back of my throat.

I really wanted to like Swedish Fish Oreo, but the “crispy fruit medicine puree” textural contrast is too much for even a quasi-licensed gummy-ologist. I thought dunking them might intensify the chocolate flavor, but I worried that dipping these bizarre things in milk might make the beverage renounce Oreo as its favorite cookie.

So since I already felt ridiculous, I dipped ‘em in Kool-Aid instead.

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Surprisingly, it wasn’t even bad. When soggy, the cocoa wafers are “activated,” and the whole Oreo starts to taste like a vaguely pleasant Dirt Pie.

Remember Dirt Pies? Those chocolate pudding cups with scattered Oreo crumb soil and gummy worms on top? The desserts you haven’t had since your cousin’s 4th grade Halloween party? They’re delicious, and after squinting my eyes and eating a juice-soaked Swedish Fish Oreo, I relived a little of that nostalgia.

For 99 percent of people, these cookies will be a major “no.” The texture’s weird, the flavor’s medicinal, and the smell would scare a coyote. But for those rare one percent who are eternal kids-at-heart and want to scratch a doozy off their “Culinary Adventure Bucket List,” then oh boy, does Nabisco have an Oreo for you.

As for me? I’m just gonna lay down and dream about Dirt Pies for a week.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 140 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 85 milligrams of sodium, 35 milligrams of potassium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 13 grams of sugar, and less than 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 10.7 oz package
Purchased at: Kroger
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Wistful Dirt Pie memories. Completing my Gummy Pokédex. Cookie creme ink blot tests. Googling pictures of plesiosaurs to cleanse my palate.
Cons: Chemical cherry fish paste. Chocolate flavor that disappears faster than Houdini. Scraping the bottom of the flavor idea fish barrel. “Oreo: Milk’s Recently Divorced Cookie.” The falling Frankenstein piñata that broke my nose at my cousin’s 4th grade Halloween party.

REVIEW: Polar Unicorn Kisses Seltzer

Polar Unicorn Kisses Seltzer

When I was a kid, I often remember visiting a drive-thru wild animal park with my parents. Aside from the fact that the monkeys would wildly flail about while removing the piping from our minivan’s windows, it was a great place to go to take in the wonders of the savannah (albeit the Canadian savannah, but I digress).

We’d usually close our trip with a stopover at the petting zoo, my hands full of vending machine pellets ready to feed Larry the Llama and Gary the Goat. My three-year-old self was shocked at the vigor at which the animal’s tongue attacked the food in my hand – an image I still can’t forget. Regrettably, this is my only frame of reference for understanding the concept of “unicorn kisses.”

Thankfully, Polar Seltzer’s Unicorn Kisses is not a bottle of magical glitter pony saliva, but instead an April Fools’ flavor designed to elicit giggles in the grocery aisle. Polar is known for its unorthodox flavors (like eggnog and mint chocolate), but you typically have an idea of what they’ll taste like before you open them. Unicorn Kisses gives you no such advance warning.

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Prepping for the worst, I set off on a quest to find a bottle. Polar released only 5,000 cases of Unicorn Kisses into the wild, so I had a difficult time finding a store that had any in stock. I felt like Dora the Explorer (minus the anthropomorphic monkey), walking from supermarket to supermarket trying to find a bottle. After what felt like countless days of searching, I finally picked some up at my local Star Market.

Upon opening, I half expected the bottle to explode into rainbows, but instead I was greeted with the scent of green apple and cotton candy. While Polar prides itself on its “all natural” label, this smell was all artificial, like a liquid Jolly Rancher. Based on my nose alone, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to drink a sip, let alone an entire glass, but I queued up “Charlie the Unicorn” for support and dove in.

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Other blogs have tried to place the flavor of Unicorn Kisses, with suggestions ranging from melon to soap, but the only thing I could taste was candy necklaces. Surprisingly, the flavor wasn’t as pronounced as the smell – it actually took me some time to figure out that this seltzer tasted like penny candy. Because it was so cloyingly sweet, I couldn’t finish a whole glass, leading me to feel like I wasn’t respecting the countless unicorns who worked so hard on this product.

In the end, the takeaways from this review are as follows: Unicorn Kisses is a fun diversion but is gross to drink, and you should stay far, far, far away from Candy Mountain.

(Nutrition Facts – 8 fluid ounces – 0 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of sodium, 0 milligrams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.29
Size: 1 liter
Purchased at: Star Market
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Double rainbow. No calories. Revisiting childhood memories. Alliterative animal names.
Cons:Swiper, no swiping.” Llama tongue. Overly sweet and artificial. Vintage candy.

REVIEW: Wrigley’s Hubba Bubba Hot Cocoa Bubble Gum

Wrigley's Hubba Bubba Hot Cocoa Bubble Gum

Do you need something dark colored to put in the Christmas stocking of someone who’s been naughty? You could use coal, but the coal could get onto your hands, which could cause you to leave a fingerprint somewhere, which could lead to the naughty one figuring out it was you who left the coal in his or her stocking.

If you want something less incriminating, might I suggest using a piece of Wrigley’s Hubba Bubba Hot Cocoa Bubble Gum. Actually, you should use several because you’re not gonna want to chew on them.

The 12 pieces are individually wrapped and come in a small coin bank. The gum is also available in 5-piece packs.

The small coin bank is the best part of purchasing this gum (second best is the gum’s soft chew, but those two are it). I can store my loose change in it and when it gets full I can take it to my nearest Coinstar machine and get an Amazon or iTunes gift certificate. This paragraph was not brought to you by Coinstar.

The pieces seem smaller than Hubba Bubba that come in the standard 5-pack. Or maybe I’ve gotten much bigger since the last time I’ve had Hubba Bubba gum. But size doesn’t matter when it comes to ruining someone’s holiday by putting an unpleasant gift into one’s stocking.

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Since the gum is made with real cocoa, I expected it to taste somewhat like hot cocoa. But to say the gum tastes like hot cocoa would be a lie. To say the gum taste like despair, would be more accurate, hence the reason why it makes a great coal replacement. Its flavor is part Tootsie Roll and part plastic. I hoped after a minute of chewing it would get better, but it didn’t and the flavor became mostly plastic.

At this point, it’s best to spit it out. Or if you really want to punish those who have been naughty, you could dump the chewed piece of gum into their stocking. That’ll teach ‘em a B+ is not an adequate grade.

If I want to chew something for a long time that has chocolate flavor, I’d chew on a Tootsie Roll. If I want a gum that allows me to blow decent bubbles, I would buy regular Hubba Bubba gum because these smaller pieces just don’t cut it. Yes, I could chew two pieces at one time, but having to tolerate their flavor in order to blow bubbles the size of my head isn’t worth it.

I don’t know why companies continue to make chocolate-flavored gum. Over the years, they’ve come out with several, but none have stuck around. Have you heard of Hershey’s Chocolate Bubble Yum Gum. No? I rest my case.

Having chewed a few pieces of Wrigley’s Hubba Bubba Hot Cocoa Gum for this review, I now think my holidays are a bit less brighter and I feel as if I’ve been naughty this year. Thanks, Wrigley!

(Nutrition Facts – 1 piece – 15 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of sodium, 3 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Wrigley’s Hubba Bubba Hot Cocoa Bubble Gum
Purchased Price: $3.99*
Size: 12 pieces
Purchased at: eBay
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Soft chew. Coin bank the gum comes in. Constar. This pro was not brought to you by Coinstar.
Cons: At first it taste like Tootsie Rolls and plastic. After a minute or two it tastes mostly like plastic. Pieces are smaller than regular Hubba Bubba. Hard to make large bubbles with it.

*Had to buy it on eBay because I couldn’t find it locally. So it’ll most definitely be cheaper if you find it in stores.

REVIEW: Angie’s Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn

Angie’s Holidrizzle Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn

Every time I see a bag of Angie’s kettle corn with the words “BOOM CHICKA POP” in gigantic type, 70’s porn music pops into my head. Why? Because “bow chicka wow wow” is like the emoji for porn movie music.

But I did not buy Angie’s Holidrizzle Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn because of the porn music bumpin’ in my head. I bought it because there hasn’t been an Angie’s Holidrizzle flavor that’s disappointed me, and I thought this flavor would continue that streak.

And you’ve probably figured out that by ending the previous paragraph with that sentence, I’ve pretty much told you I did not care for this hot cocoa and marshmallow-flavored kettle corn.

Opening the bag brings out a pleasant Cracker Jack—like aroma, but one opened bag and two minutes later I asked myself, “Where did Angie’s go wrong?”

The front of the bag says, “contains nothing but ingredients you’ll love.” Cane sugar…love. Popcorn…love. Sunflower oil…like. Palm kernel oil…like. Nonfat dry milk…like. Cocoa powder…love. Sea salt…love. Natural flavors…not sure what they are. Soy lecithin…I could go either way.

So I love most of its ingredients, but I don’t love its flavor. It just doesn’t taste right. It doesn’t come close to tasting anything like hot cocoa and marshmallows. At times, there’s a flavor that reminds me of toffee. But at other times, there’s a flavor that I would describe as sweet plastic. Maybe the kettle corn’s flavor is an abstract interpretation of hot cocoa and marshmallows, and the sweet plasticiness represents the marshmallow and its pliability.

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Where does this sweet plastic flavor come from? My guess is that I should be blaming the chocolate drizzle, which fortunately wasn’t liberally drizzled over the kettle corn. But once the chocolate drizzle melts away, it tastes like standard kettle corn.

Angie’s Holidrizzle Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn isn’t gross enough to make me throw away four-fifths of the bag, go back to Target to demand my money back, or use it as coal in a Christmas stocking to punish the naughty. After all, I did end up finishing the bag, albeit slowly. But out of all the new hot cocoa-flavored products I’ve tried this year, this has got to be my least favorite.

(Nutrition Facts – 1.5 cups – 140 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 1.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 3.5 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 85 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Angie’s Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn
Purchased Price: $3.29
Size: 4.5 oz. bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Not totally gross. Least favorite hot cocoa-flavored product I’ve tried this season. Contains ingredients that I love.
Cons: Doesn’t taste like hot cocoa and marshmallows. At times it has a sweet plastic flavor. Having 70’s porn music pop up in my head every time I see a bag of Angie’s popcorn.