REVIEW: Brach’s Dessert Hearts Conversation Hearts

Brach's Dessert Hearts Conversation Hearts

Brach’s Dessert Hearts Conversation Hearts fill a niche we don’t need -— gourmet flavored chalk. (Actually, I know they’re not chalk, because I minored in geology, and coccoliths are not on the ingredient list.)

Many people hate conversation hearts. I don’t fall into the hating camp, but I do recognize that they’re far from great candy. They’re really all about Valentine’s Day tradition and nostalgia.

The yellow (“SMOOCHES,” or rather “SMOO-CHES”) is bananas foster. It has a banana note, but some other kind of flavor that I think makes it worse than plain banana would be. Bananas foster sounds like too fancy a dessert for someone who cares about conversation hearts, so they could probably make it any flavor and no one would know. If I’ve had bananas foster, I don’t remember what it tastes like.

The purplish one (“YOWZA”) is raspberry sorbet. It does taste like (fake) raspberry, but it also has a medicinal flavor to it, like cough syrup.

White (“FOR YOU”) is vanilla ice cream. I do taste a vanilla bean flavor, but it’s kind of bitter; I like real ice cream better. Vanilla is literally the simplest flavor there is. I wouldn’t say they blew it, but it could have been better.

The blue (“WINK WINK”) is blueberry pie. It also has a (fake) blueberry flavor, and some other notes that I guess could be a pie crust? This might be the most authentic one (which isn’t saying much).

Brach's Dessert Hearts Conversation Hearts 2

Then we get to the most annoying thing about these. There are two pinks, and they are very similar in color. It’s hard to tell them apart, especially if you’re not comparing them side by side. And the worst part is that one is the best flavor and one is the worst, so you can’t easily pick your favorites out.

The light pink (“MISS YOU”) is strawberry shortcake. It has the most desserty flavor, with a bit of strawberry and almost a buttery flavor. This one is my favorite.

The dark pink (“DREAM”) is cherry cobbler. This is the least flavorful and most medicinal one. It reminds me of those chalky Shamu vitamins I had in kindergarten.

Brach's Dessert Hearts Conversation Hearts 3

The primary purpose of conversation hearts is to look cute. It has never been about the flavor, so these will work just fine for most purposes, I guess. But I think you’ll be safer with more traditional flavors.

(Nutrition Facts – 12 pieces – 60 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 0 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 13 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: 14 oz. bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Strawberry shortcake is a decent flavor. Valentine’s Day tradition. Cuteness. A for effort. Not really chalk.
Cons: Two similar pinks. Too similar pinks. Some words are hard to read. Ugly hyphens. Raspberry sorbet tastes like cough syrup. Cherry cobbler tastes like Shamu vitamins. Shamu vitamins.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Watermelon and Cherry Haribo Gold-Bears

Limited Edition Haribo Watermelon and Cherry Gold-Bears

What is it about Haribo gummies?

They’re always especially fruity. It’s as if a Fruit Roll-Up got bitten by a mutant Gusher, morphed into a carnivorous mammal, and had its DNA enhanced with fruity powers that allow it to shoot delicious, sugar-laden laser beams from its squishy eyes.

So mark me excited when I saw that there were not one, but THREE new flavors out: Cherry, Green Apple, and Watermelon, all in a race to be the next Haribo Bear.

Now, before we get into tasting, I would regret not mentioning how difficult these gummies seem to be to find. The Green Apple? Seems to not even exist within a 30-mile radius from Los Angeles, proving itself more obscure and elusive than a 1979 Boba Fett action figure. If you find them, stock up and watch as you make yourself a mini fortune on eBay. (Yes, I will be your customer.)

In good fortune, I finally tracked down the Watermelon and Cherry at the checkout aisle of a fringe Walgreens. Let’s see how they stack up.

Limited Edition Haribo Watermelon and Cherry Gold-Bears 2

Right out of the package, the beary gems have a perfect stretchy, squishy bounce. For a second there, I wasn’t sure if I should eat them or pile them together and make a mattress to sleep on.

(You should eat them. Just FYI.)

Limited Edition Haribo Watermelon and Cherry Gold-Bears 4

Behold! The Watermelon bear!

This guy tumbles from the pack, pinker than a flamingo wearing a cotton candy muumuu in the Barbie aisle. A little sour, a little tart, a little flowery, and a little I-don’t-knowy, the taste of this bear must be what happens when a Watermelon Jolly Rancher gets squishified with a Strawberry Starburst.

It’s got a bit of sourness without veering into the “Warhead” zone and has a lightness, sweetness, and unseasonal summery joy that’s welcome in this January chill. Good show, Watermelon bear!

Now, to our next contender: Cherry.

Limited Edition Haribo Watermelon and Cherry Gold-Bears 3

Witness the Cherry. He is a simple fruity ursine. Squidgy and soft like his Watermelon brethren, he comes in a humble shade of mahogany that would make Franken Berry blush. The taste is reminiscent of what might happen if a bottle of grandma’s cranberry juice got sneezed on by a box of Cherry Jell-O: extremely tart, a little bitter, a smidge cough-syrupy, and barely sweet.

I had been hoping for a brighter, more sugary riff closer to a Sonic Cherry Limeade or a Cherry Jolly Rancher, so this version hinges toward being too tart for my tastes. I’d also like to pretend I have a more sophisticated palate than someone who adores sugary, maraschino-laden flavors, but who am I kidding? I’m more likely to have a flying magical moose drop a diamond-encrusted Dyson vacuum on my head.

Limited Edition Haribo Watermelon and Cherry Gold-Bears 5

So, at the end of the day, while the Cherry did fine, I’m giving my vote to Watermelon. It’s a bright, summery flavor, doesn’t taste like cough syrup, and will go smashingly with the lemon, raspberry, orange, strawberry, pineapple, and, lime they’ve already got rolling in the line.

But I also have an astronomically high tolerance for sugar. At $1 per package, I say give them a go and see what you think. You may love them. You may throw them against the wall. You may have profound revelations equivalent to kissing the philosophy of Albert Camus in the candy aisle. Who knows? Go forth! Find out! The great unknown awaits!

(Nutrition Facts – 17 pieces – 140 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 20 milligrams of sodium, 33 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 18 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1 each (on sale)
Size: 4 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walgreens
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Watermelon)
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Cherry)
Pros: Squishy enough to make a mattress with. Cherry could make Franken Berry blush. Watermelon is sweet enough to provide summer in the middle of January. Fruitiness is equivalent to a Fruit Roll-Up bitten by a mutant Gusher.
Cons: Cherry tastes like Cherry Jell-O and grandma’s cranberry juice. Being unable to find Green Apple. Realizing that I have the palate of a 3-year-old. Having a flying magical moose drop a diamond-encrusted Dyson vacuum on your head.

REVIEW: Milka Oreo Big Crunch Bar

Milka Oreo Big Crunch Bar

This morning I cracked open a fortune cookie (I tend to eschew traditional breakfasts for whatever happens to be in my car). The fortune read “All progress occurs because people dare to be different.” It made me ponder if the fortune tellers had encountered the Oreo Big Crunch Bar, as the product’s differences from its namesake served as deterrents to my enjoyment.

Milka Oreo Big Crunch Bar 2

My expectations for a “Big Crunch” were set immediately due to the naming contrivances employed. In the wake of snagging mini chocolate bars from my kids’ Halloween stashes last month, I felt foolish sitting alone in a room with this massive product — it was clearly meant to be consumed by a lacrosse team or a car full of clowns. Big, and then some, and then some more.

Milka Oreo Big Crunch Bar 4

Conversely, I’m not quite sure about the crunch factor also used in the product’s moniker. The 2 to 1 ratio we are accustomed to with Oreo cookies has been replaced with a 1 to 4 ratio — Milka chocolate on the top and bottom, plus creme on BOTH the bottom and top of one layer of cookie. To further uncrunchify the bar, pools of creme and chocolate sans cookie occur in the corners.

One additional misconception furthered by the partnership with Oreo is that the creme inside the candy bar is going to be the same found in an Oreo. The familiar grainy texture has been replaced with something sweeter, smoother, and unfamiliar. It’s not bad but certainly unexpected.

Milka Oreo Big Crunch Bar 3

Differences aside, the first bites of Oreo BCB were enjoyable. It reminded me of an improved version of my least favorite Oreo incarnation, the insanely sweet White Fudge covered Oreos. Here the ratio of chocolate did not appear to be as overwhelming at first and had a pleasant taste, but consuming more lead quickly to sweetness fatigue.

Overall, this was probably not the reaction that Milka was hoping for when combining two hallmark products. Lacking in crunch or Oreo-ness, being big just isn’t enough. “One must fulfill what they intend to be” is the more telling fortune in this case, and Milka seems to have missed by quite a bit on that prophesy.

(Nutrition Facts – 5 pieces – 230 calories, 130 calories from fat, 14 grams of saturated fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 90 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of of fiber, 20 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99 (on sale)
Size: 10.5 oz. bar
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Hulking size. Improvement on Fudge-covered Oreo concept. Some Cookies N’ Cream overtones. The best fortune I ever read: “You like Chinese food.”
Cons: Crunch is suppressed. Creme is not “that” creme. Far sweeter than necessary. The worst fortune I ever made up: “Those who can cook, do. Those who cannot write food reviews.”

REVIEW: Limited Edition Lay’s Wavy Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips with Almond Bits

Limited Edition Lay's Wavy Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips with Almond Bits

Are chocolate covered potato chips a snack or dessert? This is a serious life question. Dessert has my vote, although you could certainly make the case for either.

For me, the automatic draw to the Lay’s Wavy Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips with Almond Bits was the fact it was covered in chocolate. Sadly, though, that’s the peak of the excitement.

Limited Edition Lay's Wavy Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips with Almond Bits 2

There were three major bummers when I opened the bag.

  1. These Lay’s lived up to the classic chip/pretzel stereotype where the bag looks full but in reality it’s not. This one was about 1/4 of the bag full and the rest was good old zero calorie air. Strike One.
  2. The chocolate didn’t even cover the entire potato chip, unless the chip was on the smaller side. Strike Two.
  3. Where were all the almond bits? They might as well have been non-existent, both on the chip and in taste. But we’ll get to taste in a minute. Strike Three.

And to throw in a fourth: The serving size on these puppies is super small. Five chips? I definitely could polish off the whole bag.

I still wanted to give them a fair chance despite the aforementioned bummers. The best part about these chips is the chocolate. It’s pretty darn good. The chocolate covering the chips is pretty thick. But there’s such an overwhelming taste of chocolate that I had a hard time even tasting the chip. The chips were not crunchy, and I didn’t get a hint of salt until the fifth chip in. And the fact that they are wavy Lays doesn’t even matter – you couldn’t even tell thanks to the chocolate.

Limited Edition Lay's Wavy Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips with Almond Bits 3

Remember those almond bits? Yeah, I don’t either. I couldn’t get a distinct taste from even the few that I did see. Basically, if I wanted the same experience, I’d just have a Hershey’s chocolate bar.

I wanted to love these. I really did. While I did love the chocolate, I can’t help but feel that chip and chocolate’s marriage just isn’t working out and I’m not sure who should get the almond bits in the divorce.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz (about 5 chips) – 160 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 45 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 4 3/4 oz. bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Chocolate. Enough said.
Cons: Lack of almond bits, lack of chip prominence, lack of crunch. Not enough chips in the bag to make the $3.99 price tag worth it.

REVIEW: Kellogg’s Cinnamon Frosted Flakes

Kellogg's Cinnamon Frosted Flakes

As far as I’m concerned, Tony the Tiger is going through something of an identity crisis. Not only has Kellogg’s changed his look to be more “accessible” (like a talking Tiger was accessible to begin with), but his parent company has been rolling out all kinds of flavor variations.

On one hand, I guess Cinnamon Frosted Flakes shouldn’t surprise us. Both Tigers and Cinnamon are native to Bangladesh, and having already cycled through marshmallows, chocolate, and marshmallows and chocolate, it makes sense for Kellogg’s to hit us with a subliminal geography lesson. I wasn’t crazy about Chocolate Frosted Flakes with Marshmallows, nor did scream gr-r-reat! for the now-defunct Frosted Flakes with Energy Clusters.

So I’ve got good reason to be skeptical of the addition of cinnamon to Frosted Flakes. I say this with 28 years of cereal eating under my belt, literally. Despite the popularity of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, cinnamon-only flavored cereals don’t have a good track record. Cinnamon Burst Cheerios lasted for all of two seconds, while Cinnamon Jacks, Cinna-Crunch Pebbles, and a host of other cinnamon cereals have been relegated to the lonely eulogies written on MrBreakfast.com.

I do not join these individuals in mourning.

Kellogg's Cinnamon Frosted Flakes 2

If anything, cinnamon can be overpowering if applied in the wrong context, which is exactly the case with Cinnamon Frosted Flakes. The cinnamon flavor is floral and spicy, somewhere between the flavor of cinnamon gum and the aroma of a cinnamon-scented candle. The weird thing is that it takes a second to activate, and when it does, it’s more of an aroma and sensation than a taste.

And boy is it strong.

The characteristic sweetness of Frosted Flakes is still there, but before the sweetness dissipates, it’s overwhelmed by the authentic cinnamon flavor. The problem isn’t that it doesn’t taste like cinnamon; the problem is that it tastes too much like cinnamon, so much that the malted sweetness and slight corn flavor that are present in Frosted Flakes get lost.

Kellogg's Cinnamon Frosted Flakes 3

The effect is not so extreme in milk, but that in and of itself doesn’t make Cinnamon Frosted Flakes desirable. There’s a decent cinnamon run-off into the milk, and the trademarked soggy corn sweetness of Frosted Flakes is still there, but the flavors of frosted flakes and cinnamon just don’t go together.

Clearly, something isn’t working in the grand scheme of Tony the Tiger’s life. The thing is, I have no idea why this is, except to suggest that this is some kind of mid-life cereal crisis that doesn’t need to be. We can all agree that Frosted Flakes are gr-r-reat!, but frankly, the new flavors, including Cinnamon Frosted Flakes, are really just “oh-oh-oh-kay.”

(Nutrition Facts – 29 grams – 110 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 mg of cholesterol, 150 mg of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 10 grams of sugars, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.98
Size: 26.8 oz. box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Authentic and floral cinnamon flavor in every spoonful. Better than the now defunct Simply Cinnamon Corn Flakes. Subliminal geography lessons.
Cons: Cinnamon flavor dominates the subtle malt and corn flavors of the flakes. Like eating a cinnamon-flavored candle. More an aroma than a true flavor. Lacks the buttery “toasted” flavors of Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Cinnamon Chex.