REVIEW: Pepsi True

Untitled

High fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. To some, they’re just ingredients on a label. To others, they’re a plague that has destroyed society. To me, they are the sweeteners that’ll haunt my liver for the rest of my life.

You will not find high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners in the new Pepsi True. Instead, you will find and taste old school and new school plant-based sweeteners — sugar and stevia. There’s also carbonated water, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavor, and caffeine.

Don’t let the green can fool you. It’s not a natural, environmentally friendly, St. Patrick’s Day celebrating, green tea containing, or 4/20 celebrating version of Pepsi. (Although I do imagine the can is bong-able.) It’s just a cola for those who stay away from high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. Coca-Cola has a similar product on the market called Coca-Cola Life.

However, while Coca-Cola Life can be purchased from stores, the only way to get your hands on Pepsi True is through online retailer Amazon. And you can’t just buy a 12-ounce can, a six-pack, or a 12-can fridge pack. You have to buy a nine dollar, 24-count case made up of adorable 7.5 ounce cans. Right now I imagine some of you doing math in your head. Stop what you’re doing and let me be your abacus.

SPOILER ALERT: Buying a case of Pepsi True from Amazon is pricey.

A 12-pack of regular Pepsi/Diet Pepsi/Pepsi Next in 12-ounce cans go for around three bucks. So if 24 cans will be around six bucks, then it’ll cost two cents per ounce. Now a 24-pack of 7.5-ounce cans of Pepsi True has 180 ounces and costs nine smackers. So it ends up at five cents per ounce. So Pepsi True per ounce is more than twice as expensive as any other Pepsi in cans. Oh, but nine dollars is not Pepsi True’s true cost. There’s also the shipping cost or the other items you have to buy in order to get free shipping on Amazon. Sometimes it’s a pain to spend $35.

Untitled

As a Pepsi fan, I was excited to try Pepsi True, but after drinking through the four cans I received from Pepsi, I don’t think I’ll be filling my Amazon shopping cart with cases of it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like Pepsi True. It’s smoother and cleaner than regular Pepsi and Pepsi Next, which I adore. It has 10 fewer grams of sugar than a 7.5-ounce can of regular Pepsi. I dug that slight kola nut extract vibe it has, making it taste kind of like Pepsi Natural (although there isn’t any kola nut extract in the ingredients). Also, there isn’t any bitterness that usually comes with some stevia-sweetened products.

But it’s not good enough to make me want to pay a premium for these tiny cans from Amazon, even if I do have an Amazon Prime account. If Pepsi True ends up in brick and mortar stores and comes in larger sizes with prices equal to its HFCS and artificially sweetened bretheren, then I do see myself buying it on a regular basis.

However, if you’re a soda drinker who avoids high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, I imagine you would be willing to pay extra for Pepsi True since real sugar and stevia sodas tend to be pricier, like Mexican Pepsi and Coke, which are sweetened with real sugar, and Zevia soda, which contains stevia and monk fruit. So if you’re one of those people, I think Pepsi True a good option to have in the mostly high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweetener world we live in.

DISCLOSURE: I received free Pepsi True samples from Pepsi.

(Nutrition Facts – 7.5 ounces – 60 calories, 0 grams of fat, 20 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 16 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Pepsi True
Purchased Price: FREE
Size: 7.5 ounces
Purchased at: Received from Pepsi
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Smoother and cleaner than regular Pepsi. Fewer grams of sugar than regular Pepsi. No HFCS or artificial sweeteners. Has a kola nut vibe to it.
Cons: Right now, only available only on Amazon by the case in small 7.5-ounce cans. You’ll have to pay a premium for it. Spending more money to get free shipping on Amazon.

REVIEW: International Delight Very Vanilla Nog

International Delight Very Vanilla Nog

Are you one of those weirdos who lets vanilla ice cream melt into a liquid before consuming? Well then, Mr. or Miss Melty Pants, I know of a product that will save you some time if you want liquified vanilla ice cream. No, it’s not a microwave oven. It’s International Delight’s Very Vanilla Nog.

Speaking of weird, it’s odd to see an International Delight product that has nothing to do with coffee. Although, technically, one could use ID’s Very Vanilla Nog as a liquid coffee creamer.

To be honest, it also feels a bit weird to call this product a nog.

I don’t want to use the fifth grade tactic of using a dictionary definition to make a point, but I feel I must here. According to my computer’s dictionary, nog is short for eggnog. Nog also “a small block or peg of wood,” so feel free to use the word “nog” as new slang for male genitalia that has shrunken from cold weather.

Anyhoo, if we’re to go by the definition, International Delight’s Very Vanilla Nog is not nog. It’s notg. It doesn’t have eggs, cinnamon, or nutmeg. International Delight does have a Classic version of their nog that, according to the ID website, has “a hint of sweet nutmeg flavor and notes of light rum.” But it has no eggs, so it’s also notg.

Not having eggs in a holiday nog that has dairy is like having Thanksgiving without the turkey, Christmas without mall Santas, and Black Friday without the YouTube videos of folks getting into fights over cheap crap at Walmart.

International Delight Very Vanilla Nog Closeup

While International Delight’s Very Vanilla Nog doesn’t have eggs or the spices associated with eggnog, it does have a couple of ingredients found in most store-bought eggnogs — delicious guar gum and carrageenan. Wait. Did I say “delicious”? I meant, necessary to thicken this beverage so that it’s the consistency of melted ice cream.

Now with all that said, I wish International Delight’s Very Vanilla Nog never goes away because it really does smell and taste like vanilla ice cream, and, oh my goodness, it makes eating things you usually consume with milk much better.

Cereal…better.

Hershey’s syrup…better.

Oreo dunking…better.

So International Delight should just drop the nog name so that they can sell it throughout the year. Call it Magic Milk. That’s probably taken, so they should go with a different spelling, like Majic Mylk. I mean, if International Delight can get away with calling their Very Vanilla Nog a nog, they can probably get away with alternate spellings.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup – 120 calories, 20 calories from fat, 2 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 105 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 18 grams of sugar, 4 grams of protein, and 15% calcium.)

Item: International Delight Very Vanilla Nog
Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 1 Quart
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Smells and tastes like vanilla ice cream. Has a consistency similar to melted vanilla ice cream. Makes eating things you usually consume with milk much better.
Cons: It being called “nog” even though it doesn’t have eggs or spices. It’s weird this product has nothing to do with coffee. Getting a nog in cold weather.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal

Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal

Dear Nick,

First off, I hope you don’t mind me using your first name. I figure now that I’m older and no longer writing to you on a yearly basis with my egregious gift requests, we could drop the excessive formalities. Speaking of which, I want you to know I harbor no ill will about my letter dated 5 December 1998. Turns out little girls with Olympic aspirations are much more deserving of a pony than any 10-year old boy trying to recreate a scene from Indiana Jones in his backyard. Besides, horses poop. I wouldn’t have wanted to deal with that.

Anyways, I’m writing to you this year as one cookie fiend to another. You should know that when you shimmy down chimneys this year you may not find the usual assortment of gingerbread men, peanut butter Kisses, and snickerdoodles arranged neatly beside a glass of milk. What you might find is a bowl of cereal in milk.

I know. It certainly sounds like an egregious attempt to circumvent the spirit of Christmas Eve, or at the very least a cabal by concerned parents trying to teach their children a lesson about saturated fat intake. I also had many reservations. But you, Nick, are more familiar with the inexplicable magic of the season than most, so it should come as no surprise to the man who guides his sled by flying reindeer that cereals can transform into cookies.

How else can you explain a transformation that defies reason? Not to mention evidence that bakeshop-inspired cereals suck.

But this cereal doesn’t suck. Actually, it’s pretty freaking good. While looking the same as 2012’s less than memorable Frosted Toast Crunch, Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch is much better. And it’s a worthy substitute for fresh baked cookies in your Christmas Eve travels. And believe me, Nick, I’m a certified expert when it comes to sugar cookies, thanks mostly to the complimentary sugar cookies offered at the Harris Teeter store they opened on our street about a year ago. (Side note: You won’t be putting me on the naughty list for taking more than one on each visit, will you?)

Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal 2

But back to the cereal, or should I say the mini sugar cookies, because that’s what each one of these little squares taste like. They have a lighter texture on the tongue than the other cereals of the Toast Crunch family, but keep that delightful crisp exterior, which in this case glistens with specks of superfine sugar that mirror freshly fallen snow.

There’s a Frosted Flakes taste going on when you eat the squares dry. It’s not cloying and there isn’t any hint of the toasted richness French Toast Crunch used to have, but there’s something about the crispy texture and vanilla flavor of the sugar which inexplicably registers as sugar cookie. It’s as if, by some commutative property of Christmas magic, the essence of whatever makes a sugar cookie a sugar cookie and not, say, a snickerdoodle, has been extracted and sprinkled over each square.

Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal 4

I know you’re not one to eat cookies without milk, and the good news for you (and me) is that Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch tastes amazing in milk. The combination of sugar and milk creates an instant flavor of royal icing, and leaves a rich and sweet end milk which should be bottled and sold. Come to think of that, maybe I’ll add that to my Christmas wish list.

Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch isn’t perfect, Nick. It’s still not as great as Frosted Toast Crunch, and I personally still love Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Chocolate Toast Crunch better. But when it comes to recreating a cookie taste, don’t be so quick to pass over a bowl left out this Christmas Eve. I think you’ll find it’s worth a few presents in some kid’s stocking. Oh yeah, and please send me a pony.

Sincerely,

Adam

(Nutrition Facts – 31 grams – 130 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 180 milligrams of sodium, 55 milligrams of potassium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 2 gram of fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 1 grams of protein.)

Item: Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 12.2 oz. box
Purchased at: Weis Markets
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Good representation of sugar cookie flavor. Light and crispy texture plain, with a Frosted Flakes-like aftertaste. Not too sweet. Sucks up milk like a fat man in a red suit. Better than Frosted Toast Crunch. Leaves sugar cookie end milk.
Cons: Still not French Toast Crunch. Possibly laced with Christmas magic dust. Lacks buttery crumb. Still not getting a pony.

REVIEW: Burger King Poutine á la Burger (Canada)

Burger King Poutine á la Burger (Canada) 1

I think a poutine might just be the most flexible junk food on the planet. You can top it with pretty much anything. Buffalo chicken? Sure. Hamburger? Why not! If you can dream it up, you can put it on a poutine.

Even still, Burger King’s Poutine á la Burger made me a bit wary. Not because it’s particularly weird, but because, honestly, Burger King isn’t my favourite fast food joint. And by “isn’t my favourite,” I mean it’s my least favourite. I actually used to like it a lot — but they’ve gone downhill quite precipitously over the last 15 years or so. It’s gotten to the point where, these days, a visit fills me with a kind of slow-burn horror that makes me very tempted to just turn around and walk out the door.

Even still, thanks to my childhood affection for the place, I occasionally find myself back there, hoping for the best.

The Poutine á la Burger is simple enough: it’s a regular poutine, topped with a chopped burger patty, mustard, ketchup, and pickles.

Nothing here was particularly good. I don’t think I need to tell you that Burger King’s fries aren’t that great, but I’ll do it anyway: Burger King’s fries aren’t that great. They’re standard mediocre battered fries, which pretty much taste the same wherever they’re served. I suspect that most fast food joints that serve them get them from the same supplier (it tastes that way, at least).

The curds weren’t much better. The main test of a good cheese curd is whether or not it has “squeak” – a subtle squeaking noise that a fresh curd makes when you bite into it. I tried one of the unmelted ones on top, and not only did it not squeak, it had a weirdly mushy, almost mealy texture that was unpleasant and quite unlike any curd I’ve had before.

The gravy was probably a bit more thick and gloppy than it should have been, and was otherwise run-of-the-mill bland canned gravy.

As for the chopped burger patty, it was standard Burger King, with that very distinctive flame-broiled flavour. It also had an unpleasantly gamy taste that generally comes from reheating meat one time too many.

The mustard, ketchup, and pickles were mustard, ketchup, and pickles. Even Burger King can’t mess that up.

I’ll bet you think you know where this review is going. Well, here comes the M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist.

Burger King Poutine á la Burger (Canada) 2

All the elements here ranged from passably mediocre to outright gross, so this should have been horrible, right? And in the first few mouthfuls, where I was paying attention to each individual element, it was horrible. But then something odd happened. I started enjoying it. It had all coalesced into something surprisingly tasty.

The curds, once melted by the gravy and the fries, lost their mealy texture. The fries, with their crispy battered coating, stood up well to the abundant gravy. The vinegary bite of the pickles and mustard added a much-needed punch of flavour to the bland gravy. And the gamy taste of the beef was drowned out by the sweetness of the ketchup and the poutine’s other flavours, leaving only a vague beefiness that gave the dish a bit more substance and oomph.

I’m a little bit baffled, honestly. All logic and common sense says that this poutine should have been offensively gross. Each individual component was sub-par, putting it kindly. And yet… and yet, it wasn’t gross. I enjoyed it. It’s as if all the bad canceled each other out and created something that was inexplicably good.

I can barely wrap my head around it. The poutine is objectively awful; I know this. And yet it was weirdly compelling, like a roadside accident that you just can’t stop staring at. About halfway through I told myself to stop eating it, that it was no good, that it was too much, that I’d feel sick. But I couldn’t. I didn’t stop until I had scraped the bottom of the bowl.

I wish I hadn’t eaten this, to be frank. Nothing about it made me feel good, physically or mentally.

Physically, well, that should be fairly obvious. If you pick this thing up, it has heft. I’d be shocked if it weighed less than a pound. Maybe even two. I made the mistake of eating it during my lunch break at work, and I returned to the office clutching my perilously full belly and wanting nothing more than to take a very long nap.

Mentally, it made me question everything about who I am, right down to my very core. Do I have bad taste? I didn’t think so before, but now I’m not so sure. Enjoying something that’s so clearly shoddy has upended everything I thought I knew about myself.

I really don’t know what else to say. I went to Burger King that day to review the Poutine á la Burger, only for it to review me. It peered deep into my soul and found me wanting. It knew who I was, who I am, who I will always be.

It knew everything.

(Nutrition Facts – 880 calories, 46 grams of fat, 14 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 70 milligrams of cholesterol, 1490 milligrams of sodium, 95 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of sugar, and 24 grams of protein.)

Item: Burger King Poutine á la Burger (Canada)
Purchased Price: $4.99 CAN
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Burger King
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: In spite of itself, it is surprisingly tasty. Look, I liked it, okay? Don’t make me say more.
Cons: Run-of-the-mill battered fries, mediocre gravy, gross curds, off-tasting beef. Realizing that you like this despite all that and therefore have terrible taste in food. Having your soul laid bare. Self doubt.

REVIEW: Dunkin’ Donuts Croissant Donut

Dunkin' Donuts Croissant Donut 1

I remember the first time I heard the name Dominique Ansel and something called a Cronut.

Shortly after learning she he was not a member of an Eastern European figure skating team, I decided that the SoHo, New York pastry chef was a freaking genius. Aside from the fact his combination of flaky, buttery croissant and yeasty, sugary donut may have been the most effective joint American-French venture since the Revolutionary War, the Cronut struck me as the perfect marriage of taste and texture with kitchen science and dedicated craftsmanship. Sonnets, I suppose, will one day be written on the cultural significance of the Cronut—an amazing feat, really, considering its relative isolation in New York City.

Well, that is, until now. Okay, so technically calling this 24-layers of fried, buttery dough a “Cronut” is incorrect, and, if you want to go all chronological on me, even national grocery stores like Safeway have been making Cronut knockoffs for the better part of 2014. But let’s not forget this is Dunkin’ Donuts. We run on this stuff, America, and if there’s one chain that can bring even a hint of Ansel’s epic creation to every corner of small towns and overcrowded suburbs, it’s Dunkin’.

Dunkin' Donuts Croissant Donut 2

The Croissant Donut I received was far from a geometric wonder. It’s not quite hexagonal enough to suggest complete machine creation and it’s missing the characteristic rounded edges of a typical donut. I would settle on a shape somewhere between “askew” and “jacked up.” Nonetheless, it smelled of the trademark Dunkin’ glaze. And it’s served in an adorable little container, which exhibits a sense of uniqueness.

Dunkin' Donuts Croissant Donut 3

I’ve always struggled with counting, but after cutting into the faux Cronut, I’m fairly sure there weren’t 24 unique and verifiable layers of buttery dough. All that said, I wasn’t too disappointed, mostly because the taste was very enjoyable. Yes, I said it: enjoyable. Maybe not the purported earth-shattering taste of Ansel’s original Cronut, but certainly better than the multiple grocery store imitators I’ve tried.

The interior dough has a moist, but light texture, like an actual croissant. It also certainly tastes like one. The interior layers, while not distinctively laminated in true pastry fashion, still gave an excellent contrast to the crunchy and ridged fried exterior, which was altogether more substantial than a typical donut. I liked that there was some heft to the Croissant Donut, which was far less airy and collapsible than the otherwise pipsqueak-sized regular Dunkin’ glazed donuts.

With all that said, I can see how it probably wouldn’t impress those lucky enough to have an actual Cronut. The glaze flavor is a classic touch, but the single-flavor fails to capitalize on a host of sweet croissant fillings, while coming across as overpriced and, yes, mass-produced. There was a part of me which wanted more distinctiveness in the interior layers, wishing for a truly pick-apart dough which was layered with chocolate or marzipan or any number of fillings.

Still, there’s no use covering up the fact that I really enjoyed Dunkin’s take on Ansel’s now-iconic Cronut. While I do think the mass-produced version is a buck too expensive and could be improved by adding flavor variations, there is something to be said for simplicity and accessibility. No, I’m sure it’ll never compare to the original award-winning Cronut, but Dunkin’ Donut’s Croissant Donut exhibits a great balance in texture and flavor and gives us non-New Yorkers something new and exciting to run on.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Croissant Donut – 300 calories, 120 calories from fat, 14 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 230 milligrams of sodium, 0 milligrams of potassium, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 2 gram of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.)

Item: Dunkin’ Donuts Croissant Donut
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Dunkin’ Donuts
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Better than grocery store Cronut imitators. Moist interior dough has authentic buttery taste. Crunchy outside glaze provides great textural contrast. Feels and tastes more substantial than a regular donut. Available in suburbia without a long wait.
Cons: Interior lacks optimal flakiness. Generic glazed donut sweetness limits appeal. No guarantee of freshness. No way in hell it’s only 300 calories.