REVIEW: Keebler Jif Cookies

Keebler Jif Cookies

If it’s really true that “Choosy Moms Choose Jif,” then that raises some interesting questions about these new Keebler Jif Cookies. Namely: with so many cookies to choose from, what do Keebler Elf mothers pack for their kids’ lunches?

All lingering questions regarding Keebler biology aside (if E.L. Fudge cookies are anatomically correct, then how can the Elves reproduce with fudge for guts?), my guess is that it’s these peanut buttery delights.

Why? Because eating them is like taking a nostalgic trip back to elementary school lunchtime. Allow me to guide you through the simulation:

As Mrs. Hartwell continues to drone on about the importance of “the cursive capital I,” all you can think about is how the letter kinda looks like an octopus holding a cup of tea. So you stare at her bizarre facial mole until the third period bell rings, heralding in the best part of the day: lunch. As everyone clamors to the haphazardly cleaned tables, you explore the depths of your Tiny Toon Adventures lunchbox. Tossing aside a Grape Capri Sun (Pacific Cooler is a way better flavor) and egg salad sandwich (shudder), you strike brown gold: a Ziploc full of Keebler Jif Cookies!

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With a scent like the oily innards of a Reese’s Cup wafting out of the baggy, you catch the hopeful stare of Benny Thompson. No way are you trading your cookies for his Fruit Roll-Up this time. You bite into one of the bumpy, fudge-coated rings (but not before wearing it like a mock pinky ring, as it’s perfectly sized for your young hands) and release an exaggerated “Mmmm!” Benny hides his jealousy with a Fruit Roll-Up.

They certainly aren’t attractive cookies, with the glossy fudge and protruding nuts making them look like something that Scooter, your family Basset Hound, would leave behind for the neighbor kids to put in a flaming paper bag. The fudge melts fast, too, so you hope no one misinterprets the brown smudges on your hands.

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Analyzing every layer reveals the treat as deceptively complicated. The cookie center is crispy and airy with a pleasant taste of cocoa. This is surrounded by a layer of diced peanuts that add a contrasting crunch texture and a bit of earthy saltiness to balance the resounding sweetness of the fudge, which is a bit overbearingly rich in that “you’ll be tasting this on your tongue for hours” kind of way. It’s strong enough to override the unique creaminess provided by the thin layer of Jif peanut butter inside, which is a shame, because the rare instances when the Jif’s nutty gooeyness shines through are the cookie’s most memorable parts.

After school, you immediately raid the cupboards before mom gets home. As any child would, you experiment and craft a sinful PB&J hors d’oeuvre that looks vaguely like Jabba the Hutt.

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Cookies like these naturally evoke such childlike creativity. Yes, it’s ridiculous, fattening, and a bit unnecessary, but it’s also the kind of experience you’ll remember fondly in 10 years.

At the end of the day, that’s just what these cookies are: an enjoyable escapade, but a forgettable flavor. As good as it is, it’s been done before: when absentmindedly stuffed into your mouth, the many flavors amalgamate and ultimately remind you of two very familiar ones: it’s just like a Keebler Fudge Stripe and a Little Debbie Nutty Bar made sweet, sweet love and had salty-sweet children.

Not that your elementary school self understood how that works, right?

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 170 calories, 90 calories from fat, 10 grams of total fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 70 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Keebler Jif Cookies
Purchased Price: $2.78
Size: 8 oz./15 cookies
Purchased at: Meijer
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Jif peanut butter MVP. Fun contrasting textures. Evoking childlike whimsy. “Jabba the Peanutt.”
Cons: Not enough Jif. Loses complexity when crammed in mouth. Fudge fingers. Distracting moles. Egg salad.

REVIEW: Pepperidge Farm Twisted Grilled Cheese Goldfish Puffs

Pepperidge Farm Twisted Grilled Cheese Goldfish Puffs

I won a goldfish from the fair when I was ten. I was so excited holding him in his bag on the drive home. Oh the fun we were gonna have… Then, I realized all he did was swim in circles. About a month later I had to flush him down the toilet. That was basically the same experience as buying and eating Twisted Grilled Cheese Goldfish Puffs.

The instant you tear open the bag, you’re met with no smell. Seriously, there is barely a hint of a scent from these things. I’ve never had a cheese based snack that didn’t have a distinct aroma. These smell like cardboard.

The lack of smell didn’t bother me at first because artificially flavored cheese isn’t exactly my favorite cologne, but then I tasted them and, yeah, we’re just dealing with a bland product here.

The flavor itself reminded me of Wise Cheez Doodles, only with much less flavor. These are the cheese puff equivalent of Fruit Stripe gum. The instant you get hit with the cheese flavor, you lose it. The only other sensation I got was a “corny” aftertaste. Not “corny” like my writing, but “corny” like “I just ate corn.”   

I’ll tell you one flavor I never thought of once while eating these – grilled cheese.   There’s really nothing “grilled cheese” about them. I kinda figured you’d get a nice buttery element with the cheese, but nope. Nada. 

They could have tagged this with any description they wanted and it would have been on par with “Twisted Grilled Cheese.” That name is strictly a marketing ploy. I was really hoping they would have been more in line with the Flavor Blasted Cheddar Goldfish crackers, but alas, they were just weak cheese doodles.

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You’re probably wondering where the “twist” comes in. So am I. Each puff has little green sprinkles on them, which I assume are pepper flakes, because there is a small heat element. Very small. This of course is backed up by the fact that neither “pepper” nor anything really relating to “pepper” is listed in the ingredients. So…either way, the heat lingers on your tongue longer than the actual cheese flavor.

It’s not all bad though. The texture is the saving grace – on a scale from “fresh puffed Cheeto” to “stale Cap’n Crunch cereal piece,” it definitely lands closer to the former.  There is a nice light crisp to each bite, but in time, I could feel them shredding the roof of my mouth.

And ya know why? Because I’m still eating them as I type. Here I am, talking about how boring these Goldfish are, yet they’re going down like water…which is ironic because I think Pepperidge Farm’s main reason for shaping their crackers like fish was due to the fact they pair so well with water. I’ve never eaten any variety of Goldfish without chugging a bottle of H2O due to excessive salt dehydration. These are certainly no different. Salt city.

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Twisted Grilled Cheese Goldfish Puffs are probably the worst Goldfish product I’ve ever had. Not to go all superficial on you guys, but they aren’t even as cute as regular goldfish. They’re fatter and more squished in appearance. There’s a certain sadness hidden behind each of those smiles. Although to be fair to Twisted Grilled Cheese, the original Cheddar sets an unrealistic standard for Goldfish alike. Real Goldfish have curves.

So, in conclusion, are these better than most puffed cheese snacks? No. Are they better than regular cheddar Goldfish crackers? Not even close.

There are so many cheesy alternatives in the supermarket, there’s almost no reason to buy these unless you are a Goldfish completist. Still, I can’t give them a super low score because of their inherent eatability – which I’m being told is not a word. Tomato, tuh-ma-toe.

(Nutrition Facts – 1.1 oz – 140 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, .5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 260 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Pepperidge Farm Twisted Grilled Cheese Goldfish Puffs
Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: 6 oz. bag
Purchased at: Stop & Shop
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Light and crisp. Addicting. Snack smiles back. Catchy advertising jingles of yore.
Cons: Bland. Salty. Mouth roof rippers. False grilled cheese advertising. Weakest twist since M. Night’s most recent flick.

REVIEW: Pepperidge Farm Cheeseburger Goldfish Crackers

Pepperidge Farm Cheeseburger Goldfish

Look, I know.

I know I shouldn’t have tried to pogo through Times Square. Or put the Tootsie Roll in the Easy Bake Oven. Or tried to build a tent in gale force winds in the middle of the Mexico desert. I do ridiculous things sometimes because I’m curious if they can be done. Somebody should stop me.

But nobody did. Not when I was walking to the grocery. Not at the back of aisle 3. Not the guy hacking up sirloin at the meat counter. So, unhindered by human or meat cleaver, I dive in to Pepperidge Farm Cheeseburger Goldfish Crackers, one-by-one.

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Starting simple, the cheddar is familiar and orange as the hunk of cheese from whence it came. It’s wonderful in that nutty, salty, and savory way. It’s perhaps a bit too safe, but it’s also nice to be reminded that there’s a reason these have been bobbing about since 1962.

I’m surprised and disappointed to find the ketchup tastes much similar to the cheddar cracker, but with a very, very, very, very minuscule hint of canned tomato paste. Some may say the tomato isn’t there at all, but, if you close your eyes and use your imagination, you can taste a tomato-y afterthought at the end. Those looking for the sweet tang of ketchup shall be sad in this tomato effort, but the sprinklies of salt coating each fish help things along. It’s not a bad fishy, but not noticeably different enough from the cheddar to declare its taste as unique.

Now, on to the most curious beast: the burger cracker.

No skipping around the tulips: it’s pretty good. No hints of metal, artificial smoke, or burnt-charcoal. There’s a salty, savory, roasted-portabella edge with a hint of caramelized onion bits found at the bottom of the pan. Sure, it may not be the medium-rare hunk of cow I look for, but it holds its own, and, in that capacity, it goes excellently with the cheddar. The two eaten together may encourage you to shovel up every last crumb of the bag as if you were raised by wolves. Do not be ashamed of being raised by wolves: scoop those crackers down, you wolf-human.

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Maybe it’s the smell of charcoal in the air, but I think I like these. I really do. They’re not spectacular, even a little too safe, but they’re also not putrid.

They’re savory, nutty, cheesy and easy to chomp. It would be exciting to see Pepperidge Farm go further with the idea of the burger: give me some jalapeño, Colby, and mustard-coated Goldfish. Bacon and bleu. Give me all the pickle-flavored fishies you can muster. I shall eat them. Eat them all. If I’m going off the deep end, so be it.

But maybe you will join me? Here? In the deep end? It’s nice. And way fun. And has lots of crackers.

(Nutrition Facts – 56 pieces – 140 calories, 40 calories from fat, 4.5 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Pepperidge Farm Cheeseburger Goldfish Crackers
Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: 6.3 oz. bag
Purchased at: Morton Williams
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Nutty. Savory. Burger cracker not gross. Cheddar remains unchanged. Brown bits of caramelized onions. Salt sprinklies. Benefits of being raised by wolves. Pogo sticks.
Cons: Ketchup tastes like cheddar. Absence of tang. Can’t order medium rare. No pickles? Trying to set up a tent in gale force winds.

REVIEW: Hostess Limited Time Only Sea Salt Caramel Cupcakes

Hostess Limited Time Only Sea Salt Caramel Cup Cakes

Is this what Captain Cupcake died for?

For the unaware or forgetful, Captain Cupcake was just one of Hostess’ many attempts from the ’70s and ’80s to follow up on Twinkie the Kid’s popularity and anthropomorphize all of their sweet treats. A mustachioed “cap-cake,” the good captain defended his fellow cream-filled treats from all manner of cartoon peril.

But now…he’s dead. Yes, while “the Kid” lives on, Captain Cupcake has faded into obscurity, along with Happy Ho Ho, Fruit Pie the Magician, and others. And without him to protect the proud chocolate legacy of the Hostess Cupcake, the treats have met with the worst peril of all: buzzwords.

We should have seen it coming when Hostess released Strawberry Cupcakes back in 2011. But no, we shrugged it off as “just a phase.” But then came Red Velvet Cupcakes earlier this year, and suddenly we knew that the “flavor of the month” bandwagon had snatched our darling Cupcakes for good. That’s why it was no surprise to see these new Sea Salt Caramel Cupcakes hit shelves: the squiggled snack we once munched with integrity had become…one of them. We’re sorry, Captain Cupcake. We’ve failed you.

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But as Mark Twain, the inspiration for the short-lived “Hostess Twainkie,” once wrote: “don’t judge a cake by its wrapper.” (Note: none of that actually happened.) So I’ll go in unbiased. Removing the diminutive cake (are they getting smaller, or am I just getting older?) from its plastic prison, the strong scent of processed cake and caramel hits harder than an industrial salt truck. You know your grandma’s bowl of dusty Werther’s caramel candy that hasn’t been touched since Eisenhower’s presidency? These cakes smell like those did back in their glory days.

The box describes them as “caramel iced yellow cake with sea salt topping and caramel cream filling.” To examine all these new features, I split my cake like a frog in 5th-grade biology class (appetizing, no?). The first half was to be used for rigid, scientific analysis. The other…for unceremoniously stuffing in my cake-hole.

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The yellow cake is like a more dense Twinkie: sticky, sweet, and a little buttery, but plain enough to provide a neutral playing field for the cake’s other features. Eaten alone, the light mahogany icing is a bit too cloying, the slight flavor—which was more butterscotch than caramel—was marred by the overbearing punch of saccharine. The small, salty granules sprinkled throughout also carry very little taste on their own; their impact was so little that I wondered whether they were purely decorative.

Instead, it is the cream that is the hero here. Colored like normal cream that someone scribbled on with a Burnt Sienna Crayola crayon, it mixes that quintessential “Hostess cream” whipped vanilla flavor with an earthy, rich caramel one to make something unique.

But this cake really is a sum of its parts. Optimistically stuffing the other half in my mouth, what came next was nothing short of Shakespearean. With the sponge cake acting as the stage, the sweet frosting and savory saltiness (eating many grains makes the salt flavor actually noticeable) battled for supremacy, until the peacekeeping caramel creme unified them to produce a balanced snack cake experience that was complex and true to the salted caramel name.

I take back all I said before. Captain Cupcake isn’t rolling over in his grave; he’s saluting! And, oh, what’s that? I think I can hear the Captain’s voice echoing from the great beyond:

“Just…stop them…before they make…Sriracha Cupcakes.”

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cupcake – 160 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of total fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Hostess Limited Edition Sea Salt Caramel Cupcakes
Purchased Price: $2.96
Size: 12.7 oz. box (8 cakes)
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Balanced and salty-sweet when eaten together. Inventive cream. Well-choreographed snack cake theatre. Youthful Werther’s candy.
Cons: Overbearing icing. Underwhelming granules. Perceived snack cake shrinkage. Dissection metaphors. Mourning Captain Cupcake.

REVIEW: Jelly Belly Pancakes & Maple Syrup Jelly Beans

Jelly Belly Pancakes & Maple Syrup Jelly Beans

The year is 2055.

Hoverboard gangs roam the streets. Star Wars Episode XXI: The Force Earns Its Pension is a hit at the box office. The elderly President Gosling has just been elected to a historic 4th term with his smoldering campaign slogan, “Hey girl. I heard you like economic reform.”

Oh, and all food now comes in capsule form.

That’s right, as you head to your favorite breakfast joint, “House of Dancakes,” you notice how the hip, happenin’, and blissfully ignorant youth pop pills of scrambled eggs and bacon, with no memory of the days before society was encapsulated. Heaving a nostalgic sigh, you lock eyes with the owner. With a knowing look, he begins to spin you a tale: “Let me tell you how this whole journey began…”

It’s 2015 once more, and Jelly Belly Pancakes & Maple Syrup Jelly Beans are the brand’s latest attempt to squish the taste of all of your favorite foods into an artificially flavored, vaguely legume-shaped snack. Released on 4/22 to celebrate National Jelly Bean Day (only coincidentally close to 4/20, right Jelly Belly?), the beans contain all the ingredients that grandma used to use in her homemade flapjacks, like “Yellow 5 & 6, Confectioner’s Glaze, and Caranauba Wax.”

Mmmm, Caranauba Wax.

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The back of the homespun, gingham packaging reads like something out of a sexy lumberjack romance novel — I think I grew a beard just reading it. Tearing open the packaging, I’m immediately slapped in the nose with a strong and recognizable maple syrup scent. The shiny, mahogany beans beckon, so I dive in.

Popping one in my mouth, that iconic maple taste hits fast. It’s certainly more artificial than genuine—think Mrs. Buttersworth, not Grade A Vermont Dark Amber—but the accuracy of Jelly Belly’s flavor reenactment is charming just the same. However, unlike real maple syrup, the flavor doesn’t linger for more than a few seconds. After fading, I’m left chewing an entirely different-tasting bean. This “after-bean” really echoes the “Pancake” part of the product’s name: doughy, with just a hint of butter flavoring.

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I take a whole handful to experience that brief ecstasy of maple taste again, but as the cake flavor returns, I’m left regretting it. I hesitate to use the word “mouthfeel” (it sounds clichéd and a bit…uncomfortable), but eating these beans for long just feels weird. Like chewing a pancake that was way undercooked, the grit of the beans contrast unpleasantly with my mind’s expectation of a fluffy flapjack. I think Jelly Belly’s problem here is the fading maple flavor. If they could have made it last, the whole experience could have been more enjoyable. Wishing to test this, I went all out.

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Dousing my beans in the dark, sticky nectar of the maple gods, I ate a syrupy spoonful, and what I tasted made me instinctually bellow “Oh, Canadaaaa” across my empty kitchen. An extra kick of maple coupled wonderfully with those buttery undertones, and I was left with what the beans should’ve tasted like. But unless you want your life to become a sugar-fueled parody of Hollywood’s darkest addiction films (Grainspotting? Requiem for a Crème? Fine, I’ll stop), I really can’t recommend trying this. Okay, maybe just once. Then you can stop cold turkey. I promise.

For what they are, these jelly beans are little more than clever novelties. Like the “fireworks” of jelly bean flavors, they’re worth buying a small bag to enjoy the fleeting entertainment. Just make sure no one gets hurt in the process.

Though I must applaud Jelly Belly all the same for trying something progressive. Jolly good show, ol’ bean, and may I soon see the day when even “Braised Sirloin Tips with Steamed Broccoli” is available in cute little niblets.

(Nutrition Facts – 35 pieces – 140 calories, 0 grams of fat, 25 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 28 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Jelly Belly Pancakes & Maple Syrup Jelly Beans
Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: 3.1 oz bag
Purchased at: Jelly Belly Online Store
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Brief burst of maple goodness. A holistic pancake experience when coupled with more syrup. Ryan Gosling as president. Making puns with my name.
Cons: Fleeting maple bliss. Bizarre “undercooked pancake” mouthfeel. The word “mouthfeel.” Random acts of Canada (I’m American, I swear!).