REVIEW: Carnival Fruit Roll-Ups

Carnival Fruit Roll-Ups

Finally, General Mills has cornered the market on adults who have a suppressed desire to run off and join the carnival.

Having often risked my life on drop towers, fried Oreo cookies, and questionably constructed bungee cords, to say I am a fan of the carnival would be an understatement, and I am flat out excited to see Fruit Roll-Ups paying a tribute to the land of rickety rides with not one, but TWO special rolls. Let’s see what this is all about.

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Attempting to unravel the rolls proves that there has been no evolution in General Mills’ plastic wrap since 1993. Indeed, it took me a good eight minutes to attain my first roll, a process which involved unrolling, re-rolling, unrolling again, tearing a hole in the roll, trying to patch it up, tearing 3 more holes, bonking my knee on a coffee table, and plenty of bad-mouth sailor talk.

While I have higher hopes for your agility, you, too, may find yourself frustrated in unwrapping your Roll-Up. Instead of resorting to my low, sailor-mouth tactics, perhaps you might look at peeling back the cellophane as not a struggle, but a lesson in how to better manage oneself in a harsh, unforgiving world.

Once you finally get these suckers unwrapped, the rolls’ images reveal a wealth of inspiration for aspiring carousel engineers and balloon salesmen. Each roll is split into two flavors: Cotton Candy/Caramel Apple and Berry Lemonade/Cherry Slushie. Let’s take it one flavor at a time, shall we?

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Berry Lemonade – The lemonade is strong with this one. Sweet and tangy with hints of juice, this one avoids the zest and goes straight for lemonade’s sugary qualities. There’s a slightly floral aftertaste that reminds me of blue raspberry Air Heads. I am not certain that blue raspberry qualifies as a berry, but its presence doesn’t offend the lemonade. I dig it.

Cherry Slushie – A bit of a snoozer, although it’s still good in its own artificial cherry way. It’s a deep, sour cherry flavor, much along the lines of a cherry Starburst. It’s a little one-note, which makes me wonder if it may have benefitted from a bit of vanilla or some lime. Still, quite good.

Taken as a whole, the two make a solid cherry-lemonade mock-up. A less formidable lemon would wilt in the presence of such strong cherry, but there’s a tang that brings the deep cherry notes back into place and makes the experience surprisingly balanced. Well done, General Mills. You found equilibrium and put it in a pectin fruit roll.

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Caramel Apple – Snap dog, this is one tangy apple. It reminds me of that crisp, tart Jolly Rancher Apple flavor, which I greatly appreciate, but where is the caramel? Nowhere to be found.

I initially hoped the Caramel Apple might be a roll on its own, allowing the tang of apple to come into play with a separate Werther’s caramel-like flavor, much akin to the flavors found in Tootsie’s Caramel Apple Pops. But no. Instead of burnt-sugar caramel, the apple was paired with another, more nefarious flavor…

Cotton Candy – Not for the weak of spirit. Imagine the sugary, floral taste of six feet of Bubble Tape. Distill that into a microcosm of liquid flavoring. Combine with hydrogenated cottonseed oil and squish out onto a piece of dollar store plastic wrap. Voila. You have this flavor.

I ate this roll last, hedging my bets that its strong flavors would eliminate my powers of taste. They did. While I appreciate the green apple flavor on its own, I discovered that bubblegum-flavored apples are not for me. Those with sensitive taste buds should approach with caution.

Taken as a whole, the experience of these rolls ranged between surprisingly great to mildly terrorizing. I hammered through the Lemonade/Cherry combination with gusto, but the Cotton Candy/Apple? That’s filed under the clunkers.

While neither flavor will replace my favorite (Strawberry), I appreciate that General Mills branched out with their Roll-Up offerings in a fun, summery way that celebrates the carnival. The next generation of humans may never experience Mayor McCheese or the way, way back seat of station wagons, but I have hope we’ll hang tight to the questionably safe swings and giganto funnel cakes at the carnival.

Just maybe keep the cotton candy-flavored apples out of it.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 roll – 50 calories, 5 calories from fat, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 55 milligrams of sodium, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Carnival Fruit Roll-Ups
Purchased Price: $4.98 (Triple Pack)
Size: 3 boxes – 10 rolls per box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Berry Lemonade/Cherry Slushie)
Rating: 3 out of 10 (Cotton Candy/Caramel Apple)
Pros: Lemonade/Cherry nicely balanced. Cherry tastes like a Starburst. Pears in ingredient list. Jolly Rancher Apple. Inspires balloon salesmen. Mayor McCheese.
Cons: Cotton Candy can get too sweet. No caramel in Caramel Apple. Blue raspberry is not really a berry. Dollar store plastic wrap. Bonking knee on a coffee table. A harsh, unforgiving world.

REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Banana Split Twinkies

Hostess Limited Edition Banana Split Twinkies

As the great poetic lyricist Gwen Stefani once soulfully crooned: “This s*** is bananas: B-A-N-A-N-A-S.”

And if any one song lyric best encapsulates the essence of these new Hostess Banana Split Twinkies, it’s that one. Because even though their appearance is remarkably fecal, beneath that waxy brown exterior is a surprisingly delightful banana treat. In fact, perhaps “Bananaphone” by the legendary symphonist Raffi is a more fitting track, because once you try these, you’ll want to get on the phone and tell your friends.

Sporting a blinding yellow box, a product photo that hypnotically radiates a white aura, and a guest appearance by those seemingly omnipresent Minions (we get it: they like bananas), Hostess is firing on all sensory cylinders in order to make you buy this product.

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The box describes the Twinkies as “frosted cake with artificially flavored strawberry topping and banana creme filling.” The idea of Banana Creme Twinkies and Chocodiles having a sugary love-child is enough to draw me in, but the unique strawberry kicker makes these even more interesting. To paraphrase DiCaprio: “Hostess, you had my curiosity. But now you have my attention.”

Since these are Banana Split Twinkies, there was no better way for me to eat one than to cleave it in twain vertically and observe its many layers like a spongy version of one of those Star Wars cross-section books.

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Beneath the chocolate crust of Planet Twinkie lies a thin jam layer with a few sporadically spaced, strangely square strawberry land mines. After these is a sponge cake mantle which guards the tempting pale yellow creme core. Ready your best Brendan Fraser impression, kids; we’re journeying to the center of the Twinkie.

The fragile chocolate coating’s flavor is far from distinct: heavy on the generic, cloying sugar taste and light on any real cocoa richness. Yet, I find myself okay with this because the chocolate simply isn’t meant to be the star of the show. The same goes for the rare strawberry clusters, which provide little more than a slight fruity burst and an interesting textural contrast. The golden cake section is doughy and dense, yet tame; like the vanilla ice cream it is meant to imitate, it exists only to provide a springboard for the creme center to perform its tasty alley-oop.

Because, as with many of Hostess’ new products, the creme makes the cake. Despite the artificial flavorings, it’s impressive how authentic the banana taste was. If I were to score the realism of the creme on my patented “Bananometer” (try spelling that, Gwen), which ranges from “Banana Laffy Taffy” to “uhh, that’s an actual banana,” it would land closer to the latter.

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Eaten all together, I can earnestly say this cake does taste like a banana split. Like a good glass of wine with cheese or an Exodia deck in Yu-Gi-Oh, the parts work together to unlock each other’s true potential. With the banana flavor rightfully dominating, the strawberry nodules explode and support it with an appreciated bit of tartness, while the chocolate and sponge cake compliment the fruity sweetness with a buttery one. If you’re in the mood for a banana split, but not the work that comes with it, just pop one of these in the freezer, and you won’t be disappointed.

Somewhere, deep within a Hostess laboratory, is a team of flavor scientists who labored endlessly to perfect this flavor balance, and I give them praise. Bravo to you, certified “Bananologists.”

(My apologies again to Ms. Stefani.)

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cake – 170 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of total fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 135 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 17 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Hostess Limited Edition Banana Split Twinkies
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 9 cakes
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Tastes like a banana split. Balanced hierarchy of flavors. Satisfactory Bananometer results. Illegitimate snack cake children. Raffi.
Cons: Sporadic strawberry usage. Probably won’t win over banana haters. “Crappy” first impressions. Market over-saturation of Minions. Banana Laffy Taffy.

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: 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.