REVIEW: Crispy M&M’s (2014)

Crispy M&M's (2014)

9 years, 2 months, and 13 days ago, I was shot down by Mars, coming up empty-handed in my attempts to find a bag of Crispy M&M’s. As noted by the comprehensive timeframe, I may not be over it.

Well, now I can hack off that elephantine chip on my shoulder because Crispy M&M’s are back and putting a candy-coated jingle in my step. While they come in a dashing green bag and serve as an excellent pocket-sized tambourine, let’s ask ourselves the Really Important Question: how do these suckers compare to the old Crispy M&M’s?

Crispy M&M's (2014) get the stare from George Washington

Let’s start with some basics: there are crisps and then there are Crisps.

I know.

I’ll give your brain a moment to catch up with the shocking depth of that.

*Waits.*

Now that it’s sunk in, I’m sure you’ve realized you can have a crisp (a smidgeon of a rice puff made of itty-bitty grainy bits that get stuck between your teeth) or you can have a Crisp (a giant husk that crunches, cracks, then dissolves like a massive, non-mushy rice crispy treat). The specimens found in these Ms are unquestionably Crisps. For the mathematical statisticians out there, the average M is about 80% crisp, 15% chocolate, 4% candy shell, and 1% astronaut. That description may also be 75% true.

The Crisp inside crackles on first bite, verging on malt ball territory in sheer dimension. While the Crisp tastes of little more than toasted rice and air, it picks up the slack in providing texture, carrying the burden of contrast as the smooth, super-fast melting milk chocolate rushes in.

Taken as a whole, each candy strikes a moderate balance of chocolate, candy shell, and poof, making it easy to shovel the bag into one’s mouth and/or stash the rest in a drawer so they don’t say, Eat all the bags nowwww or Do you think you could request these in 240-bag packs from Costco? or any of the other things candies say to me when we’re alone together.

Crispy M&M's (2014) tumble out all shiny

President Benjamin Harrison gave the White House its first Christmas tree in 1889. Had Harrison lived for 125 more Christmases, I suspect he would’ve slipped these M&M’s under his tree. They’re filled with sugar, chocolate, and artificial colorings in pebbly candy form. Sure, they may not blow flavor out of the water, but they taste exactly as they did in 2005. In that way, they’re dependable and, moreover, represent a Large American Company doing something Large American Companies rarely do: listen.

Mars heard the call of the American people for the return of that which they held dear and, by George, they answered. Mars gets a gold star for being good listeners. If you were a fan of the Crispy M&M’s of yore, I hope you go forth to your favorite store and haul off any burden and angst of the past as you chow down on these nubbins. Do it for your stocking. Do it for nostalgia. Do it for Benjamin Harrison.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 bag/1.35 oz. – 180 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 55 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 22 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Crispy M&M’s (2014)
Purchased Price: 99 cents (on sale)
Size: 1.35 oz. bag
Purchased at: CVS
Rating: 7 out of 10 (plus a special gold star for bringing back a classic)
Pros: Melty milk chocolate. Giant crisp interior. Tastes exactly as I remember them. Good listeners. 1% astronaut. Benjamin Harrison’s Christmas tree.
Cons: Crisp doesn’t add much flavor. Artificial colorings are still artificial. Things candies say when we’re alone together.

REVIEW: Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M’s

Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M's

At what point should we start to be concerned that the usually delicious array of autumnal-inspired treats and sweets are becoming a victim of their own lofty standards?

Up until recently I was inclined to say never. I mean, when unlikely superstars like Pumpkin Pie Pringles and Candy Corn Oreo augment standbys like apple cider donuts and pumpkin spice cookies, fall products have earned a reputation as reliable as the leaves hitting the ground each September and October. It’s part of what makes this time of the year so special for food lovers, and no doubt the reason Walmarts and Targets everywhere rush in the latest creations of mass-produced seasonality earlier and earlier each year.

Now though, I’m not so sure if every apple or pumpkin product will be a hit. My doubts started last year with the Pumpkin Spice M&M’s, and have been confirmed by the new Candy Apple M&M’s.

That’s right; even graced by the seductive presence of a high risk spokeswoman, there’s nothing particularly memorable or sexy about the new Candy Apple M&M’s. And there’s definitely nothing candy apple or autumnal about the flavor.

It shouldn’t have been this way. On first inspection, it sounds like a brilliant idea; the perfect marriage of cloyingly sweet and sticky hard shell coating and mellow milk chocolate paired with the prerequisite cinnamon spice for depth and artificial apple tartness for, well, tartness. Dare I say, they could have even thrown some caramel in there, and heck, why not peanuts? Granted it’s difficult to execute the ultimate nightmare for dentists in something less than the size of a quarter, but c’mon, this is M&M’s people. I mean, they stuck a friggin’ pretzel between chocolate and shell. That’s like sending a man to the moon compared with developing the simple flavors of a candy apple.

Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M's Closeup

Alas, it was not to be. The only things vaguely reminiscent of a candy apple in these M&M’s are the color and shape. Upon first taste a vague notion of cinnamon spice, more reminiscent of hot cinnamon candies than tart Granny Smith encased in hardened syrup, inhabits the candy coating. At least, I think its cinnamon. Come to think of it, maybe its clove, or perhaps nutmeg or ginger. Yes, that’s it, nutmeg and ginger. Almost nonexistent in intensity but there nonetheless, like the imaginary friend I sat with at the lunch table in second grade.

You heard me, imaginary friend.

I pop another M&M in my mouth and I’m starting to question if that cinnamon taste was ever really there, just as I questioned why Teddy my old chum at Rockhill Elementary wouldn’t trade me his Dunkaroos for my carrot sticks (I never did get an answer.) Allowing the M&M to dissolve into a familiar if not pedestrian chocolate flavor, I’m suddenly left with the taste of nothing more than that mild chocolate. Don’t get me wrong; chocolate is great and all (hey, maybe even good for me!) but as I finish the M&M I can’t pick up anything unique or different about these from standard M&M’s. Like the Pumpkin Spice M&M’s there really isn’t much going on here; just chocolate and shell and maybe a little bit of artificial vanilla flavor, combining with that sort of waxy debris of chewed-up M&M that sticks in the nooks and crannies around your molars.

I don’t think I’ve been as frustrated in a fall food product since, well, ever. The worst part about the Candy Apple M&M’s is that they speak to what has really been a series of mediocre limited edition flavors. I’m not just talking about last year’s Pumpkin Spice duds, but also the Red Velvet flavor, and some of the other seasonal spinoffs which seem more package art than taste sensations. Altogether, it’s a disturbing trend for a candy that has had great success with iconic flavors like Mint and Peanut Butter. But perhaps it’s a needed reminder that not every fall-themed sweet can live up to expectations.

(Nutrition Facts – 1.5 oz. – 210 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 30 milligrams of sodium, 0 milligrams of potassium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of dietary fiber, 27 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Candy Apple Milk Chocolate M&M’s
Purchased Price: $2.98
Size: 9.9 oz bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Classic M&M’s taste and texture in slightly larger form. Only ten calories per M&M, as opposed to hundreds in an actual candy apple. Always enjoyable M&M’s commercials.
Cons: Doesn’t taste like a candy apple in the least. No tart flavor of apple or sticky sweetness of coating. M&M’s fragments stuck in your molars. Attempted seduction by a chocolate candy. Imaginary friends.

REVIEW: Birthday Cake M&M’s

Birthday Cake M&M's

I would like to put forth an official motion to reach a consensus on what “birthday cake” flavor is supposed to be.

Because from my understanding, birthday cake is akin to cake batter which is akin to a sweet vanilla/butter flavor with lots of rainbow sprinkles. A quick Pinterest search will demonstrate what I mean. Birthdays are a cause for celebration, and the default mindset for that is as much sugar and as much color as possible.

The Birthday Cake M&Ms are not what you’d expect based on the prior cake-flavored evidence, but rather a play on the original Milk Chocolate variety. This is probably fair to the millions of people who prefer the chocolate cake with white frosting on their birthdays and have been forced to eat too many Funfetti-like products. In fact, I would never choose that for my own cake either. By throwing these into the mix, M&M’s may just be trying to prevent a burgeoning birthday market monopolization. So for those who have been scorned by the rainbow sprinkles in the past, these go out to you.

I finally found these at my CVS when I did my annual Valentine’s Day Sale spree. There was a singular box, wrongfully placed in the clearance section. Although these are also sold in an 8-ounce bag, the only size option was the individual pack, which is unfortunate, because I enjoy sharing my candy and/or eating mass quantities of M&M’s without being aware of how much I’m actually consuming. Usually the latter.

Birthday Cake M&M's Wrapper

These are closer in size to Milk Chocolate M&M’s than the recent new M&M’s have been and stick to a simple color palate of blue, red and yellow. I didn’t have any to compare, but I think they’re the same colors you’d find on other M&M’s, possibly a little bit richer. Also important to note they are made with actual Milk Chocolate. Not chocolate-y candy. Not chocolate-confection. Not Count Chocula Crème (this is not a real marketing tactic, but I think it will be soon.) You can rest assured in eating these that your processed food still has some realness to it.

My recent history with M&M’s has not been great. I was disappointed by Pumpkin Spice, puzzled by Gingerbread, and grossed out by Red Velvet. All of these varieties had such potential, but in the end they all ended up tasting like “chemical.” I was assuming this was what I would have to settle for with my bite sized chocolates.

But these are a beacon of hope. A delicacy. A rede-M&M-ption, if you will. I bit into these and immediately started singing “Happy Birthday” to me. Then the Beatles’ “Birthday.” Then Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake.” Then I stopped, because I forgot how incredibly uncomfortable that song makes me.

Birthday Cake M&M's Closeup

The flavor in these is subtle, but it accomplishes the intended goal perfectly. There’s a strong milk chocolate note that then evolves into a buttercream taste that’s not too sweet or overpowering. Perfect match to the cake pictured on the pack. Chemical taste level: zero.

I may not choose these over my beloved Carrot Cake or Peanut Butter M&M’s, but they would certainly be ranked above the original in my book. I will be creating a stockpile of these as well, even if they’re not limited edition. Not only are they delicious, but they also make a fantastic non-perishable last minute gift for birthdays you completely forgot about and were only reminded of when you logged onto Facebook.

Now, you can pretend every day is your birthday without having to lie to waiters at restaurants to get a free dessert. Although, you’re still free to do that do. It’s your fake birthday. You deserve to feel as special as you want.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 pack (1.4oz) – 190 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 30 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 25 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Birthday Cake M&M’s
Purchased Price: $1.19
Size: 1.4 oz. bag
Purchased at: CVS
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Not chemically, actually tasty. Appeals to the forgotten birthday cake demographic. Actually tastes like the cake on package. Pretending to remember birthdays. Real milk chocolate. Getting free dessert at restaurants.
Cons: Inconsistencies in the definition of birthday cake. Unsettling Rihanna euphemisms. That uncomfortable public domain birthday song you have to sit through in restaurants to get your free fake-birthday sundae.

REVIEW: Milk Chocolate Red Velvet M&M’s

Milk Chocolate Red Velvet M&M's

A little piece of me dies inside every time I hear someone say that their favorite flavor of cake is red velvet.

Instantly, I can’t help but think that this person has fallen victim to the trendy trap. There’s a very good chance that they’re also into Mason jars crafts, beers with at least four adjectives, and occasional juice cleanses. Mainstream chocolate and vanilla are for the plebeians. Other favorite flavors include maple-bacon, pumpkin spice, and Biscoff.

While red velvet can be a perfectly decent cake, it has done nothing to earn its hype. Flavor wise, it’s the homelier sister of a deep chocolate cake. Weaker, less fudgy and appealing, but trying to overcompensate with a crap ton of red food coloring. You think a red Chrysler convertible is actually better than a black Porsche? Take the dye out of a red velvet cupcake and offer it to someone who claims to be obsessed. I’m betting they start eyeing the flashy Funfetti instead.

That being said, I was pretty confused as to what to expect from seasonal Milk Chocolate Red Velvet M&M’s. I was hoping for possibly a cream cheese taste, since that’s the typical frosting pair, and the flavor that usually comes across the most. Plus, given beautiful love affair I had with last year’s White Chocolate Carrot Cake M&M’s, I was hoping to rekindle some kind of sweet creamy magic. But no, these are just straight chocolate.

Milk Chocolate Red Velvet M&M's Closeup

They come in a standard Valentine’s Day palate of red, white, and maroon. Your coworkers will probably think they’re a nice festive gift. Your needy girlfriend who casually leaves the Tiffany’s catalogue in the bathroom will probably not.

They’re a little bit larger than plain M&M’s and more in line with the denser, puffier model that’s been common in recent seasonal varieties.

At first bite, they’re almost indiscernible from regular Milk Chocolate M&M’s. However, it then develops into a weird, chemically aftertaste that doesn’t make me think red velvet at all. If anything, in a blind taste test, I would assume these were the plain stale M&M’s I left sitting in the bowl on my desk for three months and occasionally take a stress-induced handful of. While it’s a noticeable enough taste to make me wish I were eating the original, it’s not offensive enough to make me stop eating them. They may have their faults, but they’re probably not going to get thrown out.

Disappointingly, the inside of these are not red. Since that’s real redeeming quality of red velvet cake, I think M&M’s dropped the ball on this one. Nothing says “Happy Valentine’s Day!” like a blood red smile.

While these are a novelty to try once, some Cupid magic would be needed to make me buy these again. But since I do still have two bags lying around, you’ll probably find me face deep in them on Valentine’s Day, searching desperately for a man to give me a Tiffany’s box.

(Nutrition Facts – 1.5 oz. (about 1/4 cup) – 210 calories, 9 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 30 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 27 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Milk Chocolate Red Velvet M&M’s
Purchased Price: $2.88
Size: 9.90 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Thicker than plain M&Ms. Festively colored. Easily satisfied coworkers. Comforting nighttime binge eating. Cheaper than jewelry.
Cons: Chemically aftertaste. Annoying, high maintenance cake eaters. Annoying, high maintenance girlfriends. Binge eating alone on Valentine’s Day. Not getting a Tiffany box. WILL ANYONE EVER LOVE ME? Not red inside.

REVIEW: Milk Chocolate Gingerbread M&M’s

Milk Chocolate Gingerbread M&M's

Hansel and Gretel is your favorite book. You have plans to visit, construct, and/or consume the entire gingerbread village in Bergen, Norway. You are still upset that Conrad Vernon did not win an Oscar for his work as Gingy in Shrek.

If any of the above describes you, you may be a connoisseur of zingiber officinale, or, in lazier, un-Latin terms, a Gingerbread Fiend. As a fanatic of this spicy rhizome, you’ve likely fallen prey to gingerbread’s warm spice, it’s slight zing, it’s common appearance as a tasty anthropomorphized cookie. Fortunately for Fiends, winter is primetime for gingerbread fury, and as a tribute to all gingery goods, M&M’s seem to have gotten their holiday jingle on and smooshed up some gingerbread into a bulbous, lentil-y speckle.

Milk Chocolate Gingerbread M&M's Spilling out into the wild

Right off the bat, these little chocolate bites exude character. Mars traditionally forms their beady, M-stamped confections in one of three sizes: the smaller milk chocolate M, the medium “Filled with something” M, or the increasingly popular “We have a holiday and/or special occasion, so we’ll make them HUGE” M. All forms have their benefits and downfalls, so it was much to my delight/surprise/befuddlement to uncover that this bag seemed to house in all three sizes.

Milk Chocolate Gingerbread M&M's Gingerbread Death Star

Some M’s are small and thin, some medium, some completely overstuffed, the size of a miniature Death Star. All of this variation in spherical shape promises great texture, but there is still one question left unanswered: are they filled? Are cookies involved?! Could they perhaps hold the crunchity limb of a former gingerbread man inside?!?!

Milk Chocolate Gingerbread M&M's Where are the gingerbread cookies?!

No.

It came without cookies. It came without cakey innards. It came without crispity fillings or baked goodies in any form.

Somewhere, the Pillsbury doughboy weeps.

But all is not lost for gingerbread lovers of the world. While the whole “bread” portion is notably absent, the shadow of ginger spice remains. The chocolate starts off with the familiar sweet, sugary grit that accompanies the common M&M experience, then leans into a slight zing of ginger, and ends with a cinnamon/nutmeg warmth that could sooth an angry South Appalachian Grizzly.

But where these M’s really shine is when paired with other goods. Spicy, crunchy, chocolatey bits get even better when coupled with crispity and/or creamy bits. Put ‘em on ice cream, sprinkle them on your cereal, leave a trail of them outside your door and watch as small children gather. If you encounter an unnecessarily angry suburban shopper during a Black Friday Sale, dump these in with some Muddy Buddies and give them to him/her. Your recipient will be happy. Sugar-crazed and happy.

Milk Chocolate Gingerbread M&M's At the end of the Gingerbread journey

At the end of the journey, I am of two minds on these little nibbles of confection. They are munchable, sweet, and spiced just enough to add some dimension to the regular M&M experience. They come in all sorts of sizes and make a mean trail mix that could knock the wig off my grandmother faster than an Arizona dust storm. However, they have no gingerbread cake, biscuit, or cookie of any sort inside, and, really, what’s gingerbread without the “bread”?

Some may call it, “Gingerbread spice.” Others may call it, “Gingerbread Identity Crisis.” I call it lying, and I certainly wouldn’t risk lying this time of the year, Mars. Santa’s watching…

(Nutrition Facts – 1.5 oz or 1/4 cup – 210 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 30 milligrams of sodium, 0 milligrams of potassium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 27 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Milk Chocolate Gingerbread M&M’s
Purchased Price: $2.88
Size: 9.9 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Variations in size. Some M’s are the size of miniature Death Stars. Sugary zing. Spices add some depth. Reasons to consume limbs of anthropomorphized cookies. Could sooth an angry South Appalachian Grizzly.
Cons: Cookies not included. Absence of filling of any sort. Gingerbread identity crisis. Unnecessarily angry suburban mothers. Conrad Vernon did not win an Oscar for his work as Gingy.