REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar

“Ganache” is such a French word. It’s so French that if you say it into a mirror three times, French Candyman appears. Instead of a hook hand he has half a baguette on his stump and he doesn’t murder you, he gives you cigarettes made of young cheese. Then you have to watch an entire Jerry Lewis movie and make small talk with his mistress while he looks for your bidet. And then you have to drive him to the airport to get back to France. It’s kind of a hassle, honestly.

The Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar tries to French gourmet up the grocery proceedings but also keeps it real down home by featuring USA’s favorite swine meats. It says what’s in it right there on the packaging: “A rich combination of dark chocolate ganache, pieces of uncured bacon, and a hint of smoked salt.”

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar 4

The ganache is tucked inside the bar in tiny pockets, along with the pieces of pig. The particular bar I had was very fragile and almost immediately featured a diagonal crack that allowed the insides to leak out and made it look like it was bleeding chocolate blood.

Fun fact: In old black and white films, Dracula would use chocolate syrup in place of blood. Another fun fact: In the commercials, Count Chocula drinks human blood in place of milk in his cereal.

The bar boasts a 70 percent cacao rating thing, and, yes, it’s bitter. It has a smooth cacao flavor which crescendos into an acrid bite when the pools of ganache touch the tongue. There’s maybe a facsimile of smokiness—which actually comes off as a bit sour—but the tenor changes with a subtle touch of saltiness. It’s a complex hit that might even include the sixth taste, umami, or the seventh taste, your mommy.

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar 2

The experience is a bit tough to describe because while it’s a combination of all these interesting things, I also found it not that pleasant. I imagine it is a little bit like what Coca-Cola tasted like when it was being sold as a cure-all tonic. There’s not much sweetness involved and it tastes a little bit like medicine.

Ironic, isn’t it, that this product has “uncured” bacon in it, because medicine “cures” diseases and this tastes like medicine and “uncured” is the opposite of “cured.” Haha. Good one, dude. Good one. … *cricket sounds for ten seconds* … “It’s like raaaaaaaain on your wedding day/ It’s the freeee riiiiiide….”

Where is the bacon? It’s in little torn up pieces in a sea of chocolate ganache, represented by the hints of salt. Catching them in my mouth here and there, texture-wise they sort of felt like balled up pieces of wet tissue paper rolled between my fingers to make wispy strands. Without it billboarded on the front, I would never have guessed bacon was involved in this product.

The chocolate is really a stronger flavor here and overpowers just about all the bacon qualities. It’s a fine, bold dark chocolate taste, but with the bar and the insides being all chocolate, all day it’s a bit overwhelming. Maybe if I say “ganache” three times backwards into a mirror it will dial back the intensity? “Ehcanag, ehcanag, ehcanag.” Nope, that just summoned Opposite French Candyman. He’s exactly the same as French Candyman but his skin is inside out and rides a bicycle backwards. Pretty cool.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 bar – 220 calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 10 grams of cholesterol, 65 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 14 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar
Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 3 oz.
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Dark chocolate central. If you need that fix, it has it. Complex flavors.
Cons: Not very sweet at all. Bacon gets lost a bit, tastes like medicine.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Milky Way Marshmallow with Caramel

Limited Edition Milky Way Marshmallow with Caramel

You know that old friend you have? The one you only talk to when they’re visiting town? The two of you pick up right where you left off, but you both know that as soon as you part ways, you won’t be speaking again for another year or two? That’s how I’d describe my relationship with Milky Way.

Our interactions are generally limited to the Halloween season, when they’re included in those giant bags of fun size mixed treats. And even then, it’s usually a week into November before I finally get around to eating them (long after the Reese’s, Twix, and Baby Ruth have been exhausted).

And I don’t even dislike Milky Way! I just sorta group them in with Mr. Goodbar, or Krackel, or any other inoffensive, middle-of-the-road candy bar. Strange since Milky Way is such a close cousin to the widely beloved Snickers, but there’s no disputing that peanuts and nougat are radically different ingredients; swap one out for the other and you’ve created an entirely new piece of candy.

By the same token, when I first read about a new Milky Way that traded in regular nougat for a marshmallow-y nougat filling, I was intrigued. It sounded like a brilliant way of taking a longstanding favorite and infusing it with fluffy, summery goodness. Lucky for me, and despite its proclaimed “limited edition” status, I found the bar easily, just around the corner at my local convenience store.

Limited Edition Milky Way Marshmallow with Caramel 2

As I unwrapped it and split it open to check out its contents, I was shocked. It looked exactly like – if not better than – the illustration on the wrapper! When does that EVER happen?

How many times have we as junk food enthusiasts been duped by package art into buying burgers that turned out flimsy and pathetic? Microwave dinners that congealed into greasy, mealy porridge? Ice pops that looked like terrifying, disfigured, goblin versions of the cartoon characters they were meant to represent? This was a strong start for Milky Way.

Biting in, the texture is different from that of the standard edition, but certainly not worse. The marshmallow nougat is significantly smoother and less chewy than its original counterpart, which makes this bar a nice option for chocolate lovers who try to avoid stickier foods.

But the taste is the most important part, and it leaves little room for complaint. This set of flavors complement each other well. The ratios are sound, and everything is properly layered with no single component overwhelming another. If forced to be nitpicky I would say that, considering its top billing, the marshmallow flavor is a bit light and takes a while to develop, but that’s about it. Overall, this is a well constructed piece of candy.

While nothing can replace the original, this variation serves as a nifty take on the classic bar. Similar to those tasty Caramel Apple squares Milky Way puts out every autumn, I could easily see myself snacking on miniatures of these throughout the summer.

M.W., perhaps I was wrong about you – I think I might be ready to take this relationship to the next level.

(Nutrition Facts – 220 calories, 80 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 70 milligrams of sodium, 35 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of fiber, 30 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Limited Edition Milky Way Marshmallow with Caramel
Purchased Price: $1.25
Size: 1.72 oz.
Purchased at: Krauszer’s Food & Liquor
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Enjoyable variation on a classic candy. Pleasant flavor profile. Bar looks exactly as pictured!
Cons: Marshmallow flavor is a bit light. Might be better in fun size. Adequate item which makes it difficult to think of a humorous third complaint?

REVIEW: Limited Edition Tic Tac Minions

Limited Edition Minions Tic Tac

While perusing the candy shelf for a breath freshener, there’s one brand I usually tend to avoid – Tic Tac. That is of course until I saw their new – dare I say genius – flavor variety.

Tic Tac and Universal Studios have partnered on a Limited Edition Minion version of their “artificially flavored fruit mints,” and all your favorite Minions are here – Overalls that look like a goatee Minion (aka “Heisenberg Minion,”) Furrowed Brow Minion, Ol’ One Eye, and last but certainly not least, Bob – the eponymous Minion gracing the box.

Who doesn’t like the Minions? I know kids definitely love them. I can imagine every child under three throwing a tantrum after their mother refuses to buy them a box, and it’s all because Tic Tac had the brilliant notion to paint little black faces on each mint.

Limited Edition Minions Tic Tac 3

I can sit here and praise this marketing stroke all day, but these are meant to be eaten and not played with, right?

The flavor here is passionfruit, which is disappointing considering the only words I remember the Minions saying in English were “bottom” and “banana.” These should be banana flavored. I expected them to be banana flavored. Why aren’t these banana flavored?!

Sure “banana-mint” doesn’t sound all that appetizing, but does “passionfruit-mint”? These aren’t even minty. I’ve always found Tic Tacs to be very liberal with their usage of the word “mint” when it comes to the fruit varieties.

Like most Tic Tacs, the flavor is great at first, but quickly becomes nearly unappetizing. This is the point I usually just chew them to get it over with. They’re much better when consumed that way. That’s a good trait of the Tic Tac, it’s a softer mint that won’t wreck your teeth.

Fruit Tic Tacs tend to get sour the longer you keep them in your mouth and these continue that trend. The sour hint remains for a good 5-10 minutes after eating them. Tic Tac mint varieties have a similar characteristic. White Peppermint starts with a delicious vanilla taste, then devolving into an easily recognizable artificial mint flavor. I have to imagine I’m not the only one who chews these after a while.

Tic Tac fruit mints as a whole haven’t been all that impressive. Orange stormed on the scene and took the game over, but its successors have never really stacked up. These passionfruit-flavored ones aren’t bad, and for all I know can be 100% authentic to the actual fruit which I’m not sure I’ve ever actually come in contact with. I should seek them out, because I can use a little more passion in my life…but I’ll save that for a different blog.

While I’m discussing Tic Tacs, I’d be remised not to mention their main problem – the packaging. Tic Tacs are a pain in the neck to carry around in your pocket, lest you want people to know you are approaching from four blocks away. What other mint turns you into the Human Maraca? You might as well be that Minion who impersonated the fire truck siren. “Bee-do, bee-do.” See, I saw the movies!

Limited Edition Minions Tic Tac 4

So all in all, these aren’t too bad. The idea definitely outweighs the flavor. I can’t get over how simple and brilliant this partnership was. They get bonus points for that alone. When you pair that with a decent flavor, they’re worth dropping a buck on if only as a conversation starter. Don’t forget to use that little indentation on the lid to share with your co-workers – every internet list has informed me that is a “life hack,” because who doesn’t want like one Tic Tac at a time?

Kampai! (Minionese for “Cheers.”)

(Nutrition Facts – 1 mint – 2 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 0 milligrams of sodium, 0.5 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of fiber, 0.5 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Limited Edition Tic Tac Minions
Purchased Price: $1.01
Size: 1 oz.
Purchased at: Harmon Discount Drug
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Quite possibly the most impulsive of the buys. Heisenberg Minion. Tasty enough. Genius cross marketing.
Cons: Sour. Tic Tac pocket rattle. “Fruit-mints.” Not banana flavored. Limited Edition. Passionless life. Life-hack lists.

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.

Jelly Belly Pancakes & Maple Syrup Jelly Beans 2

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.

Jelly Belly Pancakes & Maple Syrup Jelly Beans 3

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.

Jelly Belly Pancakes & Maple Syrup Jelly Beans 4

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!).

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.


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.