REVIEW: Sparkling Ice Starburst Flavors

Who among us hasn’t been sitting around eating a fistful of Starburst when the thought suddenly occurred — “This candy is great and all, but what I’d really like to be doing is drinking it”? Well, friends, the good people at Sparkling Ice have read your mind (don’t ask why they were there to begin with; you don’t want to know) and are here with a solution: new Starburst-flavored Sparkling Ice.

If you don’t know Sparkling Ice, it is the primary product offering from Washington State’s Talking Rain beverage company, which started in 1987 and had roughly $500 million in retail sales in 2019. (I couldn’t find more recent sales figures; its website DOES have an extensive FAQ section, however, with real think pieces like, “Why did strawberry kiwi turn pink?” “Is the color safe?” “Is Sparkling Ice vegan?” and “Is it normal to have sediment floating in my Sparkling Ice?”)

And if you don’t know Starburst… that’s just weird.

So, does the low-calorie drink accurately capture its chewy sugar cube inspiration? As an avid fan of regular Sparkling Ice products, I was eager to find out.


This was the first one I had, and it was the worst. The taste was somewhere between “citrus aspirin” and an orange-Flintstone vitamin that’d been dusted with a heaping of artificial sweetener. The very first part of the drink made me go, “Hey, this tastes like an orange Starburst,” but everything after made me want to rinse my mouth out with paint thinner. Here’s the deal with artificial sweetener — I have no issue with it. Regular Sparkling Ice has it, and I’m a staunchly Zero/Diet guy when it comes to soda. But this was SO bad that it reminded me of being young and first trying Diet Coke, back when it just tasted like poison to a palate honed on only the finest real sugar cane (or, you know, high fructose corn syrup). In any case, I had no desire to drink more than two sips of this.


Though my first thought when I poured this one into the glass was, “Welp, this looks a little like urine,” I had it immediately after Orange, so, you know, there was nowhere to go but up. It managed to taste like its namesake flavor all the way through and had a fraction of the Sucralose taste, which earned it a second-place finish overall.


It tasted like a cherry Starburst, but it also managed to fall somewhere in the middle of the prior two in terms of the artificial sweetener taste. I also caught subtle cough syrup notes, which didn’t help my enjoyment. (Come to think of it, the actual cherry Starbursts sort of have that medicinal taste, too. So they really nailed the flavor on this one.)


Everyone knows that the pink Starburst is the best Starburst, case closed. (Out of the original flavors, that is. Tropical and Baja varieties really muck up the overall rankings with their deliciousness.) This, too, was the best Starburst Sparkling Ice. It captured the candy’s essence well but was once again marred by the sweetener. While it didn’t reach Orange levels of intolerability, it was still more noticeable than the Lemon kind.

In the end, I was surprised by how much I disliked these. The heavy application of Sucralose kept them from being anything I’d feel the need to purchase again. I’ll stick with regular Sparkling Ices and pilfer the Starburst two-packs from my daughter’s Halloween candy.

Purchased Price: $1.19 (each)
Size: 17 oz bottles
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 1 out of 10 (Orange), 3 out of 10 (Lemon), 4 out of 10 (Cherry), 5 out of 10 (Strawberry)
Nutrition Facts: (1 bottle) 5 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 0 milligrams of sodium, 0grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 0 grams of total sugars, and 0 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Coca-Cola Spiced

I’m a fiend for flavored Coke. And by “flavored Coke,” I actually mean any cola jazzed up with something else, like Pepsi that is mangoed in nature, and yes, the flavored Cokes — most of them, anyway. I love Cherry and Vanilla Coca-Cola, and I am still mourning the departure of Orange Vanilla Coke. (That and the Cinnamon Coke it did at Christmas a few years ago. I’d do bad, illegal things to have Cinnamon Coke be a regular offering.)

I did not, however, care for many of the past couple of year’s “Mystery Flavors” from the Coca-Cola Creations line. You know, the abstract ones meant to taste like emotions and concepts or those designed by algorithms or famous DJs. There were a couple that were tolerable, but because there were far too many to begin with, they all blended together, and now I can’t remember which ones they were.

But I had high hopes for Coca-Cola Spiced because the flavoring seems pretty straightforward: “Raspberry Spiced (and other natural flavors).” Plus, on more than one occasion, I’ve opted for a Raspberry Coke from a Coke Freestyle machine, and I’ve never regretted it.

But make no mistake. This ain’t that, though.

My previously high hopes were dashed against the rocks immediately after cracking open the bottle.

A strong cough syrup scent overwhelmed me before the first fizzy sip ever touched my lips. Then I took a drink, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the cough syrup was front and center. Thankfully, it wasn’t as strong as the scent, but it was still very present, a medicinal bite that tasted only vaguely raspberrian in nature, right at the beginning of the drink. And while it mellowed slightly on the back end, it never fully went away.

Because I am a “Zero Sugar” guy, I tried both, and while it is worth noting that the Robitussin-esque qualities of Spiced were milder in the Zero version, they are still there, just muted. It made that version more tolerable, but still, nothing I’d actively seek out again.

So until Coca-Cola brings back Orange Vanilla or Cinnamon (or makes Vanilla Zero Sugar more ubiquitous so that I can buy it more often than “that one time I found it last summer while vacationing in Des Moines”), I’ll stick with the options that don’t immediately evoke memories of staying home from school with a bad cough.

Purchased Price: $2.69 each
Size: 20 oz bottles
Purchased at: QuikTrip
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Original), 5 out of 10 (Zero Sugar)
Nutrition Facts: (1 bottle) Original – 250 calories, 0 grams of fat, 50 milligrams of sodium, 67 grams of carbohydrates, 67 grams of sugar (including 67 grams of added sugar), 0 grams of protein, and 54 milligrams of caffeine. Zero Sugar – 0 calories, 0 grams of fat, 95 milligrams of sodium, 0 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein, and 57 milligrams of caffeine.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Breakfast Burrito

“It’s bigger than I thought it would be,” my girlfriend said, starting down at my lap. But before you get any weird ideas, we were leaving the Wendy’s drive thru, and she was referring to the new breakfast burrito I’d recently procured. And to be fair, she was right.

While Wendy’s entry into the crowded world of breakfast burritos isn’t necessarily akin to the infant-sized behemoth you might find on a working person’s local food truck, it is close to twice the size of a McDonald’s burrito, and maybe 25% larger than oh, say, Sonic’s. (I’ve never had a Burger King breakfast burrito, provided they sell one, and it’s been a decade or more since I had Hardee’s version, so I can’t speak to that one, either.)

Unlike its closest fast food competitors — and really, unlike most other breakfast burritos in general — Wendy’s sets itself apart in a few ways. First, it’s using two “fresh cracked eggs.” Think “fried” egg instead of the scrambled you typically find in most burritos. If you’re into that sort of thing, you’ll love this; personally, I found myself missing the consistent bite provided by the scrambled kind.

Second, it’s including its “seasoned breakfast potatoes” in the mix. If you haven’t had the chain’s answer to the standard hash brown, you might be pleasantly surprised. The right amount of seasoned, the right amount of externally crispy, and the right amount of internally fluffy, these wedge-like tubers fill up space within the burrito normally occupied by scrambled egg. Without them — due to the flat nature of the fried eggs — this burrito would be quite thin.

And finally, Wendy’s is setting itself apart by employing a “Swiss cheese sauce.” The idea of a Swiss cheese sauce is pretty intriguing, don’t get me wrong, but I was hard-pressed to notice it in the mix. All I really noticed from a cheese perspective was the American. It did what American cheese always does — it got melty and gooey and served its purpose well.

Same goes for the bacon. Wendy’s uses “Applewood smoked” bacon, which are oven-baked. Wendy’s bacon is pretty good, if you’ve never had it. It comes across as less genetically engineered than McDonald’s, and thicker than Burger King’s. Wendy’s claims there are six strips in the burrito, but that wasn’t my experience. Either their strips are an inch long or they’re fudging the numbers, but I don’t know that I believe mine had anything close to that number.

It’s also worth noting that Wendy’s is including a Cholula hot sauce packet with your burrito. I’m not normally a “hot/taco/picante sauce on my burrito” kinda guy, but I tried it for the sake of science, and predictably, it didn’t really do much to elevate my experience. If you’re a Cholula on your breakfast burrito person, though, this is a thoughtful inclusion.

While this burrito was fine, I’d only eat one again if I found myself requiring a fast-food breakfast and there was nary a McDonald’s in sight. It wasn’t good enough to make me seek out another one, and when it comes to a new product, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Purchased Price: $4.99
Rating: 6 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 700 calories, 40 grams of fat, 16 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 2210 milligrams of sodium, 53 grams of total carbohydrates, 4 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber, and 32 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cocoa Puffs, and Trix Loaded Cereals

In my last review on this very site, a review for a healthy cereal, I made fun of “the new Trix that is stuffed with frosting.” And while I am still enjoying my box of Cheerios Loaded with Nuts, when I saw the new General Mills Loaded Cereals on the shelf, I laughed and figured “in for a penny, in for a pound.” Wait, no, that’s not it. When in Rome? Whatever doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger? Maybe that one. Because the jaw-rattling sweetness on these new Krave knock-offs is enough to kill me. (Or at least leave me in mild discomfort.)

All three varieties — Trix, Cocoa Puffs, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch — are squared puffs filled with “vanilla creme.” The image on the box promises a creme that will decadently ooze from each piece. In what is probably a quite obvious development, this doesn’t happen. Despite this structural design flaw, is this cereal worth buying? Let’s dig in.

Trix Loaded

The world’s foremost cereal mascotted by a deranged woodland creature tastes the most like its forebearer. When you first pop one into your mouth, you get the unmistakable artificial fruit taste of Trix. As you bite in, however, you get the vanilla creme, which tastes like sweet. That’s right, it tastes like sweet. There is no discernible vanilla flavor; it tastes, in fact, like someone managed to stuff a piece of the outer shell from a Little Debbies Zebra Cake into the inside of a Trix. That doesn’t sound appealing, necessarily, but it’s better than you might think. This was the best of the three.

Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 cup) 180 calories, 6 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 110 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 2 gram of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.

Cocoa Puffs Loaded

Like the Trix version, this one tasted quite a bit like the cereal from which it was born. And while the concept of a vanilla filling seems like it would be an excellent compliment to a chocolate cereal, something about it just didn’t seem to click as well. I noticed the aggressive sweetness of the filling more with this one, I think, which was a detraction. After a few spoonfuls, I realized I probably didn’t need to try this one again.

Rating: 6 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 cup) 180 calories, 6 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 130 milligrams of sodium, 31 grams of carbohydrates, 2 gram of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch Loaded

This was the biggest disappointment of the group. First of all, CTC is the best cereal in General Mills’ catalogue, and maybe even the best cereal ever. Second, the idea of adding FROSTING to a cereal flavored like cinnamon toast sort of makes you think this would strongly evoke a cinnamon roll itself, right? Well, it doesn’t. Part of what makes CTC so good is the almost extreme amount of Cinnadusting on each heavenly square. These Loaded pillows have but a FRACTION of the namesake’s powder. On every fifth piece you go, oh, right, cinnamon; but by and large, these things are tasteless. Well, except for the overbearing “sweet” from the filling. Like a grandmother meeting Tom Selleck at a Blue Bloods fan convention, it is loud and proud.

Rating: 4 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 cup) 180 calories, 6 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 120 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 2 gram of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.

All three were purchased at Walmart for $4.93.

REVIEW: Cheerios Maple Cinnamon Hearty Nut Medley Cereal

It’s Resolution Season, where people rich and poor, young and old, thin and unthin alike proclaim that they will stop smoking, quit cussing, read more, hit the gym, drink less booze, floss daily, spend less on the Lotto, and various other acts of self-improvement/self-harm reduction. For many, “eat healthier” is a popular pledge, and why shouldn’t it be: with the exception of unsalted raw vegetables and nuts, everything we eat is basically garbage. But if you’re in this camp — either because your doctor is telling you that you’re fine to avoid making 5-year-goals or just because you’ve got a pair of Jordache hip-huggers you’re hoping to rock by St. Paddy’s Day — Cheerios has got your back.

2024 has the oat circle cereal brand imbuing it popular cereal with veggies (the new Veggie Blend line featuring Apple Strawberry and Blueberry Banana), and the one I tried that is filled with nuts — the Maple Cinnamon Hearty Nut Medley.

The Maple Cinnamon Hearty Nut Medley Cheerios Cereal — heretofore known as MCHNMC² — features “Crispy Flakes, Cheerios Cereal, Flavorful Almonds, and Hearty Pumpkin Seeds.” That’s right, THOSE pumpkin seeds. And look — if you’re a little perturbed by the idea or simply not sold on their inclusion, fret not: there were, like, eight seeds in my entire bag. That’s it. I don’t know if this was a production issue or if it’s par for the course, but for something that made my eyebrow initially arch mistrustfully, I wasn’t sad there weren’t more.

There were plenty of almonds, however, which is a more common and accepted health cereal nut. They were fine; requisitely tasty and with a crunch that held up in a standard milk-soak. Where this cereal really shined, though, was with the flakes and Cheerios. The flakes were the surprising winner from a cereal that mostly deals in rings. Thicker than Wheaties and smaller than Total, this seemed like a new flake to me. (Though I’ll be the first to admit there are other flake-heavy cereals in the General Mills catalogue with which I am unfamiliar – Raisin Nut Bran and Fiber One, for example.) Whatever it was, it was stellar — crispy with the barest hint of cinnamon. The Cheerios had the same amount of flavoring — enough to add a little excitement to the start of my year, but not enough to make me question if I was really making a healthy choice.

While I didn’t notice much in the way of “maple,” I still found this cereal to be a pleasant, healthy-ish alternative to, oh, say, the new Trix that is stuffed with frosting. (Which, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure is sinfully delightful.)

MCHNMC² was a nice surprise to start my year, and sliding into my Bugle Boys by spring makes the choice that much sweeter.

Purchased Price: $4.49
Size: 20 oz box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (54g) 210 calories, 6 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 6 grams of protein.