REVIEW: Limited Edition 2023 Mtn Dew VooDEW

Back for a 5th Halloween season, VooDEW Grim is here to deliver another mystery flavored ghost white soda wrapped in spooky graphics. In years past, the flavors have all been candy-themed, and while they were intended to represent fairly specific candies, like 2020’s “Fruity Candy Explosion” basically being Skittles, this year’s edition partners Mtn Dew with an actual candy brand.

They’ve offered up a few not particularly subtle hints about the flavor, so I’m going to be equally as unsubtle with offering my guess. If you’d rather try it without being biased, now is the time to pull your reaper hood over your eyes and slowly back away into your graveyard. Try not to trip over that mummy with the mohawk.

This year’s VooDEW is available in both regular and zero sugar, and I tried both before I did any research as to what the flavor was. The zero version was the first I found, and sniffing it, I thought it had a familiar scent, but beyond “fruity candy soda,” I couldn’t have told you what it was. Tasting it had a similar effect, except that I was totally distracted by the artificial sweeteners. As someone who typically enjoys all sorts of sodas, including zero and diet types, I’m surprised I found this one so offensive, but I just couldn’t overlook it. I guess I don’t want fake sugar when I’m drinking my candy?

I was feeling like this year’s flavor might be a disappointment, but thankfully, a friendly apparition in the form of the regular variety showed up in my grocer’s cooler. Things are much improved here. There’s a citrusy lemon-lime aspect in the vein of normal Dew (or maybe closer to Sprite or 7UP) with notes of other fruits like cherry. It leans much more sweet than last year’s decidedly sour edition.

It had me feeling like I should know what this is, but I’m not sure I could have placed it exactly without the help of Dew’s clues. With them, though, it made perfect sense. Calling it “SCAIRY” and dropping a red balloon emoji on their social media along with a Blair Witch-style video of people running through the woods being stalked by a red balloon, I can pretty confidently say this VooDEW is Airheads flavored. Typically, the non-color of the brew is part of the disguise with the blank slate not offering up any hints as to what it might taste like. This year, I think the flavor is hiding in plain sight: White Mystery Airheads. The candy is made with leftover flavorings that are hanging around, so if you try this and think it tastes like some blend of cherry, lime, raspberry, and whatever else, you’re probably right.

Overall, VooDEW 5 is a sweet, smooth drinking soda that I think most people will find enjoyable regardless of how they feel about Airheads as a candy. If you’re able to get the regular version of this scary sip, I highly recommend it over the zero.

Purchased Price: $2.29 (regular), $2.00 (zero sugar)
Size: 20 fl oz
Purchased at: Jewel-Osco (regular), 7-Eleven (zero sugar)
Rating: 8 out of 10 (regular), 6 out of 10 (zero sugar)
Nutrition Facts: (1 bottle) Regular – 270 calories, 0 grams of total fat, 80 milligrams of sodium, 73 grams of total carbs, 73 grams of total sugars (incl. 73 grams of added sugars), and 0 grams of protein. Zero Sugar – 0 calories, 0 grams of total fat, 80 milligrams of sodium, 0 grams of total carbs, 0 grams of total sugars (incl. 0 grams of added sugars), and 0 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Dunkin’ Ice Spice Munchkins Drink

Have you ever wondered what’s better than having your cake and eating it too? Dunkin’ is here with your answer: having your cake donut, blending it with frozen coffee, covering it with caramel and whipped cream, and drinking it through a straw. That’s right, Dunkin’ has teamed up with rapper Ice Spice for a new Fall beverage, the Ice Spice Munchkins Drink, and the name says it all. It’s an icy, pumpkin-spicy, super-sweet concoction with pumpkin munchkins blended right in. If you’re not familiar, Ice Spice has a handful of Billboard Hot 100 hits this year, and the tie-in stems from her fans being called munchkins, a reference to her song “Munch (Feelin’ U).”

The drink is frozen coffee (cream, liquid sugar, coffee syrup, and ice) blended with pumpkin munchkins donut holes, served in a caramel drizzled cup that’s topped with whipped cream, more caramel, and a sprinkle of pumpkin spice. Before you go saying it’s weird or gross that the donuts are smashed up in the mix, let’s consider the fact that people throw things like spinach, bananas, ice, and milk together in a blender and call it a smoothie. This is a smoothie for the junk food crowd, and I won’t knock it until I try it.

My drink appeared to be missing any sort of obvious caramel sauce lining the cup, and thank goodness because it was apparent from my first sip that this thing was already plenty sweet. The dusting on top has nice brown sugar and cinnamon notes, but these will be completely lost unless you take off the lid and try it by itself because everything coming up through the straw is so saccharine it becomes one-dimensional. Or two-dimensional, if you count soggy donut crumbs as a dimension.

I originally found the drink’s thickness alright, kind of like a milkshake – albeit one with ice chunks – and the donut crumbles not totally out of place. It has some pumpkin/fall flavor, but the coffee is entirely undetectable and the main flavor notes are cream and sugar with bursts of caramel. It’s too sweet to drink very quickly and doesn’t improve as it sits.

Looking at a spoonful of the mixture evokes an image of what you’d get if you stirred pumpkin puree into whipped cream, and the texture is sort of like a soggy graham cracker. Not more than a few sips in, I was regretting my decision to get a medium.

I have to give Dunkin’ credit for a sort of clever idea for a collaboration (a.k.a. cashing in on a celebrity and the pairing at least making some sense), but it’s too cloying for me. With the absence of any coffee flavor, it’s layer upon layer of sweet things that scream for balance but is only met with wet donuts. Sorry, Ice Spice and Dunkin’, I’m not feelin’ you.

Purchased Price: $4.79
Size: Medium
Rating: 5 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (medium) 830 calories, 39 grams of total fat, 22 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 105 milligrams of cholesterol, 300 milligrams of sodium, 115 grams of total carbs, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 102 grams of total sugar (96 grams of added sugars), and 7 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Loaded Nacho Cheeseburger

Wendy’s is ready for Fall, and with gameday food in mind, they’ve decided to smother their cheeseburgers in nacho fixings. The Loaded Nacho Cheeseburger starts with classic elements – beef patty, American cheese, lettuce, tomato – tops them off with poblano queso, spicy chipotle sauce, tortilla strips, and crispy corn, and stuffs them all in a jalapeño cheddar bun. Anyone who’s ever ordered loaded nachos or a nacho helmet at a baseball game knows that these cheesy chips are a fickle mistress. The first few will be crunchy and satisfying, but things will eventually devolve into a soggy mess. Will a burger suffer the same fate? Will Wendy’s version of Corn Nuts save it?

Let’s start with the bun. Despite the obvious cheddar spots on top and jalapeño bits baked in, it doesn’t taste like much on its own. Notably, both times I tried this, there was a nicely browned-looking cheese crust along a third of the bottom bun, like the cheddar had been conveniently placed to spill over into a picture-perfect frico, but it isn’t actually as crispy as it seemed and lacks discernible flavor.

Atop that bun is a standard slice of American cheese (which you’d never notice unless you chose to pick it apart), a single patty of Wendy’s beef (which I consider to be pretty good quality for a fast food burger), a generous helping of poblano queso, tortilla strips, surprising corn kernels, lettuce, tomato, and the spicy sauce. There’s enough of the queso and sauce that the whole thing is a messy experience and definitely eats like what you’d find if you persevered to the bottom of your nacho plate and found everything had become a little too homogenous. The queso is tasty and more flavorful than I expected, while the chipotle sauce either got lost or I didn’t get as much of it. The sandwich has a slight kick, but it never crosses into truly spicy territory or tastes like chipotles. Lettuce would usually add a little crunch to a burger, but here, it forfeits its texture to the cheese/sauce mix, which brings us to the tortilla strips and crispy corn.

Before trying this, I couldn’t picture what the crispy corn would be and wondered if it was just a redundant explanation of the strips. It turns out they’re a unique entity: zestily seasoned jumbo corn kernels akin to Corn Nuts. The few that escaped my burger were nice on their own, but the ones that stayed on managed to either be startlingly crunchy amid the otherwise squishy situation or sogged by cheese into an unpleasant texture. The tortilla strips, not surprisingly, met a similar end, and most of them were left lifeless.

This sounds like a list of complaints, but I enjoyed this burger. Not all of the textures worked out as Wendy’s intended and I would have liked some more jalapeño flavor, but the cheesy-without-being-gloppy poblano queso makes it worth a try as a novelty item.

Purchased Price: $6.29
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 710 calories, 43 grams of total fat, 17 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 1390 milligrams of sodium, 51 grams of total carbohydrates, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 11 grams of total sugars, and 33 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Doritos Late Night Loaded Taco

Doritos Late Night line is back, inviting us to taste the night with a Loaded Taco flavor in a slick black and purple bag exclusive to Kroger stores. Past offerings in this series include much missed All Nighter Cheeseburger and Tacos at Midnight, which this new edition appears to be a spiritual successor to.

I’m pretty sure I tried Tacos At Midnight, but since a decade has gone by since those bags graced anyone’s beer can-strewn countertops at 2 a.m., I can’t say for sure this is the second coming of that flavor and will judge it on its own merits.

Looking into the Doritos Late Night Loaded Taco bag

Opening the bag, the scent is very reminiscent of what would waft at you from a Taco Bell paper bag, and the flavor is there to match. It’s decidedly “fast food taco” and not “taqueria taco,” and the emphasis is on the loaded part. They taste like the mess that falls out of a haphazardly made Taco Bell item, and as someone who ends up eating those overly sour creamed lettuce shreds, beef bits, and always worthless pieces of tomato, I mean that as a term of endearment and also kind of amazement. See, all the elements you’d expect to taste are here – the crunch like a hard corn shell, taco seasoning, cheese, sour cream, a hint of tomato, but then there’s also…lettuce? Does iceberg lettuce even taste like anything? Apparently, it does, and I’m pretty convinced that slight vegetal note is here, which seems like the kind of achievement Willy Wonka might be proud of. Sure, anyone can make a chip taste like sour cream and paprika, but can they also manage to layer in the suggestion of lettuce? Frito-Lay can.

Doritos Late Night Loaded Taco is lighter than the chip shown on the bag

The next logical step is wondering if you want a chip that I just said tastes like lettuce. I’d be skeptical too, but it turns out it isn’t a bad thing! The iceberg and tomato make subtle appearances, while the predominant flavors are much more in the dairy spectrum, with cream, sour cream, cheddar, butter, and Swiss all getting mentions in the ingredients list. Alongside a classic mix of Americanized-taco spices and sitting on a crunchy corn chip, these really do manage to mimic a fully topped crispy taco surprisingly well. Appearance-wise, the actual chips don’t look much like the very orange one pictured on the front of the bag, but their lighter yellow color reminds me more of taco shells anyway.

Doritos Late Night Loaded Taco bag says "Taste the Night"

Speaking of, would a Doritos Loaded Taco flavored Doritos Locos Taco be too meta or just right for late night? I’ll leave that one up to the fast food gods. In the meantime, enjoy these chips while they last, which, in the case of my bag, was not very long. If you have a Kroger affiliate near you, these chips are worth trying before the neon signs flip off and they disappear into the night.

Purchased Price: $5.49
Size: 9 oz bag
Purchased at: Mariano’s (Kroger)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (About 11 chips) 140 calories, 7 grams of total fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 150 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of total carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, less than 1 gram of total sugars, and 2 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Mystery Flavor Fruit Roll-Ups

General Mills is rebranding its fruit snacks to suit the modern era of lunchbox-toting kids and teens, but in the case of these Mystery Flavor Fruit Roll-Ups, it feels like it went with such a ’90s vibe that it’s targeting the parents and not the offspring. This pack leans entirely on a “weird green guys from outer space” theme that I can’t imagine resonating with today’s kids. But what do I know? The packaging is metallic, and I’ll be damned if weird alien cartoons and shiny things don’t intrigue me.

The pack includes two flavors, Mystery and Solar Melon. I was briefly disappointed that half of these were melon because it gives you fewer chances to guess the mystery flavor. If you’re not familiar with Fruit Roll-Ups, I would describe the flavor of all of them as “This is definitely a Fruit Roll-Up,” but if you can tell the difference between a berry one and whatever the Tie-Dye is, you’re a better person than me. Fruit Roll-Ups are a snack to be eaten as quickly as possible because if they’re fresh, they’re so sticky that you can barely get the plastic off before they collapse in your hand. Definitely do not put them on a plate to photograph like I did. The time from thinking you might give it a taste test to the time you’ve determined that you’d better just shove it all in your mouth before you never get it unstuck from you again is about 8 seconds.

Trying the Mystery flavor, I couldn’t get beyond that it just tasted like I expected a Fruit Roll-Up to taste. Delicious, but overall…normal. Maybe this whole alien theme was a ruse? Maybe space tastes like Fruit Roll-Ups? I didn’t have a clue. Luckily part of this rebranding is a focus on trying to interact beyond the eating of the snack, so General Mills wants you to visit its website, where you can vote on what the flavor is.

Thank Area 51, we have some parameters!

Faced with the choices of Cosmic Citrus Swirl, Stellar Strawberry Peach, Galactic Grape, and Mango Martian, things started to make sense, and I felt pretty confident choosing Strawberry Peach. The strawberry is the classic and dominant flavor, but there’s a little more there, and it will remind you of Peach Rings.

To its credit, the unmysterious Solar Melon is a perfect shade of alien-green and a welcome addition to the box. It manages to taste like a blend of fruits with a melon focus but not in an overly artificial way like many watermelon candies.

The sheets are printed with tongue tattoos in various alien, UFO, and space designs. Because eating a Fruit Roll-Up inherently involves playing with your food, I went ahead and applied a UFO-XING sign to my tongue. It worked like a charm, and by that I mean it left my tongue with an unintelligible giant blue blob on it. You can thank me later for not including that photo. It might not be the most original attempt at a mystery flavor, but eating these is a fun and tasty way to spend two minutes, and who knows, you might win a galactic fanny pack before you’re beamed back up to the mothership.

Purchased Price: $2.29
Size: 10-count box of 0.5 oz rolls
Purchased at: Mariano’s
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Mystery Flavor), 7 out of 10 (Solar Melon)
Nutrition Facts: (1 roll) 50 calories, 1 gram of total fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 50 milligrams of sodium, 12 grams of total carbohydrates, 7 grams of sugar (including 7 grams of added sugar), and 0 grams of protein.