REVIEW: Torani Chicken ‘N Waffles Syrup

Torani Chicken 'n Waffles

The story of Torani’s Chicken ‘N Waffles syrup presents internet marketing at either its best or most contrived (quite possibly both). To recap:

March 26, 2012:

Torani announces they’ll be releasing a chicken & waffles flavoring syrup. The Internet collectively says, “That’s disgusting. I MUST HAVE IT.”

April 1, 2012:

Torani reveals the new flavor was an early-April Fools’ prank and simultaneously launches a social media campaign to generate support for the creation of the “potential new cult favorite”.

The Internet expresses outrages over the prank, rolls its eyes at a corporation raising grassroots support for its own non-existent product, and goes back to watching Call Me Maybe parody videos.

November 20, 2012:

“Due to unprecedented demand,” Torani announces actual debut of Chicken ‘n Waffles Syrup.

January 1, 2013:

Due to a need to immediately sabotage his resolutions of losing weight, not wasting money on novelty food items, and writing less often in the third person, Jasper tries the Chicken ‘n Waffles Syrup.

January 14, 2013:

Due to the syrup being awful, Jasper waits two weeks before working up the spirit to actually write down all the awfulness.

The bar for the Chicken ‘n Waffles Syrup was set pretty low – since it started as a marketing gimmick that was likely rushed through development and production, its best-case outcome was always going to be “gag gift that’s actually serviceable.” Alas, the syrup can only serve as another cautionary reminder against buying novelty foods.

I first tried a spoonful of the syrup on its own. It smelled very sweet and a little bit malty, which is about as positive as I’m going to get in this review. As expected, it tasted incredibly sweet, but the malty-ness was really a yeasty-ness, and there was a lingering aftertaste that was yeasty and greasy (presumably to reflect the fried chicken component) and nearly induced my gag reflex.

Torani Chicken 'n Waffles in Spoon

Of course, syrup isn’t meant to be consumed by its lonesome, so I added it to other meals. I had a brief, almost-ontological debate with my girlfriend on whether you could, in fact, eat Chicken ‘n Waffles syrup with the dish from which its essence is distilled. Since the Torani bottle recommends you eat it with biscuits, we figured waffles were close enough and ordered some waffles and chicken fingers.

Torani Chicken 'n Waffles On Waffles

To establish a fair baseline of comparison, we first ate the chicken and waffles with regular Aunt Jemima maple syrup. It goes without saying that I loved that combination. It probably also goes without saying that the Torani syrup didn’t measure up in the least. The Chicken ‘n Waffles Syrup was still too sweet and so thin that it seeped into the waffles and made them soggy. The yeasty and greasy aftertaste was only more prominent and artificial in the face of the actual dish.

I then followed a recipe on the Torani website for a bourbon drink, and I tried it in my coffee the next morning. I had similarly negative impressions in those settings, though I suppose I’d find the syrup more tolerable if my palate were compromised by the dulling effects of alcohol or the tongue-burning effects of coffee.

Even the price felt dissatisfying, at $6.95 plus $5.95 shipping and handling. Just don’t buy the Torani Chicken ‘n Waffles Syrup, not even as a gag gift or as a novelty food item for yourself. And hey, Internet: let’s avoid demanding that any more April Fools’2012 jokes be developed into real products.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 fl oz – 90 calories 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 40 milligrams of sodium, 23 grams of carbohydrates, 22 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Torani Chicken ‘N Waffles Syrup
Purchased Price: $6.95 (plus $5.95 S&H)
Size: 375 mL
Purchased at: Torani website
Rating: 1 out of 10
Pros: Smelled mostly OK. Call Me Maybe parody videos. Clever April Fools’ Day gags. Aunt Jemima maple syrup with chicken and waffles. I would use Catblock.
Cons: Tasted yeasty and greasy. Gross, lingering aftertaste. Bad by itself, bad and too thin to have with waffles (and probably biscuits), bad with bourbon and coffee. Pricey. Contrived internet marketing. Immediately breaking my New Year’s resolutions. Ontological debates about syrup.

REVIEW: Taco Bell Cookie Sandwich and Churro

Taco Bell Desserts

Taco Bell (in)famously reconfigures the same few ingredients into “brand new” menu items quite often. If they ever wanted to offer actual new products and services, there are a few obvious candidates.

They could sell single servings of Pepto-Bismol, hand out business cards for good local plumbers, or provide complementary euphemisms for gastrointestinal unrest when the explanation, “I drunkenly ate a Taco Bell Party Pack at 2 a.m.” just won’t do. Investing in a new line of bakery goods wasn’t an obvious choice, but that’s the direction Taco Bell went with their new Cookie Sandwich and Churro.

On the Friday night after Thanksgiving, while you were likely getting ready for your high school reunion or engaging in the cherished annual tradition of contemplating how you could murder that one annoying cousin and make it look like an accident, I decided to venture out to the Taco Bell in my hometown. After downing a couple Doritos Locos Tacos (the fake Brad Pitt ad is really effective marketing), I tried out these new dessert offerings.

Taco Bell Cookie Sandwich 2

At first glance, the cookie sandwich looked almost like a toy, as though three layers of Play-Doh had been hastily pushed through a miniature pie mold. My tactile first impression was also quite negative, since the cookie sandwich was cold, hard, and clearly just removed from a storage fridge.

Taste-wise, the item performed a bit better, but not by much. The cookies were fine – appropriately sweet and chewy, and with a decent number of chocolate chips. After 10 seconds in the microwave, I imagine they could’ve resembled a poor man’s Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookie.

Taco Bell Cookie Sandwich 1

The frosting, however, was awful. It was much too sweet, much too rich, and much too much, as the excessive frosting quickly made eating the cookie sandwich a very messy experience.

Taco Bell Churro 1

For my tastes, the churro fared significantly better. It came out as warm as the cookie sandwich was cold, with a noticeable and pleasant scent from the exterior dusting of cinnamon sugar.

Taco Bell Churro 2

The shell was nice and crispy, and provided a great contrast to the soft, moist innards (which was just barely on the good side of the line between moist and mushy). I actually thought this product could’ve used a little more sugar, and I wished there had been a dipping sauce on the side. But for 99 cents, the churro provided solid value.

While I’ve written a mixed review, I do like that the folks at Taco Bell, between these items and the Cantina offerings, are making real strides in adding to their menu, and I definitely enjoyed my churro. Next time you drop in for your Doritos Locos Tacos fix, make sure to pick up a couple churros, too.

And if you happen to be a plumber, maybe consider leaving some business cards there. You never know how else Taco Bell might be trying to improve the business.

(Nutrition Facts – Cookie Sandwich – 390 calories, 160 calories from fat, 17 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 130 milligrams of sodium, 56 grams of carbohydrates, 44 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber, and 3 grams of protein. Churro – 190 calories, 80 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 230 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of sugar, 1 gram of fiber, and 2 grams of protein.)

Other Taco Bell Cookie Sandwich reviews:
Grub Grade
Brand Eating
The Smidview

Item: Taco Bell Cookie Sandwich and Churro
Purchased Price: $1.29 (Cookie Sandwich)
Purchased Price: 99 cents (Churro)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Taco Bell
Rating: 3 out of 10 (Cookie Sandwich)
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Churro)
Pros: Cookies were appropriately sweet and chewy with decent number of chocolate chips. Churro was warm and smelled great. Churro’s crispy shell and moist inside contrasted nicely. Taco Bell offering actual new items. SNL Brad Pitt ads. Seeing high school friends over Thanksgiving break. 2 a.m. Taco Bell runs.
Cons: Cookie sandwich was cold and looked toy-like. Frosting was awful. Churro could’ve used more sugar or a dipping sauce. Your annoying cousin. 2 a.m. Taco Bell runs.

REVIEW: Starbucks Pumpkin Spice VIA Ready Brew

Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Pumpkin Spice

I always feel a little depressed once Labor Day passes, as I can’t wear white pants anymore. But other people generally have a lot to rejoice over: there’s football and tailgates, every food and drink gets flavored with pumpkin, and I can’t wear white pants anymore.

Right on cue, Starbucks has re-released their seasonal Pumpkin Spice Lattes. This year, they’re providing an extra treat in the form of the new limited edition Pumpkin Spice VIA Ready Brew. I love the Pumpkin Spiced Lattes (PSLs for those of us who really love Starbucks and also really love obnoxious acronyms), but have never tried any other VIA flavors before, so I’m in pretty much the exact demographic Starbucks is hoping will try their new Pumpkin Spice VIA and get hooked on their instant coffee offerings.

We’re approaching the section of my reviews where I like to offer an explanation of the preparation process. Not that this ever gets too complicated (“Step 1, buy ice cream. Step 2, eat ice cream. Step 3… um, go slow or you might get a headache”), but explaining the steps for preparing instant coffee feels particularly silly when Starbucks dedicates precisely 15 words to explaining it. I heated 8 fluid ounces of 1% milk. I poured packet into cup. I added hot milk. I stirred and enjoyed.

Here’s the precisely 15-word version of my review: for instant coffee, it was perfectly fine, but it just didn’t have enough pumpkin flavor.

There was just a slight whiff of pumpkin scent, both when I had only the content of the packet in the cup and after I stirred in the milk. Instant coffee always tastes indescribable, but noticeably off, and the Pumpkin Spice VIA offering was no different. In a blind taste test, I could have guessed that this was meant to be pumpkin-flavored coffee, but it definitely didn’t compare to the rich, distinctive flavor of a PSL. On the plus side, I thought the amount of sugar in the VIA packet was appropriate; I often find real PSLs to be too sweet.

Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Pumpkin Spice Closeup

Again, I’ve never sampled any other VIA flavors, but from reading our past reviews I gleaned that the instructions on other varieties recommend mixing with water, so I tried it that way, too. I actually found that adding mostly hot water and just an ounce or so of milk allowed the zest of the spices to shine through better.

Compared to other instant coffee, these Starbucks Pumpkin Spice VIA Ready Brew packets are good, but they don’t compare to actual Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Also, at more than one dollar per packet, they’re kind of pricey for instant coffee. Still, in hopes of drinking pumpkin spice beverages and wearing white pants at the same time, I’ll stock up on a couple boxes and stash them away for those long months between Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 packet/unprepared – 60 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 13 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Starbucks Pumpkin Spice VIA Ready Brew
Purchased Price: $6.95
Size: 5 packets
Purchased at: Starbucks
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Easy to prepare. Does smell and taste of pumpkin. Appropriately sweet. Tastes better with mostly water. Real Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Football and tailgates. Pumpkin flavors are back.
Cons: Pumpkin flavor not strong enough. Instant coffee always tastes a little off. Kind of pricey. Unnecessary acronyms. I can’t wear white pants anymore.

REVIEW: Popsicle Yosicle (Torpedo!, Layerz!, and Duos!) and Popsicle Sour Patch Kids

Popsicle Yosicles

There are times when I sit down to review a new product and have a solid framework for writing the piece. A primary analogy is established, jokes tie along the way, and the central conceit is stretched beyond the readers’ willingness to suspend their disbelief. (“We get it, Jasper, every junk food item somehow relates to the angst of your mid-20s.”) Other times, I get sent a package the size of a refrigerator box filled with samples for a whole hodgepodge of new products, and I struggle to develop any cohesive theme for the review. Guess which kind of review this will be?

The folks over at Popsicle are rolling out a new line of products (and a new portmanteau!) called Yosicles, These “Popsicle pops and yogurt together” come in three forms: Torpedo!, Layerz!, and Duos!. Additionally, they’re introducing Popsicle Sour Patch Kids, the latest item in the proud tradition of Popsicles with candy tie-ins. Layerz!, Duos!, and the Popsicle Sour Patch Kids all come in multiple flavors.

For the sake of simplicity, I am going to offer just four separate scores (Layerz, Torpedo, Duos, and Sour Patch Kids). For the sake of readability and my own sanity, I am going to stop using the exclamation points at the end of the product names.

Yosicle Purple Berry Watermelon Vanilla Torpedo

Shaped exactly like the classic Firecracker Popsicles, the Torpedo Yosicles had three flavor segments (all yogurt-based) of Purple Berry, Watermelon, and Vanilla. The yogurt component clearly wasn’t meant to have the tartness of Pinkberry-style frozen yogurt; I would say its taste profile was much closer to soft-serve. The vanilla flavor was perfectly fine – the skim milk muted the richness, but at least I understood that it’s supposed to taste somewhat like vanilla ice cream.

For the other two segments, I tasted lots of mild and artificial flavors without really tasting any “purple berry” or watermelon. Even if they had executed the flavors perfectly, I might’ve still found the choices to be strange, as I feel like a number of other flavors are generally a better fit with any cream-based treats. On the plus side (and this goes for all the Yosicles), they melted much more slowly than I had expected. Also, every Yosicle is a good source of calcium, so I’ve pretty much ingested a kidney stone’s worth of calcium in the process of reviewing these products.

Yosicle Cotton Candy-Vanilla Orange-Vanilla Layerz

The Layerz Yosicles were very similar to the Torpedos, but with just two segments instead of three. The bottom segment was always vanilla, while the top segment was either cotton candy or orange. Again, I liked the vanilla fine, so I preferred the Layerz (50% vanilla) to the Torpedos (33% vanilla). The orange flavor was reasonably reminiscent of an orange Creamsicle, but the cotton candy flavor managed to taste extremely artificial while not capturing what cotton candy actually tastes like. (Isn’t cotton candy just sugar with food coloring? And isn’t “sugar with food coloring” the primary description for a lot of things we consume – frosting, cereal, purple drank? I don’t know how that was meant to be a differentiated flavor that I should have recognized.)

Yosicle Purple Berry-Vanilla Cherry-Vanilla Duos

Differing from the other two Yosicle varieties and instead emulating the structure of a Creamsicle, the Duos Yosicle had a creamy vanilla center that was surrounded by a flavored ice shell of either purple berry or cherry. I liked the Duos much more than the Torpedos and Layerz, as the yogurt was limited to the vanilla flavor, and the flavored ice shell provided a contrast in texture and offered the familiar tastes of a classic cherry Popsicle.

Popsicle Sour Patch Kids

Although they’re unrelated to the Yosicle product line, I thought the Popsicle Sour Patch Kids were the stars among the new product releases. The idea was simple but well-executed: take three single-fruit, tried-and-true Popsicle flavors (orange, lime, and raspberry) and coat them in sour sugar. The sour sugar on actual Sour Patch Kids is granulated and sandy, while the Popsicle versions I tried had a smooth, solid sour sugar shell.

Still, the satisfying sensation of sour subsequent to sweet stayed the same. (Sorry for all the alliteration – I was really on a roll there.) I thought these Popsicles would’ve been even better with a sourer coating, but they were still far and away my favorite new offering. Next time you hear the ice cream truck drive by this summer, definitely run outside and pick up a Popsicle Sour Patch Kid, and maybe consider trying a Duos! Yosicle, too.

(Editor’s Note/Disclosure: Jasper received all this frozen goodness from the wonderful folks at Popsicle for free, so right now I imagine his freezer looks like a treasure chest to eight-year-olds.)

(Nutrition Facts – Torpedo – 2 bars – 90 calories, 2 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, 3 grams of protein, and 25% calcium. Layerz – 2 pops – 90 calories, 2 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 50 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, 3 grams of protein, and 25% calcium. Duos – 2 pops – 110 calories, 2 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 45 milligrams of sodium, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 17 grams of sugar, 2 grams of protein, and 20% calcium. Sour Patch Kids – 1 pop – 40 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein, and 10% vitamin C.)

Item: Popsicle Yosicle (Torpedo!, Layerz!, and Duos!) and Popsicle Sour Patch Kids
Price: FREE
Size: 12 pack (Yosicles)
Size: 18 pack (Sour Patch Kids))
Purchased at: Received for free from Popsicle
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Yosicle Torpedo)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Yosicle Layerz)
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Yosicle Duos)
Rating: 9 out of 10 (Popsicle Sour Patch Kids)
Pros: Yosicle vanilla segments were perfectly fine and appropriately vanilla ice cream-like. Orange Layerz tasted somewhat like an orange Creamsicle. Duos had only the vanilla flavor as its yogurt component. Duos followed the Creamsicle structure, so ice shell had classic flavor and added textural contrast. Yosicles melted slowly and are good sources of calcium. Popsicle Sour Patch Kids had sour sugar shells that were awesome. Free samples. Alliteration. Purple drank. Looking for one Simpsons clip and spending 2 hours watching old highlights.
Cons: Vanilla flavor was pretty mild. Non-vanilla Yosicle yogurt flavors were weird and artificial. Cotton candy flavor was particularly bad. Isn’t cotton candy just sugar and food coloring? Popsicle Sour Patch Kids could use a little more sourness. Exclamation marks at the end of product names. Not having any thematic cohesion in a review. Kidney stones.

REVIEW: Starbucks Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino

Starbucks Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino-WM

I adhere to a lot of the unofficial guidelines for being a proper yuppy 20-something. I own a half dozen cardigans and am beginning to curate a “crazy” sock collection. I have business cards but only use them to try to win free lunches. I spend more time complaining about my deteriorating metabolism than actually figuring out how to adjust my dietary and drinking habits. And of course, I keep a Starbucks rewards card that automatically re-loads when my balance falls below $10.

Despite going to Starbucks a couple times each week to fulfill my yuppy responsibilities, I don’t think I’ve purchased a Frappuccino since my teenage years, when I would hang out at Starbucks to feel more grown-up. Back then, the Orange Mocha Frappuccino was a completely fictional drink, and I could reference Zoolander quotes all the time without getting weird looks. (My last realtor wasn’t amused when I said, “the apartment has to be at least” three times bigger than this!”)

I do have fond memories of those pre-yuppy, Frappuccino-drinking days, so I had high hopes for the newest version, the Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino. To make sure that I was judging the new Frappuccino on the right scale and not against, say, my usual Starbucks order (grande skim latte, no sugar, extra espresso shot if my first meeting of the day is before 9:00 am), I purchased a regular mocha Frappuccino to remind myself what these types of drinks taste like. And I was reminded that these types of drinks taste really good. If it weren’t for that stupid metabolism, I would totally start ordering these again.

Given that I apparently have the exact palate of my 16-year-old self, I would say that the Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino was better than the regular one, but really not by very much. The barista added three scoops of cookie crumbles and three pumps of chocolate mocha sauce to my drink. I think the crumbles were of some kind of Oreo-esque chocolate cookie, but it was honestly hard to tell what flavor they were because the taste of the mocha syrup was so much stronger. At first, the crumbles were underwhelming in their contribution to texture, too, since they were blended down to the exact same size as the ice. As the ice began to melt, however, the cookie crumbles allowed the Frappuccino to retain some crunchiness. Even then, the crunchiness was a little too close to graininess for my liking.

Starbucks Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino Closeup-WM

The real positive differentiator for the new Frappuccino was the chocolate whipped cream on top. Its hint of chocolaty sweetness made it more interesting than regular whipped cream, yet it remained much milder than the rich mocha flavor of the drink itself and acted as a nice change of pace.

Since the whipped cream was the part I liked best, I guess I should recommend that you forgo the extra cost of a specialty Frappuccino and just order any Starbucks drink with chocolate whipped cream instead of regular. Then again, all Frappuccinos are half-off from now until May 13 from 3 to 5 pm, so this is as good a time as any to try the Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino for yourself. Just be careful of the hordes of yuppies – our sock/cardigan combos might get too crazy for you to handle.

(Nutrition Facts – 16 ounces – 470 calories, 18 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 260 milligrams of sodium, 76 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 69 grams of sugar, and 6 grams of protein.)

Item: Starbucks Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino
Price: $4.95
Size: Grande/16 ounces
Purchased at: Starbucks
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Regular mocha Frappuccinos are already good. Cookie crumbles added some crunchiness. Chocolate whipped cream was mildly sweet and a nice change of pace for the drink itself. Half-off Frappuccinos this week. Zoolander quotes.
Cons: Cookie crumbles didn’t add any taste. Crunchiness was too close to graininess. Lots of sugar and fat. Having the same palate as 16-year-old me. My metabolism. Complaining about my metabolism.