REVIEW: Cheerios Veggie Blends Cereal

As we enter a new year, Cheerios wants to be part of our resolutions with a new line of vegetable-forward cereals called Veggie Blends. Because the brand knows us better than we know ourselves, they’ve chosen to hide the vegetables in our breakfasts.

Cheerios Veggie Blends come in two varieties: Blueberry Banana and Apple Strawberry. Each is made with 1/4 cup of fruit and vegetables per serving. The ingredients include fruit purees as well as spinach, carrot, and sweet potato powders. (The asterisk next to this claim on the front of the box leads to a statement indicating that these ingredients are not intended to replace fruit or vegetables in the diet. In other words, don’t throw away that bag of spinach in the back of your refrigerator just yet.)

The sweetened oat and corn hoops are thinner and flatter than original Cheerios, but they have the same crispy crunch, along with the bonus of natural colors to brighten up your cereal bowl.

The Blueberry Banana variety consists of dark purple and light green hoops. The blueberry flavor is deliciously strong in both taste and smell, conjuring associations of summer blueberry fields and, come winter, startlingly expensive grocery store produce departments. That flavor is concentrated in the purple hoops, which overwhelm the light, natural banana flavor of the green hoops.

When eaten with milk, the cereal maintains its texture really well. However, the blueberry flavor deteriorates, leaving an earthy flavor amidst a bit of sweetness. Never would I mistake this cereal for Carrot-Os in milk, but I liked it much better dry.

I had the reverse experience with the Apple Strawberry variety. When dry, the orange, yellow-green, and purple hoops do not carry much apple or strawberry flavor. They just taste generically fruity. Think of them as the less sweet, less artificial-tasting, but still delicious cousin of Froot Loops. In milk, the fruity flavor becomes more vibrant, but now with an identifiable strawberry element.

When mixed together, the best of both cereals merge to form a confetti of fruity flavor. Highly recommend.

I like Cheerios Veggie Blends better than most flavored Cheerios varieties I’ve had in the past. The Veggie Blends’ flavors — while imprecise — are comparatively stronger without excessive sweetness. In terms of nutrition, the labels of the Veggie Blends and Original Cheerios are very similar. I didn’t detect a great difference in vitamin and mineral content that I might have expected from the Veggie Blends’ hidden fruits and vegetables. However, these added ingredients enhance the cereal’s color and flavor for a more appealing snack or breakfast option.

Both varieties are worth trying, but seriously, don’t forget about that bag of spinach. I know you bought it with good intentions, but it is going to be slimy by tomorrow.

Purchased Price: $4.93 each
Purchased at: Walmart
Size: 18 oz (510 g) Family Size box
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Blueberry Banana), 7 out of 10 (Apple Strawberry)
Nutrition Facts: (per 1 1/4 cup) Blueberry Banana – 150 calories, 2 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 33 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 8 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein. Apple Strawberry – 150 calories, 2 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 220 milligrams of sodium, 33 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 8 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Black & White Cookie Oreo Cookies

While the phrase “black and white” often connotes unchallenged simplicity, Oreo has instead presented us with the gustatory puzzle of a cookie flavored like a cookie that is technically a cake. Could any dessert be as delicious as the irony?

Whether you know them as black and whites or half moon cookies, the iconic deli staple sweet is the brand’s newest inspiration. Traditional black and white cookies are soft, cakey cookies sleekly coated with vanilla icing on one half and chocolate icing on the other. Limited Edition Black & White Cookie Oreo Cookies consist of golden vanilla wafer cookies and overlapping circles of vanilla and chocolate cremes.

It sounds like a fancy name for a lazy concept — a pet peeve of mine when it comes to product naming. (Unless it has sprinkles and a cherry, it isn’t hot fudge sundae flavored — it’s just chocolate and vanilla!)

Happily, the duo of cremes in this Oreo avoided that naming trap and pleasantly surprised me. The white creme has a distinct vanilla flavor, just like royal icing enhanced by a touch of vanilla extract. I expected to taste Oreo’s traditional white filling, but this creme is very vanilla-forward and less sugary-sweet. The complementary black creme has a deep, almost bittersweet cocoa taste. It is similar to the dark chocolate fillings of Oreo’s past, but not as rich. They are delicious apart, but both cremes together remind me of a black and white cookie in a way that makes “chocolate and vanilla” feel like an inadequate description.

Like the colors black and white, Oreo fans may also be separated into dichotomous categories: those who eat Oreo cookies by twisting the wafers apart to savor the creme first and those who just take a big bite out of the sandwich. Because of the well-flavored filling, B&WC Oreos were made for the first category of tasters. With one bite, the buttery cookies take over, and it is hard to taste the cremes. As a result, the entire cookie becomes just okay instead of special. The golden vanilla wafers were a good choice to represent the cookie’s inspiration dessert, but, like an overcast sky, they hide the understated beauty of the (half) moon.

The enduring success of the original Oreo proves that there is perfection in simplicity. The Limited Edition Black & White Cookie Oreo approaches, but doesn’t quite live up to, that truth. The cookie may have been more successful in the Double Stuf variety, where the filling could really shine. I hope Oreo revisits these cremes before it rushes to develop something more wacky or luxurious because they are too good to be written off as basic.

Purchased Price: $4.69
Size: 10.68 oz (303 g) package
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 6 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (per 2 cookies) 140 calories, 7 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 95 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.

REVIEW: Reese’s Caramel Big Cup

While I love The Impulsive Buy for padding my grocery list with fun new items, I also value it as a historical record of all the products I’ve loved before (or never got to try or barely remember).

Digging into the archives reminded me that a Reese’s Caramel Cup once existed circa 2005. But that was then, and now it’s time for an upgrade. After recent varieties filled with such treats as salty snacks, candy pieces, and cereal, Reese’s Big Cup is embracing caramel, that candy bar classic. Combining a layer of caramel with its quintessential peanut butter filling, Reese’s Caramel Big Cup is available in standard or King Size packages.

Knowing what to expect from a standard Big Cup, I was most interested in the caramel element. A slim layer sits at the bottom of the cup, beneath the generous peanut butter core. It’s smooth and loosely textured, but not runny. When I cut the Big Cup in half with a knife, the caramel reminded me of jarred caramel ice cream topping: it is soft enough to coat parts of the blade, but not so thin as to be messy. Yes, I did feel like Sweeney Todd in this moment if he were either very hungry for a sweet treat or just trying his best to transfer his dark urges to something more wholesome.

There seems to be a very thin layer of chocolate separating the peanut butter and caramel, so the two don’t mix together too much. It’s possible to taste them separately. The caramel is sweet, buttery, and soft. You don’t get the chew of a Twix or Snickers caramel here. When all elements combine, the caramel gets a little lost, but it enhances the Big Cup’s sweetness. Overall, the Big Cup tastes like a regular Reese’s, just sweeter. The Big Cup is a good vehicle for caramel because it provides a solid structure to encase what is often a messy ingredient. If the cup had dedicated a tad more space to it, the caramel’s buttery tones might have harmonized more equally with the peanut butter flavor.

Without the historical archives of The Impulsive Buy, I might not remember the Reese’s Caramel Big Cup in ten years’ time. (That Great Gatsby-level of pining is reserved for the Elvis Peanut Butter and Banana Creme Reese’s Cup, thank you very much!) But for now, it’s a nice, slightly sweeter variation that I may pick up next time my sweet tooth goes into overdrive.

Purchased Price: $2.28
Purchased at: Walmart
Size: 2.8 oz (79 g) King Size package
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (per 1 cup) 190 calories, 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 120 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 22 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.

REVIEW: White Chocolate Toasty Vanilla M&M’s

Vanilla has a PR problem. Not just a flavor, vanilla is often used as a pejorative adjective meaning “ordinary, conventional, or plain.” Something referred to as “vanilla” can be unadventurous, bland, or boring. After all it has done for us, does vanilla deserve such disrespect?

Maybe due to the word’s connection, I can’t think of many candies that prominently advertise vanilla as a major flavor. Enter M&M’s to make the ordinary special with White Chocolate Toasty Vanilla M&M’s, this year’s seasonal offering from the brand. When I discovered the product, I had questions: Is a vanilla M&M just a white chocolate M&M wearing a different label? What makes it toasty? What is the M&M on the package drinking, and where can I get one?

If the cure for boredom is curiosity, tasting the White Chocolate Toasty M&M’s may cure your assumption that vanilla is a dull flavor. Unlike some white chocolate, the M&M’s core is not merely sweet and definitely not cloying. There is real vanilla flavor that enjoys a certain degree of complexity, similar to the taste of vanilla bean ice cream.

However, that comparison isn’t perfect because of the M&M’s added “toastiness.” To me, this comes through as a subtle hint of cinnamon. (For inquiring minds, the ingredients list offers only “natural and artificial flavors,” with no mention of vanilla or any kind of spice.) When I opened the bag, the aroma reminded me of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, but the flavor wasn’t nearly as heavy on spice. Think leftover cinnamilk – if you love to douse your cereal, that is – with an added hit of vanilla, or even a subtly-spiced horchata. Together, the flavors melt into a rich, creamy concoction that probably tastes similar to whatever Green M&M is drinking on the package. The only unsolved mystery of this seasonal treat: will she share her recipe?

If you use seasonal M&M’s for your holiday treats, please note that these M&M’s are on the large side and colored white, beige, and brown. The candy shell shades may not have a standard holiday or winter color scheme, but they will remind you to double-check your toaster dial at breakfast tomorrow.

Even if you typically bypass vanilla for bolder flavors, don’t mistake White Chocolate Toasty Vanilla M&M’s for boring or ordinary. The depth of vanilla flavor, enhanced by a hint of toasty warm spice, tastes like coziness wrapped in a candy shell, proving one thing: It’s okay to be vanilla, but it’s even better to be toasty vanilla.

Purchased Price: $3.00
Size: 2.47 oz (70 g) Share Size bag
Purchased at: Sheetz
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (per half pack/35 g) 170 calories, 9 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 30 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 23 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.

REVIEW: Starbucks Iced Gingerbread Oatmilk Chai Latte

As readers of a junk food blog may agree, there is nothing quite like buying yourself a little treat, whether you’ve done anything to deserve it or not. When that treat is a beverage, I will choose a chai latte nine times out of ten. I love them so much that I have tested and ranked the chai lattes offered by (almost) every café in my city. When a craving hits, even the low-ranked ones hit the spot. However, my favorites are often an equal measure of tea, milk, sweetness, and spice. Chai spice blend preferences are about as personal as one’s coffee order, but I like a peppery bite as well as a hint of vanilla.

I both love and resent chai lattes for occupying so much of my mental space that could be dedicated to other things, like remembering the names of my colleagues’ kids or establishing a regular dusting schedule.

Again, my priorities were set when I tasted the Iced Gingerbread Oatmilk Chai Latte, a new item on Starbucks’ winter menu. The iced beverage base consists of Starbucks’ chai concentrate, chai syrup, and oatmilk. An oatmilk froth flavored with gingerbread syrup tops the drink, along with a sprinkle of pumpkin spice. (Sadly, my order was missing the pumpkin spice. I shouldn’t take it personally. And yet….)

To add gingerbread syrup only to the froth felt like an odd choice. The flavor was noticeable (and at times trickled down into the drink’s base), but I expected it to shine more brightly. Mostly cinnamon and molasses, the gingerbread flavor tasted good, but lacked any real punch of ginger. (Gingerbread fans may wish to try the hot version of the drink, which contains both chai and gingerbread syrups in the base. Share your findings, please!)

The oatmilk in the base was delicious, contributing a thick, creamy richness and subtle nutty flavor. It was very sweet, which I’m not opposed to. The creaminess seemed to dominate, throwing off the spice ratio. As with the froth, the spice in the base seemed very cinnamon-forward. Even though Starbucks’ chai concentrate contains black pepper and ginger, the drink somehow lacked the bite I expect from chai. Generally, it was more reminiscent of pumpkin spice.

Don’t get me wrong, the drink still tasted good — creamy and sweet, with enough sugar, spice, and caffeine to nudge a few dopamine receptors out of bed. However, the Iced Gingerbread Oatmilk Chai Latte oversells the promise of ginger; by confining the gingerbread flavor to the froth, no component fully delivers what could have been vibrant spice. This limited time offering isn’t in my top tier of seasonal beverages or chai lattes, but it will still quell a sweet treat craving.

Purchased Price: $5.45
Size: Tall – 12 fl oz.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 290 calories, 8 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 100 milligrams of sodium, 55 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 36 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.