REVIEW: Planters Cheez Balls and Cheez Curls (2018)

Planters Cheez Balls and Cheez Curls

You know when something tastes better in your memory than it actually does? That’s Planters Cheez Balls and Cheez Curls for me.

I distinctively remember Mr. Peanut and the blue cylindrical can sitting on the coffee table, which was the designated snack table, in our family’s living room. So, was I excited to see Planters bring it back for a limited time? Heck yeah! But, Chester Cheetah has ruled the curl and poof category uncontested for over a decade now and for good reason.

Looking at the can now, I wonder why I didn’t ever question a peanut mascot on a corn-based snack. Anyways, when I opened them with said odd graphic, I was taken aback by the fluorescent orange because I forgot how traffic cone-colored they were. I know that’s part of the charm because they’re from a time when we had purple-colored ketchup and neon-colored soda. But in today’s push for less artificial flavors or colors, it’s a bit jarring. It didn’t help that they were noticeably more neon than Cheetos. But, props to Planters for keeping these babies true to form.

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Because I wanted to save the best for last, I started with the Cheez Curls. They were noticeably more flavorful and saltier than Cheetos. The fluorescent-ness translated to better cheez coverage. But, I enjoyed Cheetos’ crunchier texture and that the last flavor was more corn-forward.

I was curious as to why the corn was more pronounced, so I looked into the ingredient list. The first ingredient is degerminated yellow corn meal, but for Cheetos it’s enriched corn meal. I’m not a food scientist so don’t quiz me, but Google says that the degerminating process strips some pieces off of the corn to make it shelf stable. The enriching process adds back some the lost vitamins and nutrients from the degermination. Maybe in this process, Chester also adds back some corn flavor. I wouldn’t put it past that Cheetah!

Another theory I have is that the Curls (and Balls) contain semisoft cheese whereas Cheetos just uses a cheese seasoning. Again, no food magician here but I think of how cheese-forward a semisoft curd is versus a dried cheese seasoning. In my mind, this translates as the corn really just being a base vehicle for the cheese, which is why it’s not as corn flavored as the Cheetos.

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As for the Cheez Balls, it’s clearly the same cheez so points for consistency. However, there was a subtle stale oil smell wafting from the can that I didn’t get with the other. Besides that, unlike the Curls, there were less texture and flavor differences with Cheetos Puffs. Interestingly enough, the Balls have both semisoft cheese and dried cheese seasoning.

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All in all, pick up a can of Cheez Curls and Balls for nostalgia’s sake because it’s only around for a limited time. And I don’t foresee Planters extending that because they simply can’t stand up to Cheetos’ dominance and better taste. Sorry!

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz. – Cheez Curls – 140 calories, 7 grams of fat, 1 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 250 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of sugars, and 2 grams of protein. Cheez Balls – 140 calories, 6 grams of fat, 1 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 150 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.98 each
Size: 4 oz. containers
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Cheez Curls)
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Cheez Balls
Pros: Fluorescent orange glory and retro packaging. The Curls and Balls use semisoft cheese instead of just dried cheese seasoning which makes me think that it’s a bit more of a premium product than Cheetos! Great cheez coverage!
Cons: They’re just not as good as Cheetos, IMHO. Cheez Balls have a bit of weird stale oil smell.

QUICK REVIEW: Starbucks Summer Sunset Cold Foam Tea Lemonade

Starbucks Summer Sunset Cold Foam Tea Lemonade

What is it?

Just in time for peak summer, Starbucks launched two new lemonade drinks with nondescript names: Summer Sunrise and Summer Sunset. The Summer Sunset is a blend of the pineapple tea infusion, a new item that launched this time last year, Passion Tango Tea, and lemonade. The new, exciting part of these two drinks is the cold foam; the Sunset in particular features a sweet Passion Tango herbal tea cold foam.

How is it?

It’s not quite the Teavana Shaken Iced Tea Infusions beverage, and it’s also not quite the PTL (Passion Tea Lemonade); it’s so non-committal and in-between that it’s mediocre. While I can taste each of the flavor elements, it doesn’t do either of them justice.

I was hoping the Passion Tango cold foam would tie everything together, but it didn’t. While the color of the Sunset is pretty (I see what you made me do there Starbucks), the execution reminds me of Crystal Light.

Is there anything else I need to know?

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The cold foam seems like a lot of extra work for little payoff. I watched the barista painstakingly wait for it to finish blending after she already mixed the tea lemonade concoction. Note for anyone who is lactose intolerant – the cold foam contains milk.

There’s also 36 grams of sugar, but it doesn’t taste that sweet. It’s easy to drink without feeling like you’re drinking classic syrup, so technically it delivers on the refreshing aspect.

Conclusion:

Starbucks is cutting back on limited releases by 30 percent, but somehow this drink still made the cut. It’s just a blend of existing drinks with gimmicky cold foam and seems to be made mainly for the ‘gram.

Purchased Price: $4.75
Size: Grande
Rating: 4 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (Grande) 150 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 25 milligrams of sodium, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 36 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein, and 0 milligrams of caffeine.

REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Chip off the Dough Block Ice Cream

Ben  Jerry s Chip off the Dough Block Ice Cream

TIL: Ben & Jerry’s was the first to make cookie dough in ice cream happen.

What?!

Mind. Blown.

When I worked there in high school, that fun fact was not on any training or marketing materials. Glad they’re tapping into it now because that’s some serious cred!

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For the summer, they’ve launched three Scoop Shop-exclusives that are chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream to the nth power. The Chip off the Dough Block flavor is the most extreme of the three; its chipper description reads: “Chocolate Chip & Chocolate Ice Creams with Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough & Chocolate Chip Cookies.” I for one don’t think there’s such thing as too much chocolate chip cookie ever and the Flavor Gurus clearly agree.

Before trying the new flavor, I sampled the OG cookie dough one to orient my taste buds. The small sample was enough to remind me of that tasty, raw cookie dough flavor. I went all in for the new flavor though! When the scooper was scooping it, it was visibly much softer than some of the other ice creams. I appreciate that he dug a little deeper into the carton to get the bits that were a little more frozen.

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The ice cream was light milk chocolate in color with visible caramel-colored streaks and studded with chocolate. I could see that they were bigger chunks, which fondly reminded me of the delicious chunks in one of my favorite flavors, Coffee, Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz. Because there’s no caramel in this flavor, I speculated that the streaks were smeared bits of the chocolate chip cookies.

The first lick (yes, fellow ice cream lickers unite!) was distinctly cookie dough but with a milkier, almost muted taste. The raw cookie dough flavor wasn’t as pronounced. But, I liked that I got the same texture-y goodness – if not more texture-y goodness.

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As I continued eating, I noticed that there were also smaller chips like in Famous Amos cookies. I enjoyed both the chunk and chip. I didn’t see any real pieces of chocolate chip cookies though, which was disappointing. Bits of real cookie would have been a treat! The best textural element ended up being the chunks.

This flavor has all the qualities of great Ben & Jerry’s ice creams – smooth, creamy, scoop-able with fantastic texture – but it’s not worth a trek out to a Scoop Shop. I was able to achieve a close enough flavor experience with a Milk & Cookies pint from the local grocery store.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 scoop – 210 calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, 55 milligrams of sodium, 23 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 19 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $6.50
Size: Small
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Great texture-y goodness from both the chocolate chunks and chips. You might enjoy this flavor if find regular cookie dough ice cream too raw tasting!
Cons: Where are the pieces of chocolate chip cookies? Not worth the trek – similar in taste to Milk & Cookies.

REVIEW: Starbucks Serious Strawberry Frappuccino

Starbucks Serious Strawberry Frappuccino

I generally can’t take anything with the adjective “serious” in it, seriously. But that’s the beauty of Starbucks’ new Serious Strawberry Frappuccino Blended Beverage. Strawberry is a fun, summer flavor, but this drink is so good that you should take it seriously.

We know Starbucks has a track-record for creating awesome fruit-flavored summer beverages, but I didn’t see this one coming! I thought at least the tasty mango pineapple flavor from last summer would be back, but I actually saw it as the lead at its Hong Kong and Taipei locations instead.

Either way, I’m not complaining. This new flavor makes more sense as it stays in the theme of R&D refreshing core flavors we already know and love. Although, truth be told the old Strawberries & Crème flavor never appealed to me, but Serious Strawberry’s botanical infusion and puree definitely did.

Speaking of the old flavor, Serious Strawberry means business as it replaces said old flavor completely, unlike the other new flavors. So, it’s particularly surprising that it’s not denoted with “Blended Crème” per Starbucks’ typical non-caffeinated nomenclature.

When picking up my drink, I got a kick out of the barista announcing, “Serious Strawberry for Tiffany!” It sounded so silly that I had my own Bart Simpson Anita Bath tee-hee-hee moment. But, that’s part of the charm – that moment can’t be replicated with a Misto or Matcha Latte.

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I noticed it was a little more liquid-y than expected. I enjoyed my beverage indoors, but I could see this melting very quickly in the heat if it were consumed outdoors. It was a fleeting thought as I was immediately distracted by the pretty pink and white resembling the pink marble trend all over Instagram right now. I was also pleased to see real strawberry seeds in the swirls of puree because it sparked hope that it wouldn’t be artificial tasting.

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My mind was blown from the first sip. The flavor was like if I stuck my straw in a juicy strawberry; there were some sips that were tangier than others and some sweeter like eating the fruit itself. The nuance was in part from the botanical infusion of apples, licorice root, hibiscus, rose hips, and lemongrass.

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But, the botanicals also contributed to what I misread at first as a slightly artificial aftertaste. However, as I continued drinking I knew that it wasn’t at all like an artificial/powdered strawberry milk flavoring. The vanilla whipped cream rounded out this classic combination of berries and dairy.

With all these seriously stellar summer flavor launches, it’s going to be a tough act for Starbucks to follow in the fall.

(Nutrition Facts – Tall 12 fl oz – 260 calories, 11 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 150 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 36 grams of sugars, 3 grams of protein and 0 milligrams of caffeine.)

Purchased Price: $4.45
Size: Tall
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Tastes like a drinking a strawberry – some sips are tarngier and some sips are sweeter. Still Instagrammable like pink marble. No caffeine (if you’re looking for a non-caffeinated option).
Cons: A bit more liquid-y than usual (may melt faster in the summer heat). Not seeing the value in the fancy botanical infusion – just created a bit of tastebud confusion as I mistook it for a slight artificial taste at first

QUICK REVIEW: Starbucks Ultra Caramel Frappuccino

Starbucks Ultra Caramel Frappuccino

What is it?

Starbucks’ new Ultra Caramel Frappuccino launched with the Triple Mocha Frappuccino to kick off Frappuccino season. I straight up asked the barista what the difference was between the Ultra Caramel and original version. Not really selling it – he stated that it was a different caramel and whipped cream.

But it was so much more than that –- the caramel is a new dark caramel sauce, the new whipped cream is infused with cold brew (!!!), and it’s created in layers so that all the good stuff is distributed nicely throughout the drink.

How is it?

Delicious!

When I was in middle school, I used to drink a Venti Caramel Frappuccino with extra caramel every single summer day. A little bit gross, I know. So, the Ultra Caramel is like the upgraded adult version. I enjoy the smokier dark caramel sauce and the additional caffeine and coffee flavor from the cold brew whipped cream. The blended coffee is a good backdrop, but a bit icy per usual.

Is there anything else I need to know?

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Starbucks needs to package this delicious cold brew whipped cream and sell it, please. But, you can add this topping to any drink for 50 cents extra. Also, Ultra is not replacing the original Caramel or Mocha flavors. But, the Ultra version will run you $0.80 more (than the original) for a Tall, $0.50 more for a Grande and Venti.

Conclusion:

Hello Frappuccino season! The new Ultra Caramel is a great way to kick it off.

Purchased Price: $4.75
Size: Tall (12 fl oz.)
Rating: 9 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 350 calories, 17 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium, 47 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 44 grams of sugar, 4 grams of protein, and 70 milligrams of caffeine..