REVIEW: Kroger Big K Candy Cane Soda and Cinna-Roll Soda

Kroger Big K Candy Cane Soda and Cinna Roll Soda

Autumn 2005 is one of the most pivotal moments in the history of soft drinks since it marked the arrival of Jones Soda’s infamous Holiday Pack. Featuring a wild medley of bizarre-flavored beverages (turkey and gravy, brussels sprouts, pumpkin pie, etc.), the strange soda set received heaps of media coverage, more or less putting the obscure cola manufacturer on the map.

Here we are 13 years later, and soda companies are STILL trying to replicate Jones Soda’s unusual (yet undeniably successful) marketing strategy. From upstart micro-cola companies to Coca-Cola and PepsiCo themselves, soda manufacturers continue to trot out unorthodox – and in some cases, downright disgusting – colas with the hopes that the (morbid?) curiosity of John and Joan Q. Consumer will be enough to turn a profit, or at least generate some free publicity.

Kroger’s Big K Candy Cane and Cinna-Roll Sodas are certainly emblematic of the weird-simply-for-the-sake-of-being-weird cola trend. Neither product is all that appetizing – nor do they even taste that much like their namesakes, for that matter – but the sheer kookiness of the drinks is appealing.

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The packaging has this ironic, half-hearted ClipArt feel to it, complete with two of the worst puns you’ll ever read in your life. And if nothing else, the soda hues are definitely cool; the candy cane one looks like mutated Hawaiian Punch (maybe lava lamp juice?), while the cinna-roll one is the same color of ultra thick maple syrup (or 10W30 motor oil?)

Kroger Big K Candy Cane Soda

Kroger Big K Cinna Roll Soda

Alas, aesthetics can only carry a cola so far, and in the one area that matters most, both these sodas fall flat. The candy cane variation is the better tasting of the two, but even then it just tastes like a jug of Sprite with about 50 peppermints floating in it. Granted, that’s not my bag, but if you’re a connoisseur of peppermint schnapps, you might foster a fondness for it.

Unfortunately, the cinna-roll one won’t impress anybody. First off, the smell is weird. Yes, it’s like a cinnamon roll, but one that’s really stale. Or a fresh one that’s in an old sock – I’ll let you judge that for yourself. Regardless, the taste isn’t there. Instead of tasting like a Cinnabon treat, it’s like thick ginger ale with a surfeit of sugar in it. In fact, both sodas are sugary to the point of being nauseating; one serving of either will net you a whopping 96 percent of your RDA of the saccharine stuff.

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Alone, I wouldn’t consider either of these novelty colas worth going out of your way to experience. Just for the heck of it, though, I merged the two for science’s sake, and the coalesced Candy Cane-Cinna-Roll abomination actually tasted better than either standalone soda. Take note, Pepsi Fire fans (both of you) – combining these two off-kilter Kroger colas might be the closest thing you’ll get to reliving the magic and mirth of summer 2017. 

(Nutrition Facts – 12 ounces – 180 calories, 0 grams of total fat, 20 milligrams of sodium, 48 grams of total carbohydrates, 48 grams of total sugars, and 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.49 each
Size: 2 liter bottles
Purchased at: Kroger
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Candy Cane)
Rating: 3 out of 10 (Cinna-Roll)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Both flavors combined)
Pros: The packaging is hipster-tastic; the colors of the sodas are really groovy. Combining the two colas together gives you (unofficial) Kroger Fire.
Cons: Both colas are excessively sweet. The cinnamon roll one has an off-putting smell (and carbonation that takes forever to die down). Realizing there’s no rational answer for when your significant other asks you why you’re putting them in the shopping cart.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Cotton Candy Twinkies

Limited Edition Cotton Candy Twinkies

I have a sinking suspicion someone from Hostess got drunk at a carnival and had way too much fun with some cute carnies. I envision the deep fried Twinkie stand being manned by a fun young lass who dared the Hostess rep to create the ultimate ode to her and her young child, who was cradling a big wispy whirly stack of cotton candy. Trying to win over her affection he made a promise then and there to put something exclusively on Walmart shelves that would honor her forever, and in that moment, the Cotton Candy Twinkie was born.

Or something like that.

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Pulling out my first cellophane beauty from its cardboard carnival house it’s no surprise that I’m greeted with a lovely smear of grease on the clear plastic, like the Twinkie was desperately trying to escape its factory sealed prison the entire time it was inside.

Releasing the ‘twink from captivity I’m immediately hit with a distinct cotton candy smell, and I’m impressed that I got such a strong aroma even before breaking into the cake. Unfortunately my hands are now already uncomfortably slimy and I’m not even eating bacon. Sigh.

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Biting into the cotton concoction is when the fun really begins. The outside sponge cake is the same as always – greasy and mediocre and has my mouth feeling the same as if my shoulders were endlessly shrugging. The bright pink cream filling legitimately tastes like cotton candy and what I imagine poison tastes like.

What starts as a distinct artificial cotton candy flavor that reminds me of one of my favorite ice creams growing up gradually transforms and finishes with a nagging, astringent, and harsh food dye flavor that is downright bad.

The sweet cotton candy flavor is there, and the texture is represented through the general creamy fluffiness of filling, but everything gets completely washed out by the aftertaste, which lingers and resides over second or third bites – if you can make it that far. The taste is so strong it reminds me of trying to eat something sweet immediately after brushing my teeth, and my mouth and mind join forces to let out one resounding NO.

Limited Edition Cotton Candy Twinkies 4

Simply put, these are not enjoyable to eat – at all. I’ll give props where props are due to Hostess for actually getting cotton candy flavor into the Twinkie, but if that flavor comes with a side dose of cringe-inducing astringency I will pass, and pass hard.

I’m starting to wonder if the people creating these products are even tasting them before they hit the shelves or if they just assume that everyone who consumes these will be high, drunk, or broken. Steer clear of these unless you legitimately like punishing your tastebuds like some sick twisted S&M carnival-themed eating game.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cakes – 260 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 340 milligrams of sodium, 44 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 31 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 13.59 oz./10 pack
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Uhhh…they actually taste like cotton candy? Momentarily? A pretty blue box? I’m reaching here.
Cons: Awful astringent poison-esque aftertaste. Usual mediocre greasy Twinkie cake. I had to buy ten of them.

REVIEW: Reese’s Flavor of Georgia Honey Roasted Peanut Butter Cups

Reese s Flavor of Georgia Honey Roasted Peanut Butter Cups

Since I’ve lived pretty much my entire life in the metro-Atlanta area, I suppose I’m one of the more qualified people out there to judge the authenticity of Reese’s newfangled, Georgia-themed P.B. cup. Well, nice try, Hershey, but this thing is about as genuinely Georgian as a nasally accent, adequate public transportation, and unsweetened tea.

OK, I get that the two big Georgia food stereotypes are peaches and peanuts. But if you’re going to take the lazy, uninspired route, at least make sure it’s the RIGHT kind of stereotypical foodstuff. In all my 30-something years in Georgia, not ONCE have I ever seen anyone at a roadside stand hawking honey-roasted peanuts.

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In fact, the ONLY type of peanuts people in these parts seem to eat are the boiled variety – and to be frank, I think I actually would’ve enjoyed that more than this half-hearted “Flavors of America” offering.

This may very well be the least special “special edition” gimmick food of all-time. Not only is the advertised “honey roasted” flavor faint, it’s practically non-existent. Yes, there is some oily stuff in and around the cups, and the interior peanut butter at least looks a little slicker than your normal cup, but in terms of taste, this thing is virtually indistinguishable from your regular old Reese’s. I wound up buying two packages, just to see if the first one I ate was defective. Well, four special edition cups later and it’s distressingly apparent; this L-T-O product is basically the same thing as the standard product!

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You know the product formula is fouled up when consumers have to literally FOCUS on what they’re eating to pinpoint the flavor. It doesn’t matter how slow you chew them or how hard you try to let the flavor seep into your tastebuds; simply put, the “honey-roasted” flavor just isn’t there.

I’m a big fan of Reese’s, but this product is a colossal disappointment. Granted, it still tastes pretty good, but the whole point of L-T-O products is to give consumers something different – if not in terms of flavor, at least in terms of aesthetics.

Reese s Flavor of Georgia Honey Roasted Peanut Butter Cups 4

If Reese’s can release pumpkin-shaped cups for Halloween, they easily could’ve made regular-flavored cups shaped like famous Georgia iconography like, I don’t know, the silhouette of a Waffle House or a zombie from The Walking Dead or the Falcons logo (which, for bonus realism, could fall apart when you only have a quarter left to eat.)

From Coca-Cola-soaked pecan pie to Gladys Knight’s chicken and waffles (no, that’s a real thing, I promise you), my home state offered plenty of interesting, novelty food options for Reese’s to consider. And with all that potential on the table, how disappointing that they ultimately decided to aim this low with their final effort.

(Nutrition Facts – 220 calories, 110 calories from fat, 13 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 150 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of total carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 22 grams of sugar and 5 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.49
Size: 2 cups
Purchased at: CVS
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Overall, the product does taste pretty good. And at least the packaging is pretty.
Cons: It tastes just like a regular Reese’s cup. The “honey-roasted” flavor is so slight, I’m not entirely sure it exists. Realizing we could’ve had a Chick-Fil-A Icedream Cone flavored Hershey Bar or a Peach Cobbler Mr. Goodbar instead of this seasonal snoozer.

REVIEW: Hostess White Fudge Ding Dongs

Hostess White Fudge Ding Dongs

Ding Dongs really are the laziest of the Hostess family.

Ho Hos have some level of technical achievement.

CupCake’s got the swirl.

But the Ding Dong? It’s just a puck.

It’s a slice of a chocolate cake tube, stuffed with creme, and coated in the most chocolatey of wax. Despite their cartoonish name, Ding Dongs are a distinctly utilitarian snack food and the most mathematically efficient delivery system for chocolate and vanilla flavors.

In their search to remove even more joy from their brand of sugar discs, Hostess have introduced White Fudge Ding Dongs. An all-white variation that subs the coating for white chocolate, and switches the cake from cocoa to vanilla. The resulting product is bleak, bland, and cynically sweet.

The waxy exterior of a classic Ding Dong cracks into sweet shards, unmelting as the tongue is distracted by the cake and creme. For the White Fudge variant, Hostess appears to have shelled out for an actual food product. The exterior melts, enriching the entire bite with a sugary swirl. For a packaged cake, the texture is pretty satisfying. However, it’s also very prone to melting after just a few seconds of being held. Prepare for sticky fingers.

Hostess White Fudge Ding Dongs 2

While the coating is good, it’s wasted on a cake that is already saturated with creamy vanilla. It’s white chocolate on yellow cake, surrounding white creme. The flavor profile is blindingly sweet, lacking any deeper notes to appreciate. The fudge tastes like an extension of the cake, which tastes like an extension of the creme. All binding into a single, monotone bite. These white pucks offer little more a profound head rush. With 33 grams of sugar between the pair, I struggled to get through both of them.

White Fudge Ding Dongs feel like the result of an algorithm gone wrong. The classic version is already so basic, and so simplistic – distilling it any further leaves nothing behind but sugar. White chocolate is best used as an accent for other, more bold items. Had Hostess kept the chocolate cake, something special would have been found with this white fudge coating. But as is, White Fudge Ding Dongs are difficult to recommend.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cakes – 310 calories, 140 calories from fat, 16 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 160 milligrams of sodium, 41 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 33 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 2.55 oz./2 cakes
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Coating tastes and melts like actual white fudge. Overflowing with creme. You won’t want to eat both, so they’re sharable.
Cons: Tastes like straight sugar and vanilla. Coats your fingers in melted white goo. Looks like prop food in a teen dystopian movie.

REVIEW: Hostess Chocolate Cake Twinkies

Hostess Chocolate Cake Twinkies

From the dawn of prepackaged snack good creation, there have been clear lines of evolutionary development. Following the progenitor of all these treats, the Hostess Cupcake created in 1919, diverged the Ho-Ho (1920), Suzy-Q’s (1961), and finally the Ding Dong (1967).

But all of these products pale in comparison to the Twinkie. Engineered in 1930, it not only survived a flavor change in World War II, but also has evolved into one of the most nuanced and copied bakery items in history. And now it’s getting a new modification: chocolate cake.

To be sure, this is not the first time chocolate and Twinkie have tangoed together. The elusive Chocodile beguiled East Coast junk food addicts for years before a 2014 national re-release, while chocolate cream-injected Twinkies make a yearly appearance around Halloween (presumably because Hostess thinks rhyming is a good way to market empty calories).

But never before have we seen this.

The first question I had was “Why?” The second question I had was “Why not?” The third question I had was “Do you know where the toilet paper aisle is?” because I was in an unfamiliar Walmart running errands.

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Having conquered my weekly duties, I made sure to rewards myself with the new Chocolate Cake Twinkies. I was unimpressed; shorter and denser than the standard Twinkie, the Chocolate Cake Twinkies had a moist devil’s food crumb that is neither overwhelmingly chocolaty nor excessively dull. It is, as you’d expect from anything Hostess makes, super sweet, so much so that the chocolate becomes a cocoa sidekick to the insane rush of sugar.

While the Twinkies tasted a lot like a chocolate Zinger sans frosting (or every other Hostess chocolate baked good, for that matter) I did find myself missing the chocolate “shell” provided by products like Ho-Hos.

Hostess Chocolate Cake Twinkies 3

I thought the chocolate might at least make the cream stand out, but this was not the case. If anything, it made my taste buds have less appreciation for the cream, which instead of balancing a rich chocolate sponge cake, mostly just tasted whipped marshmallow cream.

If there’s ever been a less satiating display of chocolate cake outside of this scene in Matilda, this is it. It’s not that the chocolate Twinkies suck, but rather that the essence of a Twinkie has always been it’s light, chiffon-flavored sponge cake filling. It’s what makes people eat them in droves, reference them in legal discourse, and, my personal favorite, put them on pizza. Without the light vanilla cake, the chocolate Twinkie just becomes a Zinger without the frosting, or, worse yet, Ho Hos without its shell.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cakes (77g) – 260 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 350 milligrams of sodium, 42 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fiber, 29 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $1.00
Size: 2.7 oz./2-pack
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Smells like Cocoa Krispies. Moist cake element. Not as bad for you as eating an entire chocolate cake.
Cons: More of a cocoa than chocolate flavor. Squishy, dense cake texture. No balance with cream element. Tastes exactly like every other Hostess chocolate baked good except without the frosting or shell.