REVIEW: Crystal Pepsi (2016)

Crystal Pepsi (2016)

Full disclosure: I’m a Coke person. But I like Pepsi.

The sweetness of a cherry Pepsi contrasts particularly well with the sodium bomb of an extra crispy two-piece KFC meal, flanked with a side of comfortingly bland mac and cheese. And on Friday nights before I knew anyone with a car, Pizza Hut would deliver a meat-lovers pizza to the house, accompanied by bulbous onyx two-liter tanks of soda—always Pepsi.

I just like gross, adult stuff now: Bitter, sour, spicy, stuff that tastes like medicine, Coca-Cola. I like the harsh carbonation of Coca-Cola. If we’re picking teams, I’m Team Coke. But Pepsi is fine. And I definitely got my mother to buy me Crystal Pepsi multiple times the twenty-or-so odd years ago it was available.

Crystal Pepsi is back. It’s visually striking, the label’s bold blue and red logo against a foggy clear backdrop. The nostalgia factor is enough to get one buy out of me, but even on pure aesthetics, it’s compelling. A 20-ounce bottle of regular Pepsi looks like a familiar product. A 20-ounce bottle of Crystal Pepsi looks like the absence of Pepsi. It looks naked, vulnerable, honest even. It looks like it’s missing something. And it is.

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What Crystal Pepsi lacks is the almost-metallic taste that hits the back of the throat that regular Pepsi has. It’s hard to tell if the subtraction of the caramel coloring is the reason for this, but without the light medicinal quality, it kicks the balance of the drink into being really sweet. I would say too sweet. If you took a poll of what people thought of OG Pepsi, I think a lot of the answers would be “sweet,” especially in comparison to Coke. So this is even more than that.

At first taste it has the same sugary hit of Pepsi regular. Without the complexity of the rest of Pepsi regular, though, it seems like the soda boosts into maple syrup, lip-curling sweetness territory. I would have assumed a taste test between Crystal and regular would have been at least interesting, but it’s really not difficult to tell them apart. It’s an entirely different beast. It carries the lightness of a ginger ale with the sugary ceiling of an apple juice.

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Crystal Pepsi also has a smoother finish, and the carbonation is less harsh than most other sodas, so the texture in the mouth is also not compensating for the added perceived boost in sweetness. The sugar contents compare to regular Pepsi, however, and the ingredient differences are “gum arabic” and “sodium citrate.” Sure. Who knows what that means. Crystal Pepsi does now contain caffeine, which it didn’t have in the 90’s. So for people looking for a weird ass coffee replacement, that’s good information. “Nothing better in the morning than a cheese Danish and a mug of hot Crystal Pepsi.”

With 90’s nostalgia in full swing, Pepsi is surfing the trend wave. I mean, look at that label. I can’t remember if this is how Crystal Pepsi tasted like this in the 90’s but if it did, it was too sweet then. I probably just didn’t care. I was too busy playing pogs at Taco Bell while listening to Dookie. Now I sit in my breakfast nook and do my taxes and listen to a self-made Train’s Greatest Hits. And I drink Coke. Diet Coke. You got me to buy one, Crystal Pepsi. But I think that’s all you’re gonna get.

(Nutrition Facts – 20 oz – 250 calories, 0 grams of fat, 90 milligrams of sodium, 69 grams of carbohydrates, 69 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.89
Size: 20 fl oz
Purchased at: Walgreens
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Nostalgia factor. Nice looking label.
Cons: Too sweet.

REVIEW: Polar Unicorn Kisses Seltzer

Polar Unicorn Kisses Seltzer

When I was a kid, I often remember visiting a drive-thru wild animal park with my parents. Aside from the fact that the monkeys would wildly flail about while removing the piping from our minivan’s windows, it was a great place to go to take in the wonders of the savannah (albeit the Canadian savannah, but I digress).

We’d usually close our trip with a stopover at the petting zoo, my hands full of vending machine pellets ready to feed Larry the Llama and Gary the Goat. My three-year-old self was shocked at the vigor at which the animal’s tongue attacked the food in my hand – an image I still can’t forget. Regrettably, this is my only frame of reference for understanding the concept of “unicorn kisses.”

Thankfully, Polar Seltzer’s Unicorn Kisses is not a bottle of magical glitter pony saliva, but instead an April Fools’ flavor designed to elicit giggles in the grocery aisle. Polar is known for its unorthodox flavors (like eggnog and mint chocolate), but you typically have an idea of what they’ll taste like before you open them. Unicorn Kisses gives you no such advance warning.

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Prepping for the worst, I set off on a quest to find a bottle. Polar released only 5,000 cases of Unicorn Kisses into the wild, so I had a difficult time finding a store that had any in stock. I felt like Dora the Explorer (minus the anthropomorphic monkey), walking from supermarket to supermarket trying to find a bottle. After what felt like countless days of searching, I finally picked some up at my local Star Market.

Upon opening, I half expected the bottle to explode into rainbows, but instead I was greeted with the scent of green apple and cotton candy. While Polar prides itself on its “all natural” label, this smell was all artificial, like a liquid Jolly Rancher. Based on my nose alone, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to drink a sip, let alone an entire glass, but I queued up “Charlie the Unicorn” for support and dove in.

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Other blogs have tried to place the flavor of Unicorn Kisses, with suggestions ranging from melon to soap, but the only thing I could taste was candy necklaces. Surprisingly, the flavor wasn’t as pronounced as the smell – it actually took me some time to figure out that this seltzer tasted like penny candy. Because it was so cloyingly sweet, I couldn’t finish a whole glass, leading me to feel like I wasn’t respecting the countless unicorns who worked so hard on this product.

In the end, the takeaways from this review are as follows: Unicorn Kisses is a fun diversion but is gross to drink, and you should stay far, far, far away from Candy Mountain.

(Nutrition Facts – 8 fluid ounces – 0 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of sodium, 0 milligrams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.29
Size: 1 liter
Purchased at: Star Market
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Double rainbow. No calories. Revisiting childhood memories. Alliterative animal names.
Cons:Swiper, no swiping.” Llama tongue. Overly sweet and artificial. Vintage candy.

REVIEW: Angie’s Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn

Angie’s Holidrizzle Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn

Every time I see a bag of Angie’s kettle corn with the words “BOOM CHICKA POP” in gigantic type, 70’s porn music pops into my head. Why? Because “bow chicka wow wow” is like the emoji for porn movie music.

But I did not buy Angie’s Holidrizzle Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn because of the porn music bumpin’ in my head. I bought it because there hasn’t been an Angie’s Holidrizzle flavor that’s disappointed me, and I thought this flavor would continue that streak.

And you’ve probably figured out that by ending the previous paragraph with that sentence, I’ve pretty much told you I did not care for this hot cocoa and marshmallow-flavored kettle corn.

Opening the bag brings out a pleasant Cracker Jack—like aroma, but one opened bag and two minutes later I asked myself, “Where did Angie’s go wrong?”

The front of the bag says, “contains nothing but ingredients you’ll love.” Cane sugar…love. Popcorn…love. Sunflower oil…like. Palm kernel oil…like. Nonfat dry milk…like. Cocoa powder…love. Sea salt…love. Natural flavors…not sure what they are. Soy lecithin…I could go either way.

So I love most of its ingredients, but I don’t love its flavor. It just doesn’t taste right. It doesn’t come close to tasting anything like hot cocoa and marshmallows. At times, there’s a flavor that reminds me of toffee. But at other times, there’s a flavor that I would describe as sweet plastic. Maybe the kettle corn’s flavor is an abstract interpretation of hot cocoa and marshmallows, and the sweet plasticiness represents the marshmallow and its pliability.

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Where does this sweet plastic flavor come from? My guess is that I should be blaming the chocolate drizzle, which fortunately wasn’t liberally drizzled over the kettle corn. But once the chocolate drizzle melts away, it tastes like standard kettle corn.

Angie’s Holidrizzle Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn isn’t gross enough to make me throw away four-fifths of the bag, go back to Target to demand my money back, or use it as coal in a Christmas stocking to punish the naughty. After all, I did end up finishing the bag, albeit slowly. But out of all the new hot cocoa-flavored products I’ve tried this year, this has got to be my least favorite.

(Nutrition Facts – 1.5 cups – 140 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 1.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 3.5 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 85 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Angie’s Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn
Purchased Price: $3.29
Size: 4.5 oz. bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Not totally gross. Least favorite hot cocoa-flavored product I’ve tried this season. Contains ingredients that I love.
Cons: Doesn’t taste like hot cocoa and marshmallows. At times it has a sweet plastic flavor. Having 70’s porn music pop up in my head every time I see a bag of Angie’s popcorn.

REVIEW: Lay’s Do Us a Flavour P.E.I. Scalloped Potatoes (Canada)

Lay's Do Us a Flavour P.E.I. Scalloped Potatoes

The whole Do Us a Flavour thing seems to revolve around the odd and the unusual — out-there flavours that you wouldn’t typically find at the supermarket.

That being the case, scalloped potatoes seems like one of the more boring flavours in the history of this promotion. I mean, the potatoes are already right there in the chip, so what flavour do they have to simulate? Cheese? Cream?

So basically, it’s a cheddar chip, but with a creamier flavour? Not the most exciting flavour in the world, but hard to mess up.

You’d think.

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And at first it seems like: yeah, they did get it about right. Cheesy flavour? Check. Mild creaminess? Check. Hey, this isn’t so bad, you think, and that’s when it hits you: the distinctively sharp bite of particularly pungent raw onion. I don’t know what kind of scalloped potatoes they’ve been eating in the Lay’s flavour labs, but I think someone needs to tell them that the onions in there are supposed to be cooked.

I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of raw onions (though they’ve grown on me over the years — at one point, if you even used the same cutting board to chop another vegetable after cutting raw onions, I couldn’t eat it), so most people might not find this quite as offensive as I did.

It’s kind of like sour cream and onion, only more oniony, somehow. Plus, at least those chips have the assertive tang of sour cream to balance things out. No such balance here; the mellow cheesy flavour is completely overwhelmed by the acrid face-punch of onion.

The aftertaste is especially brutal. It’s the type of thing where you immediately need to eat something else to get that funky taste out of your mouth — only it doesn’t work. The taste goes away, then comes right back.

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I guess it does essentially taste like scalloped potatoes — only the worst version of that dish that you’ve ever had. A version made by a friend who clearly can’t cook, but means well. So you have to smile and tell them how good it is and maybe spread it out on your plate a bit so it looks like you’ve eaten more than you actually have.

I submit that a more appropriate name for these chips would be “Milky Cheese ‘n Raw Onion.”

Maybe there’s a reason why I don’t work for the marketing department at Lay’s.

(Nutrition Facts – 66 gram bag – 360 calories, 22 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0.2 grams of trans fat, 410 milligrams of sodium, 35 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fibre, 2 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein..)

Item: Lay’s Do Us a Flavour P.E.I. Scalloped Potatoes (Canada)
Purchased Price: $1.49 CAN
Size: 66 gram bag
Purchased at: Foodland
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Tastes vaguely like scalloped potatoes, I guess.
Cons: Tastes like the worst version of scalloped potatoes that you’ve ever had. Overwhelmingly acrid onion flavour. Horrible aftertaste.

REVIEW: Pecan Pie Milk Chocolate M&M’s

Pecan Pie Milk Chocolate M&M's

So let’s talk about realistic images of ourselves.

Mine? Blurry.

For example: I always wanted to be a Girl Scout but hated going to the gatherings. As a consequence, I never learned how to tie/untie a cable knot, so, if, say, I wanted to become the next David Copperfield, was tied to a chair via cable knots, and plunged in the sea, I would promptly be consumed by sharks. All because I never attended my Girl Scout Meetings.

Similarly, M&M’s identity has become blurry as they, with both success and failure, attempt to stake claim on myriad confectionary treats, ranging from Candy Corn to Red Velvet to Birthday Cake, and, if one can make a morselized version of a fluffy, frosting-slathered baked good, why not give a shot at the illustrious goo of Thanksgiving’s iconic slab of caramelized sugar?

Pecan Pie M&M’s, here I come.

Pecan Pie Milk Chocolate M&M's 2

Out of the bag, nothing looks nefarious. We’ve got some charmingly lumpy M-stamped morsels that smell of sugar and vanilla and a curious bitter twinge…is it caramel? Perhaps burnt high fructose corn syrup? No matter as the yellow, brown, and white colors make a pleasant little arrangement, but, in terms of flavor, color is but an empty promise, silent as the sound of a mime directing traffic.

Biting in gives way to a crunchy shell and melty chocolate and…oh dear. Where are the pecans? The caramelized sugar goo? Perhaps there is crust filling that was somehow innovatively injected inside??

No.

Not a pecan in sight. In fact, they feel and taste just like a Milk Chocolate M&M. A Milk Chocolate M&M that was combined with a cheap-o-matic caramel flavor and…is that low-grade bourbon? I can’t tell, but perhaps it’s because I’m having a mild panic attack: why, M&M’s, why have you betrayed me? Why does your delicious chocolate now taste of sugar and mildly burnt wood? What have I done that has resulted in this karmic-induce vengeance on my taste buds??***

**Unfortunately, during my inquiry, the M’s remained inorganic and, unable to respond, left me to conclude that, while sugary and melty, these are not about to change their flavor to mimic the Pecan Pie I desired.

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If I were to tell my mother I’ve given up chocolate, I’m liable to get the same reaction as if I’d told her I was devoting the rest of my life to engineering an industrial tanning lotion for yetis. The kind of thing that elicits that Special Mom Smile that says I love you, but why do that to yourself?

And yet these M&M’s are encouraging me otherwise. They’re hyper sweet, bitter in aftertaste, and lack the qualities I look for in pecan pie (caramelized sugar, pecans, etc.). What emulsion of natural flavoring has shaken the identity of the cacao bean so that it tastes so obscure? How, dear confectionary world, did Pecan Pie become this? Where is the goo? The crust? The pecans?

I do not have these answers.

But I do have hope. Hope M&M’s will set this aside, tossing it up as R&D learning experience as they quietly retire these for better horizons. Till next time, dear M’s, I’ll be over here, waiting hopefully and shoveling my pecan pie by the spoonful.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/4 cup – 210 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 gram of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 30 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 27 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Item: Pecan Pie Milk Chocolate M&M’s
Purchased Price: $2.98
Size: 9.9 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Crunchy shell. Melting chocolate. Milk chocolate is involved. Tanning lotion for yetis. Mimes directing traffic.
Cons: Where are the pecans? Where is the caramel? Why is the green M&M standing beside a hay bale on the cover? Unanswered inquiries. I will never be the next Houdini.

REVIEW: Burger King Doritos Loaded

Burger King Doritos Loaded

Burger King might be in trouble.

They seem like they’re pulling out all the stops lately, bringing back the King (great move), Chicken Fries (decent move, absolutely terrible marketing) and now trying to branch off into that weird menu item market Taco Bell lives in. I’m not sure what they’re hoping to gain by offering a product that has been sold at 7-Eleven locations for some time, but I’m definitely sensing an air of desperation.

This may be a controversial statement, but I don’t really like Doritos Locos Tacos. Don’t get me wrong, I was first in line to order them and I thought the idea was brilliant, but the execution? Ehhhhhh. After the first bite, I barely even noticed any Doritos flavor. The new Burger King Doritos Loaded are no different.

Doritos Loaded – which is a really stupid name – smelled awesome. The drive home was tense, because their aroma filled my car almost instantly. I was pretty hungry and toyed with the idea of just busting them out right there, but chose to avoid Doritos fingers for a couple more minutes. Still, I was pumped to throw these babies down by the time I got home. Oh what a naïve fool I was.

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Doritos Loaded look cool and have a little heft to them, about the same weight as a chicken nugget. They have a nice salty, crispy outer shell, but it’s also a bit dry. If I stopped eating them after one bite, my review score would have been a lot higher.

They make a really good first impression. I could taste the nacho cheese Doritos flavor, but it’s immediately masked by the cheese filling. After that, I never really tasted nacho cheese Doritos again.

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The cheese inside is gross! I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what kind of cheese. I naturally thought nacho at first, then maybe American? After some Googling that took way too much time, I learned it has a combination of American, cheddar and Romano. I never would have been able to tell you that myself. The cheese was just indiscriminate, bland, and gooey. The decision to use that mix was my biggest problem with the Doritos Loaded.

They would have been so much better if the center was a bit solidified with a cheese like mozzarella. I considered letting them sit around and cool off a little before eating more, but agita was kicking in. And, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t want to eat more.

I absolutely hate wasting food, but I threw away two of the four Doritos Loaded. I would have given them away, but I was alone. I didn’t even have someone to make hand uprights for me so I could attempt to flick one of these across the room paper football-style.

I’m so lonely. All I want is for someone to finish my gross food and make finger field goals for me. Is that too much to ask?

But I digress.

I think the idea of crusting snacks in Doritos crumbs is a great one. I’ve often said Frito-Lay could make a killing selling Doritos dust in the spice aisle. I’d definitely put that on a chicken breast. In fact, Burger King should strike while the iron is hot, and offer chicken nuggets crusted in Doritos crumbs. There’s zero chance that wouldn’t be a hit. It would certainly crush the Doritos Loaded.

Can someone pass this along to the King? Doritos crusted nuggets! And get Darius Rucker to sing in the commercial like the good old days. And no more unlawful marriages between chickens and French fries.

Doritos Loaded were a novel idea, but the execution was awful. Not to mention, for $2.99 there are about 100 better fast food values out there.

I don’t know, I guess this is worth a shot for Burger King. I don’t necessarily think these will pair well with a burger, so 7-Eleven seems like a better place to buy them. With all that said, I hope they release a Cool Ranch version. But if they do, they better make them with mozzarella.

(Nutrition Facts – 360 calories, 24 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,080 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 4 gram of fiber, 0 grams of sugar, and 12 grams of protein..)

Item: Burger King Doritos Loaded
Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 4 bites
Purchased at: Burger King
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Smelled great. Nice crispy exterior. Cool packaging/shape. Hootie’s “Tendercrisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch” jingle. The King is back!
Cons: Dry. Almost no Doritos flavor. Terrible cheese filling. Chicken Fries commercials. No one to play paper football with.