REVIEW: Pop Secret Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Popcorn

Pop Secret Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Popcorn

Pumpkin makes me pop. It isn’t just pumpkin though. I’m a bonafide cinna-slut, and all things swirling with the spice makes me feel real nice.

Building off of the success of chasing junk food trends and releasing the birthday cake flavored and damn delicious Popfetti earlier this year, Pop Secret are back at trying to win over our trendy hearts with a pumpkin spice microwaveable popcorn.

Pop Secret Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Popcorn 2

Pushing my nose up against the un-popped Pop Secret package gives off the classic microwave popcorn artificial buttery smell with just the slightest tickle of cinnamon in the background. Poppin’ the corn into the micro releases a bit more a distinct spicy aroma, once again accompanied by a more dominant and in-your-face butter presence.

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The popped bag, warm and spewing steam, has a surprisingly nice a ginger smell to it that joins in on the butter party for a little extra nostril tingle. The signature artificial bright-ish yellow color is replaced by a slightly orangey tan that does good enough to channel the skin of a pumpkin.

The flavor of the popcorn is confusing. On my first bite, I get a little squashy pumpkin flavor, but that might be my mind playing tricks in the way it interprets the slightly greasy buttery essence that all good micro-pop carries. But the flavor quickly fades.

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There’s no doubt this is different than regular Pop Secret, but that’s less apparent in any big spicy pumpkin notes and much more about how un-salty it is. There’s barely any saltiness, which could work if it was replaced by cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, but there isn’t really much of that either. Every couple of handfuls I get a soft smooch of cinnamon and ginger, and I like it, but it’s far from the bold flavors I’ve come to expect from microwave popcorn.

Even though there are zero grams of sugar per bag, there is an underlining sweetness to the popcorn, thanks to sucralose (Splenda). Luckily, there’s no weird artificial sweetener aftertaste, but again, there isn’t much autumn intrigue going on either. This popcorn doesn’t taste bad, it simply tastes like kettle corn minus the crucial salty factor that completes the yin and yang of that classic flavor profile.

Does this popcorn taste like popcorn? Definitely. Is it warm and comforting and slightly sweet? You betcha. Does it deliver on the big polarizing flavor that is pumpkin spice? Unfortunately not. It’s still an enjoyable sidekick to a night in with a slasher flick, but not something you need to seek out like the almighty Popfetti from earlier this year.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 Tbsp Unpopped – 160 calories, 10 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 90 milligrams of sodium, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 0 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: Three 3 oz. bags
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Nice pumpkin-y color. Decent sweetness. Mellow hints of ginger and cinnamon.
Cons: Not much pumpkin spice flair. Tastes more like corn than cinnamon. Could use more salty pop.

REVIEW: Starbucks Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Latte (Bottled)

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte  Bottled

Is there any doubt Starbucks’ proprietary Pumpkin Spice Latte isn’t the single most influential fast food/junk food item of the 21st century? One look at the seasonal goods section of any grocery store in America ought to be all the proof you need.

Pumpkin spice cookies. Pumpkin spice marshmallows. Pumpkin spice cereal. Pumpkin spice vodka. For crying out loud, there are even pumpkin spice cough drops, and I’d be shocked if we aren’t a few years away from somebody selling pumpkin spice deodorant, pumpkin spice mouthwash, or pumpkin spice family planning products. So profound the impact of that one Starbucks beverage that, 14 years after the humble PSL was first introduced, the entire Halloween season has now become hardly anything more than a three-month bombardment of all things pumpkin spicy.

Although it’s fun to trudge through/lament the avalanche of PSL-inspired snack foods, the conversation inevitably leads back to the original beverage. While the PSL has been commercially offered in bottled form as a limited-time-only Frappuccino for several years now, Starbucks hasn’t offered the PSL as a one-and-done, glass bottled solo shot until this fall. Unfortunately, the big retail debut of arguably the most imitated foodstuff of the century isn’t exactly the cafe-to-store shelves success we were hoping for.

First, the good news. The bottle itself – with that nice ocher tone and regal lettering – is downright beautiful. Secondly, the scent on this sucker is pretty much a dead ringer for the “real” PSL. And thirdly, the latte’s aftertaste – that milky goulash of nutmeg and cinnamon – is very faithful to the in-cafe drink we all know and love.

Alas, this is still far from a perfect recreation of the classic PSL. There’s too much milk and not enough coffee flavoring, making the whole beverage taste more like a weird Yoo-hoo imitator than a Starbucks drink. And while the ingredients do add up to a more robust, flavorful “pumpkin spice” taste than most PSL-inspired seasonal products, I’m afraid it doesn’t stack up to the “real” stuff.

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte  Bottled 3

The drink feels very watered down and the huge chunks of seasoning are a major turn-off (indeed, I almost choked to death on a nickel-sized wad of nutmeg at the bottom of the glass.) This is a drink designed to be ingested piping hot, with a thick layer of whipped cream atop it – and that’s something that can’t be replicated in a 14-ounce, refrigerated glass vase.

To be fair, it’s a much better grab-and-go PSL drink than most of the bottled pumpkin spice coffees out there, but it nonetheless feels like a pale imitation of, well, itself. As a glorified jug of chocolate milk with artificial pumpkin flavoring, it’s actually quite decent, but as the long, long awaited convenience-store-ready port of THE most copied seasonal beverage out there? It’s pretty hard to consider this iteration of the PSL anything but a disappointment.

(Nutrition Facts – 270 calories, 40 calories from fat, 4.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 190 milligrams of sodium, 45 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 42 grams of sugar, and 11 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 14 fl. oz.
Purchased at: Flash Foods
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: The container looks classy and dignified. The nutmeg and cinnamon taste is quite authentic. The scent is an almost perfect imitation of the “real” PSL. 
Cons: It tastes more like chocolate milk than coffee. The beverage doesn’t really “work” as a cold drink. Getting huge, pencil shavings-like clumps of seasoning caught in the back of your throat.

REVIEW: Cheez-It Buffalo Wing Crackers

Cheez It Buffalo Wing Crackers

It’s officially football season (a.k.a. Americana foods season) and Cheez-It is getting into the spirit with its Flavor Playoffs. It’s a face-off between cheeseburger, cheese pizza, and cheddar nachos-flavored Cheez-It crackers and snack enthusiasts like you and me can choose the winning flavor.

Around the same time, the brand released a Walmart-exclusive Buffalo Wing flavor that features the same packaging but isn’t part of the promotion. Weird. But, that’s okay. It wouldn’t have been able to hold its own against the other classic tailgate flavors anyway.

Cheez It Buffalo Wing Crackers 2

The crackers looked like the typical orange squares in a box of regular Cheez-It, but with some extra dusting. It would have been a nice visual touch to see the crackers bright red-orange to mimic a beautiful fried chicken wing doused in red-hot Buffalo sauce. I could also see the light dusting was inconsistent across the crackers, so I knew some were going to be more flavorful than others. I was even more surprised that for a flavor as pungent as Buffalo, these didn’t smell too different.

Cheez It Buffalo Wing Crackers 3

Not surprisingly, the lackluster appearance and smell translated into a lackluster taste. I wanted it to be as flavorful as Cheez-It’s Sriracha Snack Mix, but it was nowhere close. Any initial Buffalo taste was quickly drowned out by a mild bleu cheese taste and then the sharp cheddar flavor that typically accompanies the regular flavor. The crackers that were extra toasted and extra seasoned were closer to that bold Buffalo flavor, but still not quite. This is the only time I will EVER say that the 100 percent real cheesy goodness did not work in its favor.

Cheez It Buffalo Wing Crackers 4

When it comes to Buffalo wing-flavored snacks, the gold standard is the Pretzel Pieces version from Snyder’s of Hanover. So, I pitted the two against each other. The Snyder’s one was hands down better and continues to be reigning champion. It not only packed a flavor punch, but it also didn’t have any seasoning inconsistency as it didn’t look like they used powder only. But, I will say that the pretzel pieces didn’t capture the bleu cheese flavor as well as Cheez-It.

For good measure, I also tried Rold Gold’s Buffalo Wing Thin Crisps Pretzels and I’m happy to share that Cheez-It won that round. You could taste the Rold Gold’s Frito-Lay backing as it reminded me of Cool Ranch Doritos more so than Buffalo.

At the end of the day, Cheez-It crackers are damn delicious no matter what seasoning you sprinkle on it. So in that vein, this isn’t the bottom of the barrel when it comes to Buffalo-flavored snacks, but it isn’t best-in-class either.

(Nutrition Facts – 25 pieces – 150 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of total fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 230 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 0 grams of sugar, 3 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.88
Size: 12.4 oz. box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: It’s a Cheez-It. More complex flavor journey than other Buffalo flavored products: Buffalo then bleu cheese then sharp cheddar. Beats the flavor of Rold Gold’s Buffalo offering.
Cons: Seasoning inconsistency. Wanted that Buffalo flavor punch but it doesn’t deliver. Not as good as Snyder’s Buffalo Pretzel Pieces.

REVIEW: Jelly Belly Krispy Kreme Doughnut Jelly Beans

Jelly Belly Krispy Kreme Doughnut Jelly Beans

I once e-mailed Jelly Belly about making an Advil flavored jelly bean.

You know that sugary coating the orange Advils have for three seconds? That.

Needless to say, they never got back to me. Apparently dirt and dog food are acceptable flavors, but nooooo, not Advil.

I guess I just figured the innovators over at Jelly Belly might be open to some outside ideas. Then again, I found out they were hard at work mimicking Krispy Kreme donuts and I immediately let it slide.

Krispy Kreme is a treat. I don’t have one nearby so I envy anyone who can stop in and pick up a dozen whenever they want. I usually have to wait until I hop a train to NYC to get my fix, but they’ve never let me down. Now you’re telling me they’re teaming up with “THE original gourmet jelly bean?” I’m in.

Jelly Belly Krispy Kreme Doughnut Jelly Beans 2

Here are my quick reviews of the five flavors included in the Jelly Belly-Krispy Kreme mix:

Cinnamon Apple Filled – Beige with brown – These tasted like apple pie. The taste starts as a normal sweet apple Jelly Belly, but is soon met with a dulling cinnamon flavor.

Strawberry Iced – Pink with a little sheen – These tasted just like strawberry cake icing. Unlike a normal strawberry flavor, it’s not very acidic or fruity.

Glazed Blueberry Cake – Basically a darker shade of the Cinnamon Apple – These tasted like a complex blueberry muffin. I got “baked goods” in this more than the others. They were definitely the “donutiest,” which is absolutely a word. Don’t bother looking it up.

Chocolate Iced with Sprinkles – Brown with a few sprinkle dots – These tasted like what I recall Chocolate Pudding Jelly Belly beans tasting like. I might actually say they were “Fudgsicle” flavored.

And now, it’s time for the Krispy Kreme staple. The bean you’ve all been waiting for:

Original Glazed – Color and sheen match the donut – These were really disappointing. Wow. I just didn’t get much here. I realize glaze is essentially just sugar, but that’s all I tasted – sugar. Maybe they slipped some Advil beans in for me instead? I didn’t really find them distinctly Krispy Kreme donut. I wanted to be immediately reminded of a hot conveyer belt glazed, but I got more of a toasted marshmallow vibe. I feel like I’m wrong, but I gotta trust my buds. What did I miss?

My Ranking:

Glazed Blueberry Cake

Strawberry Iced

Chocolate Iced with Sprinkles

Cinnamon Apple Filled

Original Glazed

I can’t believe it.

Despite my clamoring for the sugary Advil, this mix got cloying in time. I appreciate the larger Jelly Belly variety boxes because you can counter flavors like this with say a citrusy fruit flavor. You need that balance if you wanna consume mass beanage – which is also absolutely a word.

Jelly Belly Krispy Kreme Doughnut Jelly Beans 3

As far as the “donut” of it all, I popped all five at once and found that brought a lot of the pastry effect out.

You might wanna wait to see if these break into the bigger mixes before dropping $5 on this box.

(Nutrition Facts – 27 Beans – 110 calories, 0 grams of fat, 20 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 20 grams of sugar (+20g added sugars), and 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.00
Size: 4.25 oz.
Purchased at: Five Below
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Some cool new flavors to add to the roster. Blueberry was really good. Unless they say “Bertie Bott’s,” Jelly Belly never really disappoints. Delicious Advil coating.
Cons: The baffling Glazed flavor making me question my taste buds. Lack of fresh glazed donut flavor. I prefer a Jelly Belly mix with a little more variety. No Krispy Kreme near my house. A little pricy.

QUICK REVIEW: Limited Edition Nature Valley Pumpkin Spice Crunchy Granola Bars

Limited Edition Nature Valley Pumpkin Spice Crunchy Granola Bars

I have found that the term “pumpkin spice” generally means one of three things: (1) real pumpkin and spices, (2) artificial pumpkin flavor and spices, and (3) just spices. In my experience, the items that have actual pumpkin are almost always better than those without. (Pumpkin Spice Cheerios > Pumpkin Spice Life.)

These Limited Edition Nature Valley Crunchy Pumpkin Spice Granola Bars have real pumpkin flakes, but unfortunately, they don’t follow that pattern.

Limited Edition Nature Valley Pumpkin Spice Crunchy Granola Bars 2

There’s nothing particularly egregious about these bars. It’s just that they don’t meet expectations. I shared a pack with my coworker, and he said, “If I were blindfolded, I couldn’t tell these from the Oats ’n Honey ones.”

If you’ve had that green-wrapped variety, you know what you’re getting with the pumpkin spice version—very crunchy, very dry, and crumbs all over the place. I ate mine with milk because they’re so dry. There is a little bit of spice to it, but not a lot, and I don’t detect the pumpkin at all.

Limited Edition Nature Valley Pumpkin Spice Crunchy Granola Bars 3

Since the Nature Valley commercials always show people doing something outdoorsy while they consume these, I took my second pack on a short trail run. I thought the dryness would not be suitable for the outdoors, but on the contrary, I found the crunchiness and oat-y flavor surprisingly pleasant in nature, and it didn’t matter if the crumbs made a mess! Still wouldn’t be my first choice, though.

Kashi makes their own Pumpkin Spice Flax Crunchy Granola Bars, which they sell year round (although they seem to be getting harder to find). Even though those don’t have pumpkin flesh in them, I recommend the Kashi version over Nature Valley. They’re very similar, but I think Kashi has more spice, and it has more protein and fiber and fewer calories.

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 6 2-bar packs
Purchased at: Smith’s (Kroger)
Rating: 6 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (2 bars) 190 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 125 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of carbs, 3 grams of dietary fiber, 10 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.