REVIEW: Crunch ‘n Munch Popcorn Clusters (Birthday Cake and Brownie Brittle Crunch)

Crunch  n Munch Popcorn Clusters  Birthday Cake and Brownie Brittle Crunch

Who needs an actual birthday cake when you can have birthday cake-flavored popcorn instead?

“Not me,” I thought as I gleefully tossed a bag of Crunch ‘n Munch Birthday Cake Popcorn Clusters into my shopping cart in lieu of a pricey bakery cake. Internally praising myself for frugality, I decided to throw in a bag of Brownie Brittle Crunch variety too. Turning 22 deserves celebration, after all.

Birthday Cake Popcorn Clusters

Created to bring an entire birthday party to your mouth, this flavor features rainbow-sprinkled, cake batter-flavored popcorn alongside miniature sugar and birthday cake cookies.

Crunch  n Munch Birthday Cake Popcorn Clusters

Aesthetically, I’ve got to admit this is one of the most attractive popcorn treats I’ve ever seen. Beyond color, each kernel was visibly loaded with a thick coating of candy, cookies, and surprisingly large confetti sprinkles. It’s one of those snacks you only have to glance at to know you’re in for a great experience.

It doesn’t disappoint on the taste front, either. Although the layer of candy enrobing each kernel didn’t taste as strongly of birthday cake as I would have liked, I’m willing to give it a pass anyway for being so sweet, thick, and pleasingly crunchy.

In addition to being delicious in its own right, the candy coating’s strength also helped the cookie chunks adhere to the popcorn, causing small clusters to form in the process. The bits, although tasty and a nice textural contrast from the candy coated-popcorn, didn’t have much flavor by themselves. In fact, I found it pretty much impossible to discern the birthday cake cookies from the regular sugar ones, and it would be easy to forget the inclusion of two distinct types of cookies pieces if it weren’t for the description on the back of the bag.

Brownie Brittle Crunch Popcorn Clusters

Throwing a bone out to chocoholics everywhere, Crunch ‘n Munch’s Brownie Brittle Crunch flavor includes chocolate-glazed popcorn alongside brownie brittle, brownie cookies pieces, and praline almonds.

Crunch  n Munch Brownie Brittle Crunch Popcorn Clusters

Unlike the Birthday Cake Popcorn Clusters, this variety isn’t as photogenic – sporting a brown-on-brown color scheme that reminds me more of burnt Jiffy Pop than a decadent treat. Normally, this wouldn’t be much of an issue for me because I don’t typically expect my popcorn to be worthy of a full-page color spread in Food Network Magazine, but its flavor was also a flop.

The biggest problem was the popcorn’s coating. It wasn’t terrible, but I was expecting it to taste much more cocoa-forward than it was. Instead, I found its taste to be more similar to a chocolate-flavored hard candy than a chocolate lover’s dream come true.

The brownie cookies and accompanying brittle didn’t fare much better. Much like the birthday cake and sugar cookies on the Birthday Cake one, the cookies and brittle pieces here were nearly indistinguishable from one another, and you’d be hard-pressed to identify where one starts and another one ends when chomping down on a large cluster of popcorn.

Speaking of indistinguishable components, I’d say the praline pieces fall into this category. After eating a couple of handfuls and not detecting a single one, I poured my bag out into a bowl and embarked on a personal mission to find and consume every praline I could find. For all my trouble, I was beyond sad to discover only five lonely pieces in my bag, which was a real shame, considering pralines almonds are one of humanity’s crowning achievements in confectionery.

Minor flaws and laughably minuscule serving size aside, I found both of these loaded ‘n coated popcorn snacks to be a step up from your everyday caramel corn. While neither may be entirely able to entice me to forgo a traditional birthday cake in the future, I can certainly see myself stashing these in my purse on future trips to the movies.

Purchased Price: $2.68 each
Size: 5.5 oz.
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Birthday Cake), 6 out of 10 (Brownie Brittle Crunch)
Nutrition Facts: (1/2 cup) Birthday Cake – 140 calories, 4 grams of total fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 120 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of total carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 16 grams of total sugars, 16 grams of added sugars, and less than 1 gram of protein. Brownie Brittle Crunch – 130 calories, 3.5 grams of total fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 80 milligrams of sodium, 23 grams of total carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 14 grams of total sugars, 14 grams of added sugars, and less than 1 gram of protein.

REVIEW: Smartfood Flamin’ Hot White Cheddar Popcorn

Smartfood Flamin Hot White Cheddar Popcorn

What is Smartfood Flamin’ Hot White Cheddar Popcorn?

Summer may be winding down, but things in the snack aisle are just heating up! Combing Frito-Lay’s flagship cheddar-dusted popcorn with a burst of its flagship heat, Smartfood’s Flamin’ Hot White Cheddar Popcorn is here to keep things toasty long after sweater weather has arrived.

How is it?

Smartfood Flamin Hot White Cheddar Popcorn Closeup

Red. So very red. Even after seeing the bag, I didn’t quite expect the popcorn to be as generously coated in fiery cheese dust as it was. Even though Frito-Lay decided to shy away from artificial flavors, it didn’t hesitate to break out the whole arsenal of FD&C food colors in a way that would make a box of crayons jealous.

Eye-catching color aside, this whole-grain snack doesn’t have much else that makes it stand out. Unlike Route 11’s regionally-famous Mama Zuma chips, which I’m positive only exists to appeal to the same people who found Sonic’s Reaper Spicy Margarita enjoyable, the heat in Smartfood’s Flamin’ Hot Popcorn is woefully lukewarm by comparison.

That’s not to say it’s terrible, though. The popcorn starts super mild, but the heat gradually builds as you keep eating it. It never got to the point where my eyes began to tear, but it was present. Also, I found it to be just strong enough to make me keep eating – much like how the super-secret spice on Doritos makes them dangerously addictive.

Unfortunately, Smartfood’s signature white cheddar flavoring ends up playing second fiddle to each kernel’s red-hot coating. It’s just barely present – providing a bit of buttery creaminess desperately needed in pre-popped popcorn – but it’s just not sharp enough to stand up against the heat.

Is there anything else you should know?

Let me clarify something – although this popcorn is a little on the warm side, it’s not spicy. With all its heat stemming from a mysterious blend of proprietary natural flavors, this popcorn lacks the complexity of a heavily spiced meal at your local Mexican joint. Instead, it tastes more similar to the blind heat of having just eaten a spoonful of cayenne pepper.

Conclusion:

Although Smartfood’s new Flamin’ Hot White Cheddar Popcorn isn’t nearly as fire-hot as it looks, it packs just enough heat to keep things interesting, and I didn’t have any problems with finishing off a bag in quick order. Just don’t expect anything especially unique.

Purchased Price: $2.98
Size: 7 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (2 1/2 cups) 150 calories, 10 grams of total fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium, 14 grams of total carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 1 gram of total sugars, and 3 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Hershey’s Popcorn

Hershey's Popcorn 1

Making caramel corn is a subtle art.

Compared to regular popcorn, it has a lot more elements that have to be executed well in order for the final product to be spectacular. There has to be enough of it to carry its flavor, but it can’t be so glopped on that the popcorn is in a cocoon of sugar.

The toppings have to complement the caramel, and they have to be evenly distributed to allow most of the pieces to get some drizzle. Don’t forget about the salt, either! There has to be enough of it to balance out the sweetness from everything else, but there also can’t be so much that the entire experience veers off towards the savory side.

Given that caramel corn has so many things going on at the same time, it’s easy to see why most seem to fall short in one aspect or another. Not one to back down from such a challenge, Hershey’s has decided to give us not one, but two new takes on this classic treat!

Hershey’s Popcorn Milk Chocolate

Hershey's Popcorn Milk Chocolate

With its Milk Chocolate variety, Hershey’s topped each cocoa-and-caramel-coated kernel with a drizzle of its signature milk chocolate. Everything about it, from the delicious cocoa aroma emanating from the caramel to the smooth drizzle, was all about showing off what Hershey’s is famous for.

In fact, it featured milk chocolate so much that the caramel got a little lost along the way. While the coating helped keep the popcorn fresh, its caramel flavor was difficult to notice among the chocolate elements.

Hershey’s Popcorn Sea Salt Caramel

Hershey's Popcorn Sea Salt Caramel

Surprisingly, the Sea Salt Caramel version shared this issue. In the absence of the milk chocolate drizzle featured in the other variety, the play between the cocoa and caramel in the coating here created a scent and taste that reminded me of a toasted marshmallow. Don’t get me wrong – this version is tasty, too – but its name is a bit of a misnomer.

The one thing about it that rings true is the “sea salt” part. It has a more noticeable salt level if you compare it with its Milk Chocolate brother. Even so, it never quite reaches the level of being too savory. Instead, I welcomed the extra saltiness to counter the whole toasted marshmallow-esque vibe going on.

Hershey's Popcorn

Did Hershey’s Popcorn rise to the sweet-and-salty challenge of caramel corn? All in all, I’d say it did well! I found both to be yummy and wouldn’t have a problem watching a movie with either flavor beside me. Now if theaters could sell this stuff!

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cup – Sea Salt Caramel – 120 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium, 22 grams of total carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 17 grams of total sugars, 16 grams of added sugars, and 1 gram of protein. Milk Chocolate – 110 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 150 milligrams of sodium, 22 grams of total carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 16 grams of total sugars, 15 grams of added sugars, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.98 each
Size: 6 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Sea Salt Caramel)
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Milk Chocolate)
Pros: Good balance between sugar and salt. Signature Hershey’s chocolate. Perfect snacking companion for movies!
Cons: Chocolate overpowered the caramel in both flavors. Sea Salt Caramel tasted more like a toasted marshmallow than it did like caramel. Not sold at the movies.

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.

Pop Secret Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Popcorn 3

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.

Pop Secret Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Popcorn 4

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: Trader Joe’s Partially Popped Popcorn

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn with Butter & Sea Salt

What is happening?!?!?!?!

Cars are driving themselves.

Cookie Monster is a life coach.

Pink chickens are running around Portland.

And now this. Partially Popped Popcorn.

Like the rest of the above news, I am terrified, curious, and impossibly hopeful. Could this be re-animated Corn Nuts, one of the most brilliantly underrated gas station snacks of all time? Or is it the gunk at the bottom of my half-burnt popcorn bag? The stuff that drilled me with two cavities? Will it be brilliant? Will it be terrible? Will it be edible? (I don’t have dental insurance, people.)

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn with Butter & Sea Salt Tumble

Bust open the bag and gaze in wonderment at the poofs. They are smaller than I imagined (think: tinier than a marble, yet larger than a ladybug), but they make up for their diminutive size in aroma: just a slight crevice in the bag and wafts of butter, salt, and slightly sweet corn breeze into the air.

Less poofy Styrofoam associated with over-popped movie kernels, Trader Joe’s special “mushroom kernel” has a slight crisp-crackle before giving way to an inside that is both crisp and smooth with each kernel having a different level of partial puffiness. The kernel bits still have a special skill of getting snagged between teeth, but it seems that my former fear of actually chomping out a tooth has no basis in reality or logic, which seems to be a common trend with most of my thoughts.

Each corn bit is coated in a salty, buttery film that strikes a balance between the nutty butter and sodium while allowing the corn’s sweetness to come in at the end. What’s better is that this film is actual butter (in fact, the entire ingredient list is as follows: popcorn, canola oil, butter, and salt). It leaves a gentle trace on one’s fingers in much the same way as Cheetos might. This butter-salt mix combines with little crumbles of corn, leaving you with salty-sweet fingers to lick at the end of your journey and, as a result, less sorrow when you find your bag is empty. Less sorrow is good.

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn with Butter & Sea Salt Bowl of Habit Forming Goodness

Well, what a pleasant surprise. I dig these partially popped nubs. They are inverted and wackadoo, and, depending on your propensity for corn-like goodies, the full bag might be in your digestive system less than 15 minutes from the moment you crack it open. The plain butter-salt flavor may be boring for adventurous tasters, but when/if you get a hankering for a simple salty snack, these are worth a shot. If you pick them up and find yourself uninterested in their Plain Jane flavor, perhaps you could put them on mac ‘n cheese before you pop it in the oven or sprinkle them on an ice cream sundae for a crunch. I imagine it all going excellently.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Popcorn Traditionalists. I’m not saying these are better than regular popcorn. I’m just saying Orville Redenbacher should be distressingly anxious about his business right now.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/3 cup– 140 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 260 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, less than 1 gram of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Partially Popped Popcorn
Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: 6 oz. bag
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Butter, butter everywhere. But not too much butter. Poofy. Crispy. Crunchy. Something new, delicious, and a little wonky. Low ingredient count. Corn=counts as a vegetable (right??). Cookie Monster as a life coach.
Cons: Generic butter-and-salt flavor may put some to sleep. Kernels have chance of getting stuck in teeth. Probably not REALLY a vegetable. Lack of dental insurance. Questionable pink chickens.

REVIEW: Orville Redenbacher’s Smart Pop! Butter Pop Up Bowl

Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop! Butter Pop Up Bowl

I’m surprised the Pop Up Bowl wasn’t invented until now. My mind boggles when I consider all the inventions someone thought of (and capitalized upon) before this quite practical invention. You know, stuff like curly straws, dog goggles, and miniature Sharpies. I am certain when I say that no canine ever in the entire history of puppy-kind ever really desired goggles. OK, maybe the cosmonaut dogs shot into space by the USSR needed some, but those little guys already had a lot on their plates, what with having to demonstrate Soviet might beyond the stratosphere and all. Reducing glare probably wasn’t a priority.

Orville Redenbacher offers the new Pop Up Bowl with their Butter, 94% Fat Free Butter, and Movie Theater Butter microwaveable varieties. The Pop Up Bowl is basically a standard microwave popcorn bag, except it is made with a red, plastic tear-off cover on one side that gives you direct access to your snack when removed.

Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop! Butter Pop Up Bowl Lid

The “bowl” does actually stand up by itself, and it’s very cute. Thick red-and-yellow stripes and a festive, gold band make the Pop Up Bowl look like something from an old-timey movie theater… which is nice if you’re nostalgic for that sort of thing. It’s nothing like the oversized, top-heavy cups they give you at the movies now with a Quantum of Solace Aston Martin or Johnny Depp’s pirated-up face on it, so that’s a plus.

The Pop Up Bowl’s plastic covering was a little harder to tear off than I anticipated. It’s attached with industrial strength glue and is stuck to the corner pocket of the bowl in such a way that it twists up and doesn’t just shear off when you tug it. This can be a bit of a problem when you take into account the fact that this is a heaping bowl of popcorn, filled with kernels ready to fly everywhere at the first errant yank.

Truthfully, it wasn’t that big of a production to get the bag open, but I think they could’ve made it a little simpler to remove, since that’s the whole point. If Orville Redenbacher went through all the trouble of touting the “Easier Snacking, Sharing & Clean-Up” motto, they could at least keep you from spilling your popcorn everywhere.

Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop! Butter Pop Up Bowl Bowl

Despite the cleverness and practicality of this concept, I can’t really think of a real reason why we needed the Pop Up Bowl. Sure, it saves you the effort of having to wash a plastic bowl and makes popcorn feasting a little cleaner, since you no longer have to reach deep inside a greasy bag and get butter all over every inch of your hands… but as nice and as water-saving as those perks are, we’d be fine without them.

Maybe the creation of this Pop Up Bowl speaks more to the fact that despite record-setting opening weekends for movies, audience numbers are way down. People are staying home, renting movies and enjoying their popcorn on the couch. But I realize Orville Redenbacher can’t comment on that. “Easier Snacking, Sharing, Clean-up, and Destruction of the Movie Studio Business Model” doesn’t seem like it would fit on the label.

(Nutrition Facts – ½ bag (about 7.5 cups popped) – 120 calories, 2 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 0.5 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 240 milligrams of sodium, 300 milligrams of potassium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 15 grams of sugar, 4 grams of protein, 8% iron.)

Item: Orville Redenbacher’s Smart Pop! Butter Pop Up Bowl
Price: $3.49 (on sale)
Size: 3 bags
Purchased at: Ralphs
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Cleaner than a normal popcorn bag. Dogs in space. Bowl does actually stands up on its own. Movie theater nostalgia. Aston Martins.
Cons: Functional but unnecessary. Dog goggles. Plastic lid can be difficult to tear off. The modern movie studio business model. Johnny Depp dressed as a pirate, again.