Featured snack: Reese’s Crispy Crunchy bar
Rating: 13 Bart Simpson endorsements
I’ve always liked Butterfinger. For a long time, it was my go-to vending machine choice. The problem is that Butterfingers are so dense and one-dimensional that you kind of lose your taste for one by the time you are 3/4 of the way through it (they are also really big). Plus, Butterfinger’s claim to be “peanut-buttery” has always seemed a bit dubious to me - that crunchy almost toffee-like substance that makes up most of a Butterfinger is a lot of things (including completely delicious) but I’m not sure I would describe it as having the qualities of peanut butter. Anyway, we all know the king of candy peanut butter answers to the name Reese (and to his boss since 1963, Mr. Hershey).
What Reese’s has done with their new “Crispy Crunchy” bar is solve all of the (aforementioned) problems I didn’t even know I had with Butterfinger. The smaller, lighter, and more peanut-buttery bar uses actual peanuts in the chocolate coating in order to take away some of the burden from the filling. The filling is more nuanced too, with a thin layer of classic Reese’s peanut butter on top of the crunchy Butterfinger-like base of the bar. The result is not only gooier and not as likely to crumble in the wrapper as Butterfinger, but just an overall more satisfying and multi-dimensional snack.
Of course, we wouldn’t be where we are without the trail being nobly blazed by Butterfinger (and his predecessor, the Chick-o-Stick) so I don’t want to come across as ungrateful to a candy bar icon. Butterfinger got me through a lot of Freshman year High-School lunch periods as it will continue to do for generations and my hat is off to him. But, like any lunch room, there should be room at the table for the new kid.
Featured snack: Fig Newton (by Nabisco)
Rating: 14 “It’s not a cookie, mother, it’s a Newton”s
Figs are such an unlikely fruit to include in a snack. In fact, I think the only other time that I ever had a fig was once at a fancy party and it was wrapped in bacon. Or maybe that was a date. No, it was a party.
I’m tempted to end this post after that totally amazing joke but I feel it is my duty to continue long enough to let you know that you shouldn’t be tempted by nostalgia or any other force to eat these ever. They are really gross. It’s not that the concept of the Newton is so bad - it’s actually really great - it’s that figs are gross and grainy and don’t belong in a shitty Nabisco cookie.
Featured snack: Gourmet Cheddar Gladcorn
Rating: 101 A-maizing corn mazes
Review: Sometimes I get questions from readers of the snack blog about why certain snacks or certain types of snacks aren’t included for consideration on the blog. Is it that I don’t consider them to be a snack? I decided that for NSFM2012, I would stick exclusively to what I’ve been calling “mass-marketed” snacks. For me, this means mostly “snacks that you find in a gas station or convenience store”. I can’t say exactly why it appeals to me to only write about these kinds of foods. One reason might be that I find it more interesting to dissect the marketing and branding implications of these snacks than to explain why I like to eat vanilla yogurt by the bowl (which I do). Another might be that these were the kinds of snacks I was living on when I started the original Snack Blog in 2007. Another might be because it’s easier to find images of them on google image search.
Anyway, one setback of focusing on snacks that are marketed and distributed nationally is that it makes it hard to discover snacks that are truly original. If I’ve learned anything from my exploration of smaller regional brands (see Vitner’s week), it’s that there are entire categories of snacks available to the person who strays from the Frito-Lay/Mars/Keebler/Little Debbie/Nabisco/other people who invented National Snack Food Month multi-verse.
One of my favorite places to purchase snacks has long been a health food store in the Loop called Kramer’s which is where I found Gladcorn. I find Gladcorn’s self-designation as an “A-maizing Corn Snack” to be accurate. The larger-than-usual toasted corn kernals come in every stage of utter deconstruction, from entirely whole to totally unrecognizably inside-out. The variations of size and texture are what make the snack excellent. The exploded kernals carry the powdered flavoring much more effectively but the whole kernals give the snack intense crunch and (for lack of a better term) corniness. They end up snacking like some kind of wonderful hybrid of popcorn and Corn Nuts. Here’s what the package looks like. If you ever run into them, buy them at once.
Now, just because a snack isn’t widely distributed doesn’t mean it isn’t heavily branded. The savory snack convention of using the back right side of the bag to write ad copy addressed directly to the snacker is usually taken advantage of by smaller snack brands wanting to present themselves as homemade and natural to introduce you to the rural couple that discovered the snack one night in the kitchen of their farmhouse, were convinced by friends to mass produce the snack and now are so deeply and sincerely happy to have the privilege to share it with you (yes you) and Gladcorn is no exception. Where Stan and Gladys Friesen of Mountain Lake, MN (known to me now simply as Stan & Gladys) go beyond the usual script is where they sign off with a (presumably favorite) Bible verse: Jeremiah 32:2,3
“This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, he who formed it and established it. “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
Normally, I would feel not offended exactly, but maybe put out by being forced to look up a Bible verse when I’m enjoying a snack. In this case however, I’m glad that Stan and Gladys saw fit to call upon the Lord, learn of the great and unsearchable things that are exploded corn kernals that are not popcorn and bring them into the world for the rest of us as Gladcorn. Thanks Stan and Gladys!
Featured snack: Trader Joe’s Pumpernickel Pretzel Sticks
Rating: 74 Lederhosen
I don’t think it is controversial to suggest that salt is the best and most useful of all the spices. Of course, what makes salt so great is its ability to enhance the flavors around it instead of being its own flavor. It is like the John Paul Jones of spices in that way.
This is what has always made pretzels a bit of a puzzle to me. I’ve never thought that a bread stick, albeit a crispy bread stick, held an interesting enough flavor to be enhanced. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the bread sticks commonly used for pretzels are so neutral, so empty of personality, that the flavor of pretzels becomes essentially the flavor of salt. Needless to say, this doesn’t make for a very compelling snack experience.
Trader Joe’s Pumpernickel Pretzel Sticks avoid this problem simply by using a more interesting and delicious bread as the central vehicle of the snack - giving pretzel salt, perhaps for the first time, something useful to do. Was that so hard?
Featured snack: (Limited Edition) Coconut M&M’s
Rating: 2 1/2 blocks
Mars Corporation is well-known for constantly adapting, improving, and spinning-off its various products to create buzz and boost sales. Well, I fell for it again the other night.
I have always been a sucker for coconut in all of its artificial or natural forms so it was a pretty safe bet that I would like these. Coconut, however, is not a flavor known for its subtlety so the real surprise was how tastefully Mars was able to introduce the flavor without it becoming overpowering or cheap-tasting as the snack progressed. I was a little confused about whether there was actual dried, sweetened coconut inside the M&M’s themselves as one might expect there would be based on M&M’s other varieties. You are probably thinking, “Why didn’t you just look at the ingredients on the package?”. Well, this might sound silly but I was eating them in the dark on the way home from the convenience store and they were so good that I finished them by the time I got home and by then I didn’t care. I guess that last sentence is as descriptive a review as I can give.
Featured snack: Trader Joe’s Falafel Chips
Rating: 26 orders of extra hummus
There have been a couple of forces in the last 10 years that have changed the snack game pretty profoundly and TJ’s is definitely one of them. Their trail mix section literally paralyzed me this morning. Seriously, some Lakeview lady was like, “Um, are you going to decide soon because me and my yoga pants have a date with some Unsalted Pistachio Nutmeats, mmkay?”
That said, sometimes I think they get a little more credit than they deserve. For instance, they’ve made a really good effort with their (relatively) new Falafel Chips but they haven’t taken them as far as they could have. The colorful patterned border at the top and the very slightly Saul Bass-esque typeface give a nice 60’s-era exoticism to a snack that will surely seem slightly exotic to people who were alive in the 60’s.
However, I can’t for the life of me figure out why TJ’s wouldn’t drive the message home with their trademarked vehicle for communicating their products’ cute, non-threatening, tongue-in-cheek attempts at faux ethnicity. For convenience’s sake, I’ve looked up and listed some common Middle Eastern male names that start with “J” as well as their meanings (the better to accurately brand with, of course).
Jabir - Comforter; one who consoles
Jabbaar - Mighty King, attribute of Allah, one who consoles the bereaved
Jaaved - Alive, living (used when siblings have died in the family)
Jael/Yael - Mountain goat
Jaleel - Great; glorious, eminence, majesty
Jameel - Handsome, physically and morally attractive, name of a sahaabi
Jamsheed/Janshaid - Sunshine, lights
Jauhar - Diamond, gem, jewel, pearl, the essence of anything
Jibreel - Form of Gabriel (the angel)
I’m partial to Jaleel but I’m also a little biased because of my well-known attachment to a certain block of family-oriented sitcoms broadcast on Friday night by ABC in the 90’s (and the actors involved therein).
Featured snack: “Dirty” brand Sweet Potato chips
Review. Why would you name your snack brand “Dirty?” Why?
We know potatoes grow in the ground. With dirt. We know that.
Anyway, these chips were ok. There are better sweet potato chips.
Featured snack: Pollito Alvbro
Rating: Quince Paletas Ricas
In the interest of performing a public service for Chicago snackers, I thought I would try to clear up a mystery that has plagued many of my snack-shy friends and acquaintances.
The question: what do those little chicken-shaped suckers from the bodega taste like? Do they really taste like chicken?
Answer: They taste like a sort of sour peach-flavored candy with a bunch of chile powder on them. I think they are meant to replicate the flavor of mango with chile which makes sense because mango con chile is a delicious Mexican snack available at food carts city-wide and occasionally as a pre-packaged snack using dried mango.
Of course, this leaves an even larger mystery: why are they chicken-shaped?
Unfortunately, even after a grueling 15-minute internet search, I wasn’t able to find any information on this. If anyone has any leads, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fortunately, this is the kind of delightfully wacky, unexplainable mystery that only serves to make this wonderful snack even more delicious.
Featured snack: Little Debbie’s Nutty Bars
Rating: 26 grade school cafeterias
Like their biggest competitor Hostess, Little Debbie has been producing affordable, individually-wrapped cookies, cakes and pastries for sweet-toothed post-war Americans on the go for decades. And they’ve been doing it at a price point consistently lower than their candy competitors one aisle over. Unfortunately, to produce these shrink-wrapped wonders so that they can sit on the shelf for so long and so little cost, they have to rely rather heavily on things like hydrogenated oils, processed flours, and tons of weird preservatives.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Nutty Bars are an exception to this rule. A look at their nutritional information can be disconcerting, even to an unrepentant snack-addict like your humble narrator here.
I am going to sit here and tell you, however, that Nutty Bars are singular in relation to almost all of the other products in the Convenience Snack Cake universe within which they sit, whether they be Twinkies, Ho-Ho’s, Swiss Rolls, Star Crunch, Ding Dongs, Mini Muffins, Sno-Balls, Fudge Brownies, Fruit Pies, Marshmallow Pies, Oatmeal Creme Pies, Donuts or Donettes in that they are not totally depressing and gross.
Nutty Bars manage to occupy a unique position in the world of mass marketed sweets in that their are neither candy bar, snack cake, or cookie and yet they look like the former, eat like the latter, and are marketed and sold like the middler; a perfect tripod of all the things that are good about what happens when you put sugar and flour and oil together. Their light, wafered elegance and perfect, paired proportion allows them to transcend the sticky, overly sweet and clearly (to the tongue and eyes) chemically preserved nature of their brethren. And damn it they are so good.
A lot has been said in the media lately about the possible ending of an American Snack Cake Icon. It won’t bother me at all to see the Twinkie go the way of the Pudding Pie but if anything ever happens to Nutty Bars, we’re going to have a real problem.
Sizzlin’ Hot Cheesy Corn, Cool Ranch Crunchy Kurls, Sizzlin’ Hot Salt n’ Sour Potato Chips, Hot n’ Spicy Corn Chips, Jalapeno Nuggets, Kosher Dill Pickle Potato Chips
Rating: Midterm Report Cards
Well, it has been a busy week but I’ve managed to spend some of it with an array of Vitner’s-produced snacks (and some pals). Here’s the blow-by-blow:
Day 9 - Sizzlin’ Hot Cheesy Corn - Pretty darn hot. Not really what I’m looking for in a popcorn. The graphic featuring the Vitner’s mascot (a righteous bag of chips named Vinnie) with flames coming out of his trademark saxophone was some comfort however. Grade: B
Day 10 - Sizzlin’ Hot Salt n’ Sour Potato Chips - These were easily the highlight of the week. A trusted and dear snacking friend (whaddup Snackmaster!) has, for a long time, claimed this product to be the hidden jewel of the Vitner’s line and I have to say, after my terribly un-scientific survey, I agree with her. Based on the other “Sizzlin’ Hot” varietals, you might think these would be too hot, or even too busy with all of the artificial flavorings going on. Wrong. They are a beautiful balance of hot and sour - along-celebrated flavor combination. They come across as sophisticated and satisfying as any snack on the market. Score one for Chicago. Grade: A+
Day 11 - Cool Ranch flavored Crunchy Kurls - These were aptly described by a snacking compatriot as “Menthol Cheetos”. Enough said. (h/t CL and RT) Grade: C
Day 12 - Hot and Spicy Corn Chips - Straightforward and predictable. I suspect these are meant to fill the rather inexplicable gap in the Frito-Lay “Flamin’ Hot” line (more on that here). I find, as I suspect many snackers do, the corn chip to be a little too dense of a delivery system for such an intense flavor. Too hot for little ol’ me. Grade: C
Day 13 - Jalapeno Nuggets - These were another very pleasant surprise. They are not exactly what they appear to be - which is smaller pieces of the Cheetos-like “Crunchy Kurls”. They have instead the unusual consistency unique to dehydrated or freeze-dried products (the “marshmallows” that are the raison-d’etre of Lucky Charms come to mind). Combine the outside-of-the-box texture with the left-field charm of the jalapeno flavoring and you’ve got a snack that really brings something new to the table. Fortunately, they come in a very small dosage (imagine a sleeve of peanuts) as I’m sure their novelty would lose its appeal through an amount usually associated with mass-market snacks. Grade: A -
Day 14 - Kosher Dill Pickle Potato Chips - Rejoice. Frito-lay does not distribute a pickle-flavored potato chip nationally so it is up to regional brands to pick up the slack on one of the most indispensable treats for discerning snackers. I’m happy to report that Vitner’s, while not quite as complexly flavored Louisiana-based Zapp’s (or even as texturally satisfying as the formerly Chicago-based Jay’s boutique line Krunchers) still do a fine job of bringing the goods. I’ll give it a solid B+
Thanks for reading and