March 26, 2008

Jellybean Justice

Easter Sunday has come and gone. The brightly-colored candies that were painstakingly stocked and restocked in the candy aisle just a few days ago are now heaped in a pile marked "50% Off." Perhaps you've eaten enough Marshmallow Peeps and Cadbury Cream Eggs to satisfy your reincarnated hunger. More likely, you're pouring over the discount candy like the rest of us, hoping to find a cheap peanut butter egg.

A word of caution: Do not fall into the gourmet jellybean trap during the Easter season. Read this advice now, but heed it when buying candy before the holiday next year. It might just save you a few bucks.

I speak, of course, of Jelly Belly Jellybeans. Renowned for their unfathomable variety of flavors and steep price, they have become the first thought in many minds at the word "Jellybean." They deserve their acclaim, and are often worth their steep price.

But during the Easter season, why not pick up a couple of bags of nondescript, off-brand jellybeans? It is the only time of year you can readily find them, and they are much cheaper than their upmarket cousins. More importantly, it is the only time of year you can derive as much enjoyment from the pure-sugar taste of the bright green, blue, red, orange and white beans as you can from the plethora of flavors in every box of Jelly Bellies. Only during Easter can you bite into a red jellybean that tastes just like a green one and still truly enjoy the candy. It doesn't matter what the flavor is, these are jellybeans!

Go to the spot-on A&W Root Beers and buttered popcorns of Jelly-Bellies any other time of year. But take advantage of your Easter Jellybean loophole while it lasts. For a few weeks, you're allowed to be a kid who doesn't care about any flavor in candy except sweet. Make the most of them.

March 19, 2008

Horning in on the Sweet and Salty Craze

Ah, Bugles. Few snack foods can match their salt, satisfying crunch or instrumental allusion. For all intensive purposes, they are vegetarian pork rinds with a regal shape. I don't know about you, but I've never thought to drizzle caramel on my pork rinds. Fortunately, the people at General Mills came up with that idea with their Sweet and Salty Caramel Bugles.

Sweet and salty is a pretty big deal right now in snack food. There are at least 2 million different types of sweet and salty granola bars lining the shelves of most supermarkets, some of which are more satisfying than others. But though those flavors can successfully work in tandem when they're coming from salty peanuts glazed with a little sugar, it's a lot harder to imagine them in harmony on the craggy surface of Little Boy Blue's favorite snack.

Often, strange combinations work. Things that sound disgusting in concept end up tasting delicious. But I won't be trumpeting that as the case here. It isn't that the little caramel bugles taste bad, they just don't taste good. Instead, the flavors and textures mix in a horribly fascinating discord. Eating these things is like watching an episode of Deal or No Deal. You want to stop, but somehow you just can't do it, and pretty soon you've wasted an hour of your life. Well, with Caramel Bugles, you haven't wasted an hour of life, you've wasted a day's caloric intake.

The initial flavor is just odd. It is definitely overwhelmingly caramel, but a misplaced fatty aftertaste lingers. You get that feeling that you've just bitten into a paper towel that was used to dab the grease off bacon -- the one familiar from normal Bugles. Yet a sticky caramel residue lingers on the molars, as if you're chewing a Werther's Original.

On one final sour note, these little snacks don't sit well in the stomach. After eating a bag from a vending machine, I felt like I'd actually swallowed that paper towel soaked in bacon grease. The Bugles were down there playing taps as my appetite for the remainder of the day was laid to rest.

A perversely interesting taste combination manages to snag 2 sporks out of five and keep Caramel Bugles from receiving a one-spork requiem. In the end, this misguided snack doesn't deserve much fanfare.

March 11, 2008

Shameless St. Patrick's Day Tie-In

That's right, folks. It's March, and that means two forces are making companies everywhere see green. One is college basketball, the other, more appropriately, is Saint Patrick's Day.

It is Saint Patrick's day that must be addressed today, because Ireland has many foods associated with it. Corned beef and cabbage, soda bread potatoes are probably the first that come to mind. None of these are peddled by big corporations though. Turn to McDonald's Shamrock Shakes, though, and you've found the fast food industry's preeminent Irish promotion.

Now, it could be argued that the Shamrock Shake is actually a nice tribute to the Emerald Isle. It is green, after all, and McDonald's was founded by Dick and Mac McDonald, who had Irish heritage.

Really, though, what does a mint-flavored milkshake have to do with Ireland? The Irish aren't particularly well known for milkshakes, unless I'm mistaken, and the flavor isn't particularly associated with the isle, unless you count the mint sauce that helps make lamb so tasty. From the outside, the whole promotion seems like a cheap way to make a buck.

Even so, the Shamrock Shake is hard to put down. Say what you will about McDonald's line of triple-thick shakes being made from a powdered mix rather than some fresh milk product, this just tastes good. The mint isn't too strong, in fact it might even be overpowered by a strong sweetness. The combination works, and works well.

In fact, once you've taken one sip of the shake, you might as well forget about putting it down until it is finished. This leads to one of the Shamrock Shake's biggest drawbacks: it will probably give you a cold rush headache. Chasing it with some aspirin would be a good idea, except drinking it so fast will probably cause your stomach to sit in a clenched ball for a few hours.

The Shamrock Shake is a tough cookie ... um ... shake to rate, because it has so many mixed factors going for and against it. On one hand, nobody likes a brazen scheme to capitalize on heritage to make money. On the other, few things should make you want to see leprechauns and sing limerick's like an Americanized tribute to the Irish -- a green shake. And it might make you feel sick afterward, but boy does it feel good going down.

Mixed reviews come out to average rankings. And while I might rank it higher had I not just had a Shamrock Shake and was not trying to get over the stomach cramps, right now it sounds like three sporks out of five. Oh, what the heck. Make them three O'Sporks out of five or something.