October 23, 2010

Cinnabon Cereal sugar high

Forgive me if I jump around in today's review, foodies. I just downed a bowl of Kellogg's Cinnabon Cereal, and the sugar content is making me jumpy.

Speaking of which, today's review is actually looking at Kellogg's Cinnabon Cereal. I picked up a box on sale for $2 Sunday, and it's been more or less fueling my workweek -- although I had to pair it with yogurt and a sliced banana every morning to prevent hunger from paralyzing me before lunch.

As you can tell -- and would have guessed without my breakfast menu -- Cinnabon Cereal is less than substantial. Though the box says multi-grain, each piece melts in your mouth without much help from your molars. They aren't newspaper-in-a-puddle limpid, and they keep their crunch in a bowl of milk, but you won't confuse them with a filling cereal like Wheaties Fuel.

Within a few minutes of eating you'll also be noticing a massive sugar rush. Cinnabon Cereal packs a walloping 12 grams of sugar into a 1-cup serving. That's roughly on par with Lucky Charms, which have 11 grams of sugar in a 1-cup serving.

Those of you who don't like numbers: skip the following paragraph. I'm going to do some quick arithmetic to properly compare Cinnabon Cereal and Lucky Charms, and I'd hate to bore you with the details that my math-teacher paternal heritage forces me to find ever-so-interesting.

We'll use Cinnabon Cereal's 12 grams of sugar per 30 gram (1 cup) serving size as the beginning ratio -- a sugar to weight ratio of 12/30. Lucky Charms have 11 grams of sugar for every 27 grams of weight -- a ratio of 11/27. We need a common denominator, which is most easily found by multiplying the serving sizes by one another -- giving us 810 (30 x 27). We also need to multiply the numerator of each fraction by the same number that we used on their respective denominators (11 x 30 and 12 x 27). In the end we find that Cinnabon Cereal has a sugar-to-weight ratio of 324/810 (we can write it as 324:810 for those of you who like your ratios with colons) and Lucky Charms have a sugar-to-weight ratio of 330/810 (or 330:810).

In other words, the cereals' sugar contents remain virtually identical when you run the math to compare the same portion size. But Cinnabon Cereal doesn't have pure-sugar marshmallows upping it's sugar factor -- every miniature Cinnabon is just loaded with the sweet stuff.

The cereal carries a few vitamins, so I guess technically it can be part of a healthy breakfast. If you balance it out with six bowls of oatmeal, 12 grapefruits, a half-gallon of skim milk and a fiber supplement, that is.

Let me add a quick disclaimer before we move on: Middle schoolers with upcoming fraction tests in math class cannot use this review's "math paragraph" as a means to cheat. Don't leave a printout of this blog on your desk when you take your quiz in an attempt to fool your teacher into thinking it's harmless after-I-finish reading material in an unrelated subject. Your teacher will catch you, then we'll both be in trouble.

Back to Cinnabon Cereal: Now that we have the nutritional info out of the way, let's talk about taste. The minute I spooned some of these mini-Cinnabons into my mouth, I had the feeling I'd eaten them before. They taste almost identical to Post Waffle Crisp. The consistency is the same, and the flavor is similar, only with more cinnamon. It's kind of like Waffle Crisp and Cinnamon Toast Crunch had a child.

The resulting offspring is a reasonable approximation of the flavor of a Cinnabon, although you're not going to confuse it for the real thing. Personally, I'd like to see some kind of frosting on the top, which would add an air of authenticity to the cereal. That would probably break the sugar bank and send breakfasters into diabetic shock, though.

Let's sum it all up. Cinnabon Cereal tastes similar to a Cinnabon, packs enough sugar to send a sweet tooth to the dentist and will leave you hungry a few hours after breakfast. But it does stay crunchy in milk.

Once you add the pros and cons, I'd say that works out to 2 sporks out of five. If I were you, I'd run from those numbers.

October 19, 2010

Two new sauces at Taco Bell

My most recent trip to Taco Bell was packed with more surprises than a Cracker Jack box. You've all no doubt read Sunday's review of the XXL Chalupa, which shocked with its scale-tipping mass and misplaced low-fat sour cream.

What I didn't include in that post was a noteworthy piece of condiment news creeping onto a Taco Bell counter near you. The Bell recently rolled out two new "Border Salsa" sauces: Fire Roasted and Verde.

The new ketchup-packeted sauces join the faithful standbys of Mild, Hot and Fire to bump Taco Bell's salsa selection to five. And they stand out from their more seasoned brethren in that they're not merely different levels of hot sauce.

No, Verde and Fire Roasted Border Salsas squirt out their own unique flavors. Here's a rundown:

Fire Roasted largely lives up to its name, although I'd have named it "Campfire" or something to tip foodies off to the fact that it tastes more like smoke and less like sun-dried tomato. The sauce adds a surprisingly rich tone to Taco Bell fare and lingers on the tongue long after a bite. You're not going to confuse Fire Roasted sauce with the taste of painstakingly smoked salmon fresh off wood chips -- but you shouldn't expect that from Taco Bell anyway.

My biggest problem with the Fire Roasted sauce is that a little bit goes a long way. It has the same injected-with-smoke-flavor quality as certain brands of beef jerky, and that can be overpowering in anything but single-pack quantities.

Verde, on the other hand, is not aptly named. It hardly resembles its green chili sauce namesake and reminded me of a watery sweet and sour sauce.

That's not an entirely bad thing, mind you. While sweet and sour sauce and Taco Bell might not be the most obvious pairing, they marry fairly well in an odd-couple sort of way. Sweet and sour affectionados won't be casting aside chicken nuggets any time soon, but it's an interesting change-up that's odd enough to work. I'd say the Verde sauce is so wide left of the mark that it successfully hits an entirely different target.

The real question today is whether you're going to stuff your to-go bag with either of these two new sauces in lieu of the classic Mild, Hot and Fire packets. And the answer is: probably not.

Instead the sauces should be used to play off the pedestrian hot-sauce world of Taco Bell salsa. Fire Roasted screams for limited-application use to add richness to food. Verde is the obvious choice when you're feeling a little wacky.

In other words, the new sauces offer variety -- the spice of life.

October 17, 2010

Living large with Taco Bell's XXL Chalupa

It's been a while since the critique has sampled anything from Taco Bell -- a restaurant that is typically a mainstay of my culinary considerations. Other foods distracted with peppers, all-you-can-eat promotions and chocolaty coatings, leading this blog away from its most stalwart subject.

The return to The Bell had to be big. Extra big. Extra, extra big. You could say I wanted it to be XXL.

And wouldn't you know it? Taco Bell rolled out just the concoction to mark the occasion. They're calling it the XXL Chalupa. It's a jumbo shell nestling lettuce, salsa, cheeses and sour cream on top of your choice of meat.

When ordering I was pleasantly surprised to find I could choose between ground beef, chicken and steak. Taco Bell's promotional material has focused only on the ground beef option. Naturally I chose to go with chicken -- I recommend avoiding taco beef whenever possible. You never know exactly what's in there.

One other noteworthy ingredient in the XXL Chalupa is low-fat sour cream. I'll pause for a moment to let you absorb the fact that the restaurant is including low-fat sour cream on a dish whose calling card is over-the-top size. The chalupa is 650 calories, for Jillean Michaels' sake! Putting on low-fat sour cream is like skipping the 10-spoke alloy wheels on your $185,300 Mercedes SLS AMG because you don't want to spend the extra $2,400. When you're that far in the hole, why not finish digging the last couple of shovelfuls and complete the job?

Plus, I watched as the Taco Bell workers built my Chalupa behind the counter. The low-fat sour cream was shot out of a dispenser that looked like a jumbo caulk cannon. The dispenser was the size of a small boar, and probably contained enough fat to give Shiva Rea's entire yoga class a heart attack.

All that aside, I have to admit I'm impressed with the size of the XXL Chalupa. Taco Bell usually gives you pretty decent bang for your buck -- the $5 Box comes to mind -- but even so the XXL Chalupa is shockingly large. I needed both hands to hold it.

The high point of the dish is by far its shell, which is soft, moist and holds its shape so the Chalupa doesn't fall to pieces if you have to set it down. That's a good thing, because you'd practically have to be Mr. Universe to not get tired while holding this load of a meal.

The chicken is tasty, as are all the rest of the fixins', which are piled on so high that I wished I had an extra hinge on my jaw to take bites. I found it was helpful to eat from the top of the chalupa down, which minimized spilled lettuce and cheese.

I can tell you the chalupa weighed down my stomach with all that food. It also left my wallet a little lighter than I'd like. I paid more than $3 -- over a buck for every letter in the "XXL."

That price is really the only downside to the XXL Chalupa. And while I find it very hard to justify spending more than $2.00 on any one item from Taco Bell, this is the item to buy if you're going to do it. Therefore I can give the chalupa four sporks out of five.

Actually, you might want to think about bringing four sporks to eat it. The chalupa is that big. That extra, extra big.