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.

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