June 27, 2014

When a corn chip isn't a corn chip

Sweet corn potato chips. We live in strange, exciting times.
For the first time in my life, I ate a corn chip that was made out of potatoes. And it was incredible.

I speak of Herr's Fire Roasted Sweet Corn Potato Chips, a limited-time offering from the Nottingham, Pennsylvania snack company that I just happened to spot in a gas station during a road trip. Open the bag and you'll find seemingly standard crinkle-cut potato chips. Take a whiff and you'll smell something reminiscent of ears of corn roasting on the grill — perhaps eerily so.

Bite in and that eeriness continues. The texture is just what you'd expect from a potato chip. It's crunchy, and then a bite of salt kicks in. After that, though, the corn flavor overpowers everything else. If not for the difference in medium, you'd think you were on the back porch enjoying corn on the cob on a warm summer evening.

Speaking of warmth, these chips finish with a nice current of heat. I guess it's the fire-roasted aspect taking hold. In truth it tastes a lot like red pepper, and it makes you want to dive back in for the salty-sweet start a new bite holds.

These chips are very, very good. But they're strange, and they bring up all sorts of existential questions. We need to delve into that for a minute.

I'm no opponent of strange potato chip flavors. If anything, I support them, as evidenced by my feelings on Lay's Chicken and Waffle chips. These sweet corn chips, however, cross a starch line few would have ever thought to traverse before.

Surely, if you set out to design a sweet corn chip, you would have made it out of corn. It seems like the easier route, not to mention the traditional, less confusing one. These chips from Herr's shuck that path, instead taking potatoes and dressing them up in a way never seen before. As the consumer, they leave us in a maze of foodstuffs, unsure of what we're eating. The only thing that can be said for certain is that we like it.

I'm not suggesting these are for everyone. The traditionalists with their meat-and-potato sensibilities will want to stay away. Most people in the country won't have a choice but to avoid the chips anyway. Herr's is only distributed in 19 states.

Still, if you're in one of the states with Herr's, or if you're willing to special order them, I recommend you dig up a bag. It's a four-and--a-half-spork experience.

June 12, 2014

Drink tracking with Vessyl might be my cup of tea

Finally: A cup that tells you what you're drinking.
The cup's a pretty useful tool for delivering beverages to parched tongues everywhere. But let's face it, in today's world of ubiquitous technology, it has a pretty major shortcoming. It needs a battery, because no idea's so good that it can't be improved by some lithium-ion.

It turns out a San Francisco startup's been hard at work solving that problem.

A company known as Mark One unwrapped a pre-sale promotion today for a new powered cup it's calling the Vessyl. The thing's more than just a drinking device that uses electricity, of course. It can identify what you drink, track it and send the data to your smartphone.

Mark One seems to be branding it largely for dieters and the health-conscious right now. Many of us don't notice the calories we consume in beverages, it argues. The Vessyl will help us do that.

The device will actually be pretty interesting if it lives up to its billing. Supposedly it can break down the calories you're drinking by type, identifying sugar, fat, protein and the like. It can also measure things like caffeine, and its sensors are claimed to be picky enough to tell the difference between beverage brands like Coke and Pepsi.

Beyond that, the cup can estimate how hydrated you are, according to Mark One. It can connect to your Android or iPhone via Bluetooth to track your consumption and give you feedback on health goals.

Oh, and the cup body has its own "discreet screen." Other features include a spill-proof lid and non-stick interior.

Charging doesn't even require fumbling with a Micro USB connection. You just have to set the cup down on its "charging coaster" for 60 minutes, then the battery lasts an estimated five to seven days.

I'm no health nut. How could I be, blogging about fast food and over-the-counter snacks? Yet the Vessyl is strangely attractive to me. Maybe it's the idea of drinking out of an electrified container, adding a pinch of excitement to life. Maybe I'm more interested in tracking daily activities than I realized. I do use a run-tracking app.

Or maybe something like this would make life easier for food reviews. No more being embarrassed by failing in blind beverage taste tests! No more looking up nutritional information on the side of the bottle!

Right now the Vessyl is up for pre-order for $99, a hundred bucks cheaper than its retail price. The cup's makers are trying to pre-sell $50,000 worth of Vessyls  before starting production and shipping early in 2015. Colors listed include "Shadow," "Snow" and "Steam."

The 13 oz. cup comes in "Shadow," "Snow" and "Steam" colors. I'm holding out for a 20 oz. version in "Eggshell."

I might be willing to throw my money in for an early copy, except I'm a little worried about the Vessyl's size. It's listed as holding 13 oz., which would be 7 oz. smaller than the current metal water bottle I refill during the day. A 13 oz. cup would be fine for coffee, but the idea here is you use the Vessyl for all drinking. How about a larger option?

No matter its size, this cup holds my attention in a big way. What can we stick a battery in next?

June 10, 2014

LeBron James' Sprite 6Mix is too sweet to be good

The middle of the NBA Finals is the perfect time to break out the latest shameless promotional tie-in of the food world, Sprite 6Mix by LeBron James. At least, it's as good a time as any.

Sprite 6Mix is about six times too sweet.
In case you don't watch sports, skip advertisements or haven't been in a convenience store lately, 6Mix is, according to Sprite's promotional language, "the lemon-lime Sprite taste you already know with a twist of cherry and orange flavors." It's a soft drink riff supposedly inspired by James' "favorite way to mix Sprite."

Let's forget about the flavors for a moment and pause to evaluate that last statement. Not only does the best player in the NBA mix Sprite — I'm picturing him in a lab pouring between test tubes instead of at the corner soda fountain passing his drink under various nozzles — he supposedly has a favorite way. And that favorite way is more specific than adding a single fruit, a la Cherry Coke.

It's a wonder he had time to build a good jump shot and excellent post game in these last few years. But he has, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. LeBron James is not only an incredible basketball player, he's an alchemist in the test kitchen.

Except his alchemy could use a little bit of temperance. I cracked open a 20 oz. can of 6Mix only to find my tongue could detect little more than added sweetness. If there's orange, cherry or even lemon-lime in there, they've all melded into a taste best described as sucrose.

6Mix does have a distinct scent from its run-of-the-mill Sprite base. Unfortunately that scent isn't orange or cherry so much as it's Boo Berry. The whole drinking experience seems targeted at the under-10 crowd.

Which, now that I think of it, must be the inspiration for 6Mix's name. It's not derived from James' jersey number. It's the demographic most likely to enjoy 6Mix: 6-year-olds. LeBron's favorite way to mix Sprite isn't for himself. It's for his kids.

Look, LeBron James is an incredible basketball player, one who probably has a few more MVP and NBA Championship trophies to win in his career. But his beverage work's not getting many sporks from this blog. Two out of five.