REVIEW: Hershey’s Gold Peanut & Pretzel

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I can still remember the triumphant day that Hershey’s Cookies ‘n Creme arrived in my junk food universe. It was the mid-90’s and I was a wee lad, looking for something to mix up the brown-dominant palate of the candy aisle. Everything seemed to be chocolate based, and out of nowhere appeared a snowy beacon of hope. The white-chocolate-meets-wafer cookies bar was a revelation, and I fell in love right then and there, in 1995, and it has been one of my favorite Hershey’s branded products ever since. Fast forward 22 years later and Hershey’s are aiming to change the game yet again, and this time they’re adding a whole new dimension. Welcome to the world, the fourth member of the Hershey’s universe – it’s not milk, it’s not dark, it’s not white, it’s GOLD.

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REVIEW: 7 Select Pumpkin Spice and Maple Sandwich Cookies

If you’re keen to the thrill of the junk hunt you are probably used to floating in and out of all the usual haunts – Target, Safeway, Walgreens, Walmart, etc. – but what the casual hunter may not know is the secret land of 711. Of course, we all know that they stock most of the iconic chips and candies by the big companies, but they also have an in house “7 Select” brand that’s cranking out some impressive products as well. I’ve covered a number of really good ones on my instagram – Pumpkin Spice Madeleine’s, Reese’s Brookie, and Colossal Peanut Butter Cup to name a few, and now am making the plunge to advance their autumn cookie duo to the big boy blog.

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Pumpkin Spice Sandwich Cookies:

These cookies are kind of strange. They don’t really smell like pumpkin spice at all, and have a generic not-that-sweet biscuit kind of aroma. The very pale wafer up against the very neon orange creme is bizarre, and the flavor isn’t too far behind. There is almost zero spiciness to be found, not even cinnamon, but they do taste like pumpkin. The vegetal squashy pumpkin flavor before it gets spiced up is somehow present, and while it is impressive, it isn’t all that enjoyable.

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The texture is less desirable than an Oreo as well, with a stiffer bite and dryer crumble than the cookie it’s trying to emulate generally offers. While I find the Pumpkin Spice Oreo to be a bit too mild for my tastes but overall tasty, these are even milder and don’t have the classic textures and nostalgic flair to back em up. Simply put, these aren’t disgusting but they taste pretty cheap, and are one of the weaker spiced offerings I’ve had this season.

Rating: 6/10

Maple Sandwich Cookies:

These cookies have a lot more promise, as immediately I can say I have never in my life had a half chocolate half vanilla cookie sandwich with maple creme. In fact, the combination of maple and chocolate is very rare to come across itself, and these practically jumped out at me off the shelf. A big sharp hyper-sweet maple aroma also jumps right out of the package as I open them, and I’m very glad I won’t have the scrounge-for-flavor experience that the pumpkin version provided.

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Yum! The maple flavor is big and sugary, sharing a lot of common traits with a good ole bottle of Log Cabin. It’s artificial but in a pleasant junk food kind of way and not overwhelmingly cloying or fake tasting. The textures are still less fresh and desirable than an Oreo or Joe Joe, with slightly stiff, almost too firm creme that freakishly holds its place with authority. The two-toned wafter action looks cooler than it tastes, but there is a mild bitter cocoa flavor that comes up to compliment the fairly bland vanilla one, and the execution overall works. These have a much stronger maple flavor than the Waffles & Syrup Oreo from earlier this year, and while they may not compete with the best leaf cookie, for 99 cents I’ll gladly take six more.

Rating: 8/10

Found at: 711 (99 cents each or 2 for $1.49)

REVIEW: Cookies & Screeem M&M’s

In my youthful trick or treating heyday there was definitely a hierarchy when it came to the candy come-up. Not including the occasional full sized candy bar, individual Reese’s cups were always number one, followed by Snickers, Twix, and Milky Way, with all non-chocolate candies being lesser than chocolate – unless they came in big-seeming ‘fun sized’ bags. There was something about the small bags of candy that seemed like a real victory, most notably Skittles and M&M’s.

A bag of M&M’s, usually milk chocolate or peanut, felt like it had twice the value of all other candies that weren’t orange and written in cursive, and getting a couple of those in my hollowed pumpkin head was a real treat. Now, as an adult, I continue to be impressed by bags of M&M’s, as their graphic design game has been incredibly on point, and I still marvel at their size, being forced to buy giant bags to try the limited editions. This year Mars dropped a new particularly eye-pleasing package with Cookies and Screeem M&M’s.

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These spooky poppable treats have one of my favorite packages I’ve ever seen, and I nearly bought them on the visual appeal alone. Despite what the name and image might imply, these M&M’s don’t actually have any cookies in them, which seems like a missed opportunity to really knock this cookie-themed flavor out of the park.

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The candies are a really cool looking black and white speckled shell with a layer of dark chocolate and an inner ball of white chocolate – one of the cooler looking M&M’s – I’m sensing a theme here. The dark semisweet chocolate is slightly bitter but still pretty sweet with a very smooth and melty consistency. It’s clear that it isn’t milk chocolate, but once I hit the bigger, more prominent white chocolate part, it gives me a much more milky essence with cool, creamy, buttery notes. The combo of semisweet and white has a different sensation than either of them on their own, and in construction does emulate the sandwich cookie format of an Oreo.

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They’re chocolate and sweet so they’re good, but why isn’t there any crunchy texture? The cupcake Kisses and Pretzel M&M’s have both been successful with some added crunch inside, and I wish I got some of that here. As the flavor finishes I do get a touch of wafer-y cookie taste that’s more than pure chocolate, a trick that must be embedded within the ominous “natural and artificial flavors”.  For how great the packaging is, I wanted more to truly make my tastebuds screeeeeem, and these ultimately end up feeling like opening the big-looking ‘fun sized’ bags in Halloween night to reveal just 4 or 5 candies – tasty, but simultaneously a bit of a letdown too.

Rating: 7/10
Found at: Target Exclusive ($3.49)
Quick Nutrition: 1 oz – 140 cal – 7g fat – 4g sat fat – 10mg sodium – 20g carb – 18g sugar

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REVIEW: Ample Hills’ The Commodore

Vanderbilt Avenue is the street that houses the first Ample Hills scoop shop, where the company cut their teeth in 2011 cranking out all of their ice cream from its small kitchen. The street gets its name from the lore of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was an 1800’s business tycoon known for owning the New York Central Railroad, and more importantly, inventing the potato chip. Yes, he was that picky dude who sent his fried potatoes back for being too soggy. The cook, George Crum, responded in passive aggressive fashion by slicing them mega thin, too thin to be eaten with a fork, and they were the surprise hit of the evening. James, also known as Commodore Cornelius, literally paved the streets in gold with his advances in transportation, but he also blessed our tastebuds with the then dubbed “Saratoga Chips”. No slouches to churning out thoughtful delicious custard, Ample Hills’ The Commodore is a Vanderbilt store exclusive flavor that combines a salted honey base with clusters of chocolate covered potato chips and housemade honey comb candy.

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In a completely un-shocking twist, this is the most restrained level of sweetness I’ve ever had in a honey based ice cream and it’s refreshingly delicious. The salt brings not only a different flavor but a different feeling as well – with a slight tingle that coats my tongue. I love the traditionally sweet and creamy bases that honey can deliver, but the salt in this one helps reduce the sugary notes and heighten the deep golden flavor of the sacred bee-vomit. It isn’t quite savory, but it has just enough of those salty earth tones that is doesn’t taste aggressively sweet, and I find myself wanting to eat more to figure out this unique sensation.

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The chocolate covered potato chips are absolutely perfect. The milk chocolate adds a great sweet punch and has preserved all the crunch of the deliciously crispy fried chips. Cornelius would be completely lit on this pint. There’s a big genuine potato flavor that comes through like grabbing a handful from a bag of Kettle brand, and the saltiness still pops despite the minerals’ presence in the base. It might seem odd at first glance, but the mashup of chocolate and honey and chips really works and hits that ideal balance of interesting yet craveable that all craft companies should aspire to.

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The honey comb candy in my pint has stayed somewhat intact but has also partially dissolved into little pools of honey caramel, and I’m not complaining. The pieces chomp with a lovely crystalized crunch that further release the deep golden honey notes, while the saucy caramel-esque sauce bleeds into the ice cream, once again deepening the honey presence. The honey comb is without a doubt the sweetest component in the container and adds that extra layer of candy crunch that makes The Commodore eat like a true sweet treat.

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This flavor, usually only available at one store in one state is currently for sale as part of the Taste of NY 4 pack through the end of the month. If this sounds remotely delicious to you, I can guarantee you will love it, and the investment will be worth the cost.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: http://www.amplehills.com

REVIEW: Butterfinger Limited Edition Smokin’ Hot Peanut Butter Cups

The candy world has a new obsession, and it’s one I can get behind – spice. Generally reserved for savory items, the addition of spiciness to usually sweet leaning products has advanced from small gourmet stores to mainstream brands like Jolly Rancher, Nerds, and now, Butterfinger. Mixing fruity flavors with spice is very common in countries like Mexico, where sweet and spicy is the preferred profile over sweet and sour, and with that creeping its way into American culture, so is mixing spice with even less conventional flavors – like peanut butter. Butterfinger’s limited edition Smokin’ Hot Peanut Butter Cups take the established combination of PB and chocolate and crank it up a notch with some heat.

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Biting into the cup I get the great creamy texture with a little bit of crunch that I expect from Butterfinger Cups and immediately there’s a hint of smoky flavor creeping after the chocolate sweetness. It doesn’t take long for the smokiness to transform into a little spicy dance that tickles my tongue like perfectly executed cayenne pepper. What I mean by perfectly executed is cayenne is one of those ingredients that adds a fantastic kick without too much flavor, but when you go too heavy handed with it whatever you’re cooking can get out of control really fast, and this has a spot on amount of spice. The heat creeps up after the creaminess of the peanut butter has died down and last about 10-15 seconds before fading away without any serious lingering effect.

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The addition of the heat to the mix reduces the overall sweetness of the cups and puts more emphasis on the rich creaminess of the peanut butter. While the flavor is still far from savory, it adds another layer of complexity to the sweet, salty, and fatty mix that PB cups always bring to the table.

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While these cups are very well executed, I’m glad that they’re a limited edition because they come off as more of a novelty treat than something I would want to seek out and buy again. As is the case with most Reese’s products, it’s hard to improve on the original, and as a fan of regular Butterfinger PB cups I don’t think the addition of spice makes the cup any better. In fact, because it takes away a little bit of the sweetness from the chocolate, it might actually be worse, but it’s still a fun candy that I would recommend to anyone who likes a little kick with their fix.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: 7-11 ($1.99)

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REVIEW: Quest Hero Bars (all three flavors)

Quest Hero bars are the protein bar giant’s macro friendly take on a candy bar, and as a person who’s actual knight in shining armor during the course of a bad day has been a real deal bar of chocolate, I can get behind this.  The bars once again utilize the new and confusing artificial sweetener allulose, which is one of the cleanest tasting sweeteners out there, but not without some downsides.  The jury is still out on exactly what kind of impact this ingredient has on the body, and as of now still has to be counted as sugar on the nutritional label, giving these Quest bars a significantly less macro-friendly look than their older tried and true siblings.  Still significantly “less bad” than an actual candy bar, the Hero bars take the grainy “cereal” base from the Beyond Cereal bars, add an additional layer of gooey texture, and dip them into a creamy coating.  The initial launch comes with three flavors – Blueberry Cobbler, Chocolate Caramel Pecan, and Vanilla Caramel.

Blueberry Cobbler:

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Off the jump the texture on this bar is phenomenal – super soft and chewy with multiple layers and a lovely creamy coating. The dominant flavor is a very sweet and real tasting blueberry with a hint of acidity and no lingering artificial sugar taste. The second big flavor that creeps into the equation is graham cracker, and reminds of the Quest cereal waffle bar without the prominent syrup flavor and just a hint of cinnamon spice, which is no surprise since these bars use that same chewy granola-esque base.

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One of my biggest gripes with Quest is the aggressive use of sucralose, and much like with the Beyond Cereal bars, the swap for allulose has really alleviated that problem almost entirely.  The sugar flavor is very clean and true and has a more natural berry flavor than any bar I can recall having.  This is my favorite blueberry bar that I’ve had and a very strong addition to the Quest catalog.

Rating: 8.5/10

Chocolate Caramel Pecan:

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Slightly bitter cocoa-forward chocolate base with a decently thick layer of caramel on top. The flavor reminds me of a cheap brownie, not too strong of a nutty element but tastes almost nothing like what you would expect from a whey-dominant, “low sugar” protein bar, although the general profile is pretty predictable for a protein product.  The caramel has a good chew, tastes decently authentic and has a slight saltiness that keeps the bar from being too sweet.

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While this one is fine, it does have a slight artificial aftertaste, and with the worst macros of the three – highest calories and fat with the least amount of protein, I don’t think I would buy this one again.

Rating: 6.5/10

Vanilla Caramel:

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This one again reminds me of the waffle cereal bar without the maple and instead a strong golden graham cracker sheen.  It is very sweet with a nice smooth vanilla flavor and surprising salty pop on the finish. The salt cuts through in a way that gives a bit more of a salted caramel presence, which is nice considering the overall sweetness of the bar.  There’s a little bit of a fake sugar sucarlose aftertaste on this one, not as strong as the chocolate but a bit more present than the Blueberry Cobbler, but still much less than your typical Quest bar.

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Although there are almonds on the package and in the ingredients, I don’t get much almond flavor and there are just a couple random pieces in the top layer and a nuttiness is not prominent in the actual texture.  This is one of the best tasting vanilla bars I have had and another one I would definitely buy again and could legitimately take the place of a white chocolate-y or caramel craving when watching calories.

Rating: 8/10

Overall this is a pretty impressive launch from Quest, and while the macros aren’t as good as the standard Quest bar the flavor is significantly better and will be pretty enjoyable for a lot of people, even those who don’t usually get down with protein bars.

REVIEW: Twizzler’s Filled Twists Flavor of Florida Key Lime Pie and Orange Cream Pop

Hershey’s are hell bent on us tasting the most iconic states in America.  From California’s Strawberry Kit Kat to Texas’ BBQ Payday, they want to make SURE we can put America in our mouth without leaving the couch.  In an effort to give sunny citrusy Florida its fair due, and apparently admitting they kind of screwed them by not giving them any chocolate, Hershey’s have TWO Flavors of Florida Twizzlers Filled Twists – Key Lime Pie and Orange Cream Pop.

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The Key Lime Pie twist immediately hits me with the one flavor I wasn’t expecting to taste at all – graham cracker crust.  I find this bizarre but kind of tasty, as I’m getting way more golden graham flavor than tart lime.  In fact, there’s so much crusty flavor going on that the usually insanely sweet Twizzler becomes slightly savory…and it’s kind of weird.  The balance is off, since key limes have a notoriously sweet-sour combo that define the typical profile of the pie, and there’s only a small bit of crust that lines the bottom – Hershey’s decided to flip this ratio upside down.

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The lime flavor is there, and comes through with a bit of pop towards the end, but the filling inside of this Twizzler must be crust-injected because it really is incredibly prominent.  There are no graham cracker crumbs listed in the ingredients, but the Hershey-scientists really did some impressive work to get the flavor in there, it just doesn’t have the right balance.  While it needs more citrus, I like the complexity this Twizzler offers, which isn’t something I ever expected to say about something neon green.

The Orange Cream Pop is much more what I was expecting the product to taste like.  It’s immediately sweet and citrusy with a soft vanilla cream center that perfectly mimics the popsicle on the front of the package.  I get that same sensation of the different textures that come in a Creamsicle, with the squishy licorice exterior taking place of the icy water-forward frozen pop, and the creamy filling playing the role of classic vanilla ice cream.  It’s pretty much perfectly executed as a familiar flavor, but I can’t help but feel like it’s also a really straight forward profile to pull off with ease.

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These Twizzlers are much more repeat-noshable for me than the Key Lime, and satisfy that sticky sweet licorice sensation that I want when choosing a candy like this.  I really enjoy the seasonal Caramel Apple Twizzlers, and they’re pretty much the only reason why I even batted an eye at this product in the first place.

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While neither of them are gross, they don’t really beckon me to want to eat much more either, but I’m kind of fascinated by how weird the Key Lime are, as it’s rare a candy tastes nothing like what I anticipated.  Both of these are fairly successful, but I wouldn’t recommend searching for these unless you absolutely love sticky sticks of sugar or are one of those people that think Creamsicles are the greatest frozen thing man ever invented (you know you’re out there..weirdos).

Key Lime Pie Rating: 6/10
Orange Cream Pop Rating: 7/10

Found at: CVS ($3.99 each)