REVIEW: Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Oreo Cookies

Hot Cocoa is a sweet and creamy treat, usually served to children around the holiday’s to bring warmth and enjoyment to the greatest time of the year. The flavor is characterized by a light bittersweet chocolate base, made with either milk or water, and garnished with sweet melty marshmallows. Oreo cookies are a sweet and crunchy treat, usually served to children around lunch time to bring happiness and enjoyment to the rest of their day. The flavor is characterized by a light bittersweet chocolate cookie base, washed down with either milk or water, and filled with a sweet melty creme. Wait a minute…hot cocoa…Oreo’s…are they…the same thing?! In today’s edition of “Will this Oreo taste like an Oreo?” I present to you – Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Oreo.

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The cookies look and smell different than your standard Oreo. The two-toned nature of the creme gives them an elevated appearance, but they kept the layers relatively small so the overall quantity is much similar to the original than Double Stuf variety. They carry an aroma that’s slightly more creamy and somehow reminds me of fake butter, almost like sticking my face into a tub of margarine. Weird.

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Initially the experience of chompin’ into these cocoa-fueled cookies is essentially the same as any other Oreo – a crispy bittersweet wafer with a sweeter, smoother creme in the middle. The amount of filling is kind of lackadaisical for me, especially coming after last month’s super plump Mystery Oreo, but then something interesting happens on the finish. While the flavor isn’t huge, the flavor on the end is definitely different than a regular Oreo, with a creamy, light, marshmallow-leaning note that does remind me of hot chocolate. You know that weird powdery hot chocolate mix with the very milk chocolate-y flavor and hard mini marshmallows? That’s the flavor I’m getting here, but it really only fights its way through at the very end.

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These are a perfect example of a middle tier Oreo that aren’t bad, but aren’t really that much different or really any better than the classic version. They definitely taste like hot cocoa,but the base profiles are so similar from the start that there isn’t a ton of intriguing variance. Nabisco tends to come through with a couple of these a year, and I don’t mind it because with over ten new limited editions I never buy regular Oreo…ever…and these are a nice replacement for that. Much like other slight twists on the established classic, like Filled Cupcake, or this years Fireworks, Hot Cocoa Oreo’s are a tasty cookie worthy of accompaniment to Santa’s tall glass of milk, but not worth trampling people Black Friday style to get them into your pantry.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Safeway ($2.99)

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REVIEW: Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano

The tale of two opposites attracting. When alternate worlds collide. The quintessential adult grocery store cookie meets teenage-girl-fueled food trend. Crunchy sophisticated fun fuses with basic bitch tendencies. Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano’s. Can this unlikely team up yield greatness? Today on the skillet we find out!

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The cookies have the classic Milano appearance – tan ovals with a thin layer of chocolate in the middle, but this one also has a fun deep orange oozing out of the sides. It’s a lovely color combination that screams spooky autumn vibes – reading books and playing chess with a roomful of dad’s happily crunching and sippin’ on English breakfast.

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The flavor of these iconically crispy cookies is surprisingly balanced and tasty – with neither chocolate or pumpkin being too dominant. The usually thin layer of the cookies’ innards is pivotal in achieving this optimal balance, as the chocolate doesn’t flex too prominently over the fall flavors and both are allowed to breathe without clashing. There are very apparent but not too intense notes of cinnamon and nutmeg flirting with just a hint of dark chocolate, and the crumbly, sweet, buttery body of the cookie smoothes both flavors out as the perfect mediator to these two often bold, potentially clashing flavors.

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Pepperidge Farm continues to impress me with their ability to combine elements that I’m not sure will work together, like dark chocolate and lime, and delivering a delicious product with finesse. The spice is subtle but pleasing and makes for a wonderful coffee companion while cozying up with a spooky novel on a dimly lit autumn morning.

Rating: 8/10
Found at: Target ($2.99)

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: JC’s Scoops Taffy Apple

The pumpkin patch will always be one of my favorite nostalgia-laden memories of autumn childhood. The smell of hay, the massive piles and sometimes entire acres of pumpkins, low brow haunted houses, scarecrows, and the crowning jewel of them all – caramel apples. There was one pumpkin patch in particular in Nebraska that was stunningly huge, and had a little goodie shop brimming with varieties of candy dunked and crunchy rolled apples that seemed only outdone by the Main Street shops in Disneyland. While it would be easy enough to melt some caramel and coat apples any time of year, they’re the most delicious and prominent during the harvest season, and the classic combination of tart apple and sweet candy is only second to pumpkin for being the most iconic flavor pairing this time of year.

Pie Pop Pioneers JC’s Scoops have ventured into the pint game with an all new line of premium ice creams, simply dubbed “Scoops”, and one of the launch flavors screams pumpkin patch perfection. Taffy Apple, which is apparently another name for a caramel or candy apple that I had never heard of, combines tart and sweet green apple ice cream with swirls of salted caramel and candy coated peanuts.

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The base game in this pint is on point. Any ice cream claiming to be premium has to deliver with some high fat ultra creamy richness and those elements are on full display with the texture of the green apple ice cream. There’s a bit of tart green apple aroma coming from the pint as well, but only a little bit of apple flavor in the actual bite. I was extremely excited to have an apple based ice cream, since apple is usually added as a mix-in to vanilla or cinnamon bases, and as good as the texture is, I really want more from the overall taste. The initial flavor carries a hint of sweet apple acidity but it quickly fades into more of a slightly tart sweet cream, and the apple gets a bit lost in the sea of fatty dairy. It’s a shame there are no actual apples or apple juice listed in the ingredients, as the ominous “natural flavors” just isn’t doing the glorious fruit its justice.

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I absolutely love nuts in ice cream, especially candied or caramelized, and the execution of the peanuts in this pint is fantastic. Almost all of the candy coating has come off and left little red indentations in the base, leaving mostly naked peanuts that have a wonderful roasted flavor and big satisfying crunch. There’s a hint of sweetness to them but the deep roasted notes prevail overall, and I’m happy with how they function in the scheme of the overall balance of flavors.

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The salted caramel swirl is great, but unfortunately a bit lacking in its density. It’s thick and salty which provides wonderful contrast to the base, but I only got little strands of it throughout and never a fully satisfying punch of gooey sweetness like I would get from biting the outside of a candy apple. What is there is delicious, I just wish I had more, because the bites with ice cream, nuts, and caramel were very limited.

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While this flavor is lacking in the fully tart elements the description promised and needs a bit more swirl to take it over the edge, I still really appreciate JC trying something different that I can legitimately say I’ve never had before. Even though this isn’t a fall seasonal flavor, it’s lined up perfectly with the brands’ launch, and is solid enough that I’m intrigued to try more of their unique flavors.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Sprouts ($4.99)
Quick Nutrition: 1/2 cup (105g) – 270 cal – 15g fat – 8g sat fat – 125mg sodium – 32g carb – 25g sugar – 4g protein

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REVIEW: Boo Berry Monster Cereal

Few things signify the start of the junk food spooky season like the arrival of Count Chocula. The count is one of those rare figures that pops up only during the dimly lit autumn months and vanishes as soon as the winter garland gets hung. Unlike a lot of seasonal products, Count Chocula isn’t a twist on an already existing item, like the myriad of cookies and crackers that get pumpkin’d or dyed Halloween colors; he is solely a haunted cereal spokesman and does not exist outside of the realm of spook. Being that I adore autumn, the Count was one of my favorite cereals growing up, and the fall snack season wouldn’t be complete without at least one box.

As much as I loved the Count, I wasn’t a big fan of his pal Franken Berry, and realized this year that I completely overlooked his other sidekick, Boo-Berry, entirely! To be fair, he did join the gang a little later, two years after the Count and Frank began their alliance, but as the first blueberry cereal to ever hit shelves in 1973, it’s finally time for me to give Boo his due.

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The cereal is made up of the same fun Pac Man-esque ghost-shaped puffed corn and multicolored marshmallows as the Count, but with a blue hue and a unique set of monster marshmallows. The ‘mallows look to be ghosts and uhhh…spooky blue and purple blobs? I’m not entirely sure what General Mills was going for with these shapes but the colors look good and pop against the dark pieces of cereal.

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The best way to describe eating this cereal dry, and I know this isn’t helpful to most, is nostalgic. There’s a generic sweetened corn cereal flavor that is very particular – a nondescript artificial berry mixed with grain and a solid toothy crunch. It isn’t overbearingly sweet, and the fruit flavor is fine, although not very true to anything that actually grows out of the ground. I imagine this is the same general flavor they rolled out in ’73, and hey, for what it is, it’s not bad at all.

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In milk is when Boo really starts to shine. The crunchy aerated marshmallows get slightly softened and their sweetness pairs up wonderfully with the more subtle cereal pieces. I’m not sure if it’s the seasonal nature of the entire brand, but the monster cereal marshmallows taste fresher and fluffier than a lot of their competition. The blueberry flavor is there, although very mild, but for what it lacks in fruity depth it makes up for in sheer fun factor. While it isn’t nearly as bold or crave-able as the chocolatey Count, Boo-Berry brings the same spooky crunchy feelings that I loved as a child into my Sunday morning mellow flow with eerie conviction.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Target ($2.49)

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REVIEW: Mystery Oreo Cookies

Nabisco seems to have heard my cries that I spend half of my expendable income on new fun snacks and want to gift me and the millions of other junk food fans across the globe with the opportunity to break off $50,000 in their name. The all new Limited Edition Mystery Oreo is on shelves now, and after giving us the chance to submit our own new flavors earlier in the year, the spotlight is now on the company for us to guess theirs.

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The cookies look extra thick, definitely of the Double Stuf variety, and the creme itself is a bit firmer and denser than what I’m used to with the other limited edition’s, most notably the recent Apple Pie, which were incredibly soft and almost melty. The flavor is sharp and sweet with a very citrus-forward profile lead by more lime than lemon, with a touch of orange, and an overall taste that screams Fruity Pebbles.

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The aroma is also extremely reminiscent of Sunday morning’s finest, and anyone who spent some time with the Flintstone’s in their youthful days will recognize it immediately. It’s hard to say definitively if it’s Fruity Pebbles, Froot Loops, Trix or another fruity mishmash breakfast cereal, but Pebbles are my favorite of the bunch and my mind is immediately brought to fond memories of their light airy crunch and pronounced sweetness. If the flavor isn’t specifically Fruity Pebbles I could toss some other guesses towards orange creamsicle, lemon lime, rainbow sherbet, cereal milk, chocolate orange, chocolate covered gummy bear, or dirt and worms – the classic kiddy dessert of chocolate pudding with gummy worms and crushed Oreo bits.

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I have a couple of junk food related regrets in my life, one of which is not buying a lone bag of Cooler Ranch Munchies I saw at a random gas station and haven’t seen since, and the other is not buying Fruity Crisp Oreo’s the one time I saw them. That’s right, the Oreo many deem to be the best limited one of them all, I only saw once, right before going out to dinner, and I didn’t buy them because I figured I could pick them up at home. Nope. Never saw them again, and my heart has been broken ever since. While those Oreo had the golden wafer, I can only assume, but not confirm, that these are essentially that same creme with a chocolate cookie. While it’s kind of unfortunate and lazy that Nabisco went that route instead of trying something new, I can’t deny that these are a solid cookie, albeit a bit odd, and one worth picking up if you like a sweet citrusy blast to go along with your chocolate.

Rating: 7/10
Found at: Safeway ($2.99)

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REVIEW: Halo Top’s Pumpkin Pie

A trend in the food world begins to transcend trendiness and become solidified when it grows beyond a core set of styles, flavors, or offerings, and transitions into limited time seasonal versions of their product. Unleashing smaller scale season-based varieties displays confidence in a brand and a trust that consumers will flock to something that may not have as much mass appeal as a standard. Welcome to the upper-echelon of the grocery ice cream game, Halo Top. While many of the company’s most recent flavors have yet to make it to the Bay Area, Halo’s first limited time flavor popped up at Target just to keep my protein hungry basic tastebuds entertained, with Pumpkin Pie.

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As is the case with all high protein light ice cream’s, this stuff freezes hard and needs a good amount of time to temper on the counter, but this one tempered faster than almost every other Halo flavor I’ve had (nearly all of them). Once the ice cream gets appropriately soft it is very impressive how smooth, creamy, and “real” ice cream-like it is. In fact, the texture is so on point that I would have never guessed it to be a light ice cream, as the essence is much truer to the real deal than many gummy slow churned products.

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The flavor is equally impressive, with a very yammy pumpkin-forward profile that tastes closer to actual pumpkin pie filling than most pumpkin ice cream’s on the market. The sweetness is also perfectly on point. It’s sharp and sugary but not so much that it washes away the authentic pumpkin flavor, and is accented nicely by soft hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. As a whole the taste is more of a vegetal vanilla than it is spicy, but there’s enough spice there to keep it interesting and elevate the natural notes of the squash.

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Mix-in-wise this is also one of Halo’s more legit releases, with an impressively ample amount of pie crust throughout the entire pint. The pieces are small but aplenty, with a soft, bready, slightly buttery flavor that 100% register pie crust. The most intriguing part of Halo’s execution here is that nearly every bite tastes like a good forkful of pumpkin pie being equally represented by pumpkin, mellow spice, crust, and creamy vanilla undertones to mimic the role of whipped cream.

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This flavor is not only good for Halo Top or light protein ice creams, but for all pumpkin pie ice creams in general. No, it doesn’t have the rich fatty depth of Graeter’s or Ben & Jerrys, or the big spicy pop of Talenti, but it has an incredibly accurate and delicious pumpkin flavor that nails the nostalgic taste of diggin’ in on Thanksgiving day, and I enjoyed every bite.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: Target ($5.99)
Quick Nutrition: 1/2 cup (70g) – 90 cal – 3g fat – 1g sat fat – 40mg cholesterol – 130mg sodium – 3g fiber – 7g sugar – 5g sugar alcohol – 5g protein

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REVIEW: Graeter’s Limited Edition Pumpkin

While it’s relatively commonplace to find fun seasonal flavors from all the big players in the grocery ice cream game like Breyer’s, Dreyer’s, Haagen Dazs, and Ben & Jerry’s, it’s a much more rare feat to come across a higher end brand sneaking a seasonal release into the frozen aisle. Oftentimes a craft-leaning brand will only get the most likely to sell and core flavors at a store, maybe 4 or 5 varieties tops, and all the special ones will need to be ordered online or picked up at a (non-existent on this coast) scoop shop. A fortunate outlier to this equation has popped up, likely due to the mainstream infatuation with everything pumpkin, and at my local Whole Foods I was able to score Graeter’s spin on the trendy flavor, simply dubbed, Limited Edition Pumpkin.

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As expected from a super premium high fat ice cream, the texture is incredibly smooth, creamy, and dense. The flavor is sweet, subtly spicy, and mostly notably pumpkin-pronounced. The finishing note is pure squashy goodness and carries one of the most authentic and vegetal pumpkin flavors I’ve ever had in ice cream. There are notes of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, but they definitely take a backseat to the gourd-forward ensemble of flavors in the container.

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It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Graeter’s, a company that prides itself on presenting classic, mostly refined and uncomplicated flavors executed with pure richness, went a very straight forward route with their pumpkin ice cream. The flavor is simply called “Pumpkin” and not “Pumpkin Pie” or “Pumpkin Spice”, so the spice being more of an undertone is exactly as advertised; but it also limits how good this ice cream can be. Similar to a very well executed vanilla, no matter how good it is it can’t compete with more complex flavors that incorporate multiple textures, mix-ins, and techniques to create a more engaging pint.

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I would love to see a company with very high quality base ice cream like Graeter’s incorporate a caramel swirl or a white chocolate spin on their renowned chocolate chips to bring some extra textural contrast and depth to their fantastic pumpkin flavor. I don’t want to call this one “boring” because it’s very well done, but it isn’t the type of pint I need to seek out year after year as it does’t satisfy any urge a solid pumpkin pie filling can do perfectly well – especially at the higher price point.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Whole Foods ($6.99)

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REVIEW: Talenti’s Pumpkin Pie

You may or may not know this, but ice cream and gelato are not the same thing. Yes, “gelato” in Italian does mean ice cream, and the end results of both processes are similarly delicious, but there are a few key components that make for big differences. Gelato is churned at a slower speed than American ice cream, and as a result has less air and is a bit denser than your average stateside scoop. Even more importantly, it uses less cream and eggs and more milk, which results in a lower fat content and translates the flavors differently, oftentimes more intensely, than typical high butterfat ice cream. Because there’s less fatty interference to coat the tongue, the flavors, especially fruit based ones, shine like they never can in the American stuff.

It’s no secret that I’m a big ole ice cream junky, but I also really love gelato. I’ve had more gelato in random shops or restaurants than purchased pints, and I was surprised that over the course of the last year I gave -zero- love to the classic Italian dessert on this blog. I decided that was unacceptable, and time for a rescoop of a seasonal staple from the biggest grocery gelato name of them all – Talenti’s Pumpkin Pie.

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This frozen take on Thanksgiving’s finest combines a spiced pumpkin gelato with a brown sugar swirl and pieces of pie crust. Immediately upon opening the container there is a massive spicy sweet bouquet of cinnamon and pumpkin, which is impressive because the temperature of frozen desserts often keeps them from smelling anything close to how wonderful they taste.

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The texture is exactly as a gelato should be – smooth and creamy with an airy density that has a velvety-ness more akin to a perfectly made smoothie than your average premium ice cream. The cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin notes are big and bright with perfect authenticity. The most surprising aspect of the profile is how prominent the nutmeg is, with all of its sweet nuances on full display. The pie crust pieces are mostly on the small side but taste terrific. Many of them are soft with a squishy give, and occasionally one will pop up with a crunchy butteriness that reminds me of the slightly charred outer-crust goodness. The brown sugar swirl is more integrated into the base than it is a stand out component on its own, but it definitely brings a pretty intense sugary pop that weaves through the entire pint.

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My only issue with this flavor, and it’s one that I run into with gelato from time to time, is it is very sweet. The lower fat content is both a blessing and a curse, in that the spices don’t get held back by the fat and are able to show their full potential, but there’s also no fat to mellow the sugar and add depth to the experience. The aspects of gelato that make this pint strong are the same ones that hold it back from being perfect. It isn’t bad by any means, in fact it’s one of Talenti’s strongest offerings, it just becomes a bit too much for me after a serving, and leaves my mouth feeling a bit like my ears do after listening to a great song on mediocre headphones – all treble and no bass…but damn that’s still a good song.

Rating: 8.5/10
Found at: Target ($4.99)

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REVIEW: White Pumpkin Pie M&M’s

Pumpkin pie ain’t so poppable, and this year Mars want to change the way we embrace autumn’s most iconic circular treat. Although there are an unbelievable amount of pumpkin spice labeled products, not too many try to actually conquer the true application of said spice mix via the pie, which is a generally softer, creamier, and squash-y-er experience than pure spice overload. As a counterpart to the shriek-inducing double chocolate whammy of Cookies & Screeem, White Pumpkin Pie M&M’s are here to cool us down for short, relaxed, fall evenings.

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The candies present themselves as a lovely autumn array of muted tan, orange, and brown, with the usual bloated circular shape of the flavor-infused limited M&M’s. The typical great crunchy shell begins the bite, followed by a very well balanced and sweater-weather-worthy taste of pumpkin pie.

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The flavor is mellow but very genuine and enjoyable. The leading note is sweet, with the bulk of the candy being white chocolate, followed by some cool subtle cinnamon and nutmeg. They’re creamy and lush with the mixture of spices offsetting the typically hyper-sugary profile of white chocolate. Unlike “real” or bitter chocolate, the spices don’t go to war with the silky white cocoa butter, and all the flavors coexist harmoniously. Being the spice-lover that I am, I would have no problem with a little more tingle, but I also don’t eat pumpkin pie anticipating my tongue to burn, so I’m not let down by these at all.

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I’m the type of person who loves a good dollop of whipped cream on top of my end-of-Thanksgiving slice, and these M&M’s channel that sensation wonderfully. They taste like a big heaping forkful of mellow creamy pumpkin adorned with an ample amount of whip, and are perfectly snackable as well as true to their desired flavor destiny. Perhaps not the most poppin’ poppable candies you’ll ever have, but definitely one worthy of the crystal candy bowl in the middle of Grandma’s holiday dinner spread.

Rating: 8/10
Found at: Target ($3.29)
Quick Nutrition: 1.5 oz – 210 cal – 11g fat – 6g sat fat – 40mg sodium – 29g carb – 28g sugar – 2g protein

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