Appetizers in name only

Appetizers in name only

Honestly, who hasn't thrown a party and regretted the money and prep time spent on nibble-ready hors d'oeuvres, canapés, or other snooty snacks? Chintzy, apathetic hosts everywhere will be glad to know that a few bucks can buy them a sort-of acceptable solution. While once again canvassing dollar stores for the best and worst in off-brand foodstuffs, The Onion A.V. Club found quite a few bargain-basement "appetizers" that come in single-bite-sized form. (Note: appetizers not guaranteed to be appetizing.)

Original Flavor Round Crackers

If ever a company needed a marketing department, it's New Choice, whose Original Flavor Round Crackers take the cake for stating the obvious. Points should be awarded for attempts to woo health-conscious consumers with facts about added DHA ("prevents heart attack, enhances eye sight"), but there's no two ways to look at Round Crackers: It's a badly executed Ritz rip-off.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Docosahexsaenoic Acid."

Worth the price? A buck for a big box of Ritz seems like a good deal until the taste test, when it becomes clear that "original taste" is dollar-store slang for "inedible."

Vitner's Hot N' Spicy Crunchy Nuggets

It's always refreshing to see a junk-food product that doesn't even make a pretense of being food. The product name "Crunchy Nuggets" proudly announces "These things are cheap and portable. It doesn't matter what they're nuggets of. Eat up." The flavor of Crunchy Nuggets–an unpleasant burst of astringent acid followed by a nonspecific spicy burning–doesn't answer the question. And it's unclear which ingredient produces the vile flavor. Could it be the disodium guanylate? The disodium isosinate? The disodium phosphate? The maltodextrin? The calcium silicate? Yum.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: Who could choose just one?

Worth the price? For the impoverished aspiring ninja, Hot N' Spicy Crunchy Nuggets make a cheap alternative to standard metal poisoned caltrops. Ordinary civilians, however, should probably avoid them.

Wildfruit UFOs

Part of a line of chewy fruit snacks with "softer texture," Wildfruit UFOs come in shapes like "astronaut" and "planet," which don't exactly qualify as "unidentified" to most astronomers. Then again, maybe "UFO" refers to how the shapes look: all pale, translucent, and blobby.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Glazing Agent."

Worth the price? Six pouches to a box is a hard deal to beat, especially for those who like fruity confections with the consistency of dried toothpaste.

Creatures Of The Sea

Yet another stab at a cheap off-brand version of Pepperidge Farm's Goldfish, New Choice's "Creatures Of The Sea" up the kinda-fishlike-cracker ante. Instead of one generic goldfish shape, they offer eight options: four varieties of shapeless blobs with dorsal fins, two varieties of shapeless blobs without dorsal fins, a starfish, and something that's either a lighthouse or a squid with its tentacles cut off. While "original flavor" Creatures Of The Sea should logically taste like fish, and the bright orange box might suggest a cheesy flavoring, they actually taste sort of hesitantly like wheat flour. If there's such a thing as "unoriginal flavor," these things qualify.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Eicosapentaenoic Acid."

Worth the price? They're pleasantly crunchy, and the vaguely wheatish taste is marginally better than a mouthful of plain saliva. There are worse ways to spend a buck.

Bumble Bee Chicken Salad With Crackers
Bumble Bee Pink Salmon Salad With Crackers

For the tinned-fish fan, the good people at Bumble Bee provide a tiny can of pre-mixed chicken salad, a small foil packet of crackers, a miniature plastic spoon, and a helpful "serving suggestion:" Put the chicken salad on top of the crackers. Good idea! Although now those who were planning on crumbling the crackers into the salad will feel like perverts. Meanwhile, the phenomenally vile appearance of the pink-salmon sister product may scare the perverts away: The "serving suggestion" image on the packaging suggests that someone committed a gross bodily function onto a cracker.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Glucono Delta Lactone."

Worth the price? The crackers are good. Here's another serving suggestion: Dump out the sickly-sweet canned-fish goo and enjoy some light, crispy crackers, unadorned.

Pom Pom

Creating hors d'oeuvres by putting a dollop of something on a bite-sized cracker is a time-honored tradition. But a dollop of marshmallow? Bad idea. Pom Poms come in two varieties: the pink-and-white spongy flavorless coconut-coated flavor, and the vaguely cocoa-ish rubbery chocolate-coated flavor. Both versions come perched on (and congealed into) a cardboardy cocoa disk. The surreal box packaging, which makes Pom Poms look like descending space invaders, has the right idea: Everything about the taste, texture, and concept of these things is subtly alien.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Cow gelatine."

Worth the price? Pom Poms come nestled in foil-wrapped egg-crate-like containers, which keep them widely spaced as though they might explode on mutual contact. Given the negligible food content, and the roughly two-to-one volume ratio between packaging and confection, Pom Poms somehow seem like they should be even cheaper than they are.

Bauducco Breadsticks Original

Recreate at home the days of yore, when fancy restaurants had baskets of crispy, flavorless breadsticks on every table. While munching away, contemplate the copy on the side of the box: "Originated in Italy, the breadsticks can be served during your meals, replacing your bread as a light and crunchy way."

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Ester Emulsifier Of Fat Acids With Propylene Glycol And Soya Lecithin Stabilizer."

Worth the price? Appetizers don't get much plainer or dryer. For more snazz, try the sesame version, advertised on the box thusly: "Also Available, It's Delicious."

Minees

Following in the tradition of such greed-based advertising campaigns as Ruffles' "Get your own bag" and Twix's "Two for me, none for you," Minees put the "fuck off, these belong to me" right there in the product name. But does anyone want to be that proprietary about generic sandwich cookies? They come in packs of five varieties–the chocolate and vanilla creme versions aren't bad, but the banana-creme editions are alarmingly odiferous, and the sickly-sweet strawberry-creme version may lead discriminating buyers to dub them "Yoursees."

Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Ammonium Bicarbonate."

Worth the price? A dollar buys 10 packs of six cookies apiece, so even cookie fans who discard the nasty ones–or palm them off on some selfish Twix-hoarding bastard–will end up with quite a pile of ultra-cheap snacks.

José Pédro Hot Salsa

From the not-too-Mexican community of Oswego, NY and the not-too-Mexican company Giovanni Foods comes a product with the most Mexican name that an Italian sauce company from upstate New York could possibly imagine. Couldn't they have shoehorned a "Gomez" or "Gonzalez" in there? Or at least put a mustachioed bandito on the label? There's a sombrero over the "o" in José, so that's something.

Scariest-sounding ingredient: All the listed ingredients sound pretty wholesome, though there are suspicious asterisks after "onions," "green bell peppers," and "garlic." What's the qualifier? The bottom of the ingredient list reveals that all of the above are "dried." Those sneaky Oswegians.

Worth the price? Reasonably so. There's plenty of rich tomato flavor and spice in a 16-ounce jar, though the dried ingredients do leave a slightly medicine-y aftertaste.

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