The shelves of America's dollar stores are packed with off-brand foodstuffs from netherworlds where Nabisco and Frito-Lay exist only as rumor. These weird little consumables sport odd names, curious mascots, unusual cooking suggestions, and flavor combinations that no sane laboratory chef could concoct. But how do they taste? The writers at The Onion A.V. Club recently emptied their coin purses and embarked on a quest for budget-friendly snacks.
The sheer number of bursts on the packaging for Micro Bak'N! Artificially Flavored Bacon Snacks feels like overcompensation: "Low Fat! Great Taste!" it trumpets, before continuing, "Lots Of Fun!" and "Watch 'Em Pop!" In total, the front alone features no fewer than seven exclamation points. Perhaps consumers need the extra encouragement before eating a food that combines the convenience of microwave popcorn with the taste of little striped plastic strips.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Azorubine."
Worth the price? No. Once popped—and the popping is viciously anti-climactic—the tiny, hard pieces balloon into curly, mostly flavorless chunks of Funyuns-esque material. At least they smell like bacon.
"Stauffer's" brand Whales emulate not only an existing product (Pepperidge Farm's Goldfish crackers), but also an existing food company (Stouffer's). In spite of someone's efforts to add a distinguishable tail and face to these blobby little cheese-flavored crackers, they look even less like whales than the orange, surfing cartoon whale on the product's foil bag.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Lactic acid."
Worth the price? Actually, Whales are crispier, cheesier, and saltier than Goldfish, making them a better junk food all around. Stouffer's should probably keep a protective eye on its corner of the frozen-food market.
Chips are addictive. Peanuts are addictive. So how about a peanut wrapped in a chip shell? Not the worst idea—unless, like the creators of Freakin' Nuts, you dust each individual chip-nut with "salsa verde" or "cha cha chili" seasoning, giving the snack an unpleasant citrus sting. Clever bit of copy on these engineering marvels' package: "Is it a nut? Is it a chip? Yes!"
Scariest-sounding ingredient: Nothing unusual for a salty snack.
Worth the price? Considering that a dollar buys a box of 12 snack-size bags, it's hard to argue with the price. On the other hand, considering that the product tastes like acid reflux, it's all too easy to stop at one.
Q: If two full-sized ham-and-cheese sandwiches retail for $1, how much money could possibly have been spent on their raw ingredients? And when does a food item's low price cross the threshold from terrific bargain to serious concern? A: Not enough, and now, in Paradise Valley.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "L-cysteine."
Worth the price? As a curiosity, priceless. As sustenance, only in dire emergencies. As a choice, positively not.
The tin says it all, though not succinctly: "Luncheon loaf with chicken, pork added. Smoke flavoring added." Basically, it's off-brand Spam, but with chicken in addition to the usual meat byproducts. Inside the tin is a greasy brick of mottled pink material. Science has been unable to determine anything further about Treet.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Food starch-modified."
Worth the price? If only for the recipe on the back of the can, which teaches the unutterably incompetent how to make a Treet sandwich by layering bread, cheese, sauerkraut, and mayonnaise in a strictly prescribed order.
The Daddy Ray's logo suggests a family tradition that's remained unchanged over the years for sentimental reasons: An eerie-looking drawing of a man with a hat and a red beard stares from a shield adorned with fruit-filled bars. It turns out that Daddy Ray is a real guy (prominently depicted at daddyrays.com), and his company just started churning out bars in 1998. Also, his employees call him and his wife "Daddy" and "Mama." Who knew figgy treats could be so creepy?
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Gelatinized Corn Binder."
Worth the price? A dry fig square by any other name is still a dry fig square.
Tropicales Lime Cookies
Murray-brand Tropicales cookies also come in lemon and orange varieties, but the disturbingly dull-green lime cookies are by far the most intriguing. Theoretically, they're shortbread cookies with lime flavoring, but they smell like industrial citrus cleaner and taste mildly bitter and acidic, like highly diluted industrial citrus cleaner. Nothing about them suggests actual food content of any kind.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Sucralose."
Worth the price? Under no circumstances should these be permitted to enter human homes, let alone digestive systems.
Dunk 'R Licker
It's a whistle, a sucker, an action figure, and a cup-and-ball game, all in one. It's also profoundly hideous. Dunk 'R Licker is designed to look like a deranged basketball player with a menacing expression and a bucket for a head. Said bucket-head rests, precariously, between two upraised arms with basketball-hands. While the player attempts to land a tethered basketball in the bucket-head, the bucket-head rattles and clinks like a cabinet full of shot glasses in an earthquake.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Buffered lactic acid."
Worth the price? The sucker is flavorless. The whistle doesn't work. Foul!